In the late 1970s, Cundin met his wife, Marion, a native of Dublin, Ireland, here in New Orleans. And after a couple of moves in the 1990s to Miami and then Annapolis, Md., the couple and their now 22-year-old son, Ignacio, a student at American University, put down stakes on an acre-and-a-half in Folsom. A year later -- 40 years after Betsy had christened Jose Maria's artistic introduction to New Orleans -- and just one month before the Cundins planned to have a new showing of Jose Maria's work, another powerful hurricane marked the Cundins' reassociation with the unique city that time and again has called them back.
"My attachment to the city is very old," he says. "It's one of the most magical cities on one of the most magical rivers in the world. We were planning to have an open house and studio in October. The hurricane brought everything full circle."
All things considered, the Cundins' home fared extremely well. Felled trees and 24 sweltering days without electricity or water are now a memory. Today, the property, a showplace for many of his colorful sculptures and paintings (both his whimsical figuratives and his more recent abstracts) is for the most part returned to its crisp, woodsy beauty. Once part of a 40-acre nursery, the parcel of land overlooks a neighbor's pastures and lake and is affectionately named Claro de Luna (moonlight) in recognition of its luminous nighttime glow. "When the moon is full, one can read Gambit with the reflection from the shells," says Jose Maria.
At the time the Cundins purchased the property in 2004, the original single-story ranch house with vaulted, A-frame ceilings, was weathered, and both house and garden were overwhelmed by plant growth. But the real estate's pastoral environs, which offered peace and quiet while still being near the city, were exactly what they wanted.
"This was the first place we looked at on the Northshore," recalls Marion. "What really grabbed us was the piece of property." The Cundins refreshed the exterior of the 3,000-square-foot house by removing unwanted details such as shutters, eliminating obtrusive bushes, and adding carpentry accents to the facade. A drainage problem was solved by resloping the land and providing a culvert to collect excess water. The Cundins then equalized the house's interior and exterior light by painting inside and outside with similar shades of a soothing blue-gray chosen by Jose Maria, who Marion describes as the ultimate colorist.
"The color ranges from battleship gray to pale blue to lavender, depending on the light," she says. "And it's a fantastic backdrop for his work."
Jose Maria's work is the focus of the home, which includes two bedrooms and two baths, a sunroom, an art room, a transitional space, which is treated as an extension of the art room, a kitchen, and an office. Its eclectic mix of furnishings, which includes Oriental, contemporary and antique pieces, is almost incidental in relation to the powerful presence of the art. Classically trained in Bilbaos' School Of Artes y Oficios, The Museo de Reproducciones Artisticas and the Academia de Arte de Sindicatos, Jose Maria had his first show at was just 16 years old when a Bilbao gallery hung one of his large pieces. Today, his internationally recognized work, which has evolved from playful, satirical figuratives deeply rooted in Spanish tradition to color-saturated abstractions of organic shapes -- from which emerge a new type of figurative -- can be found in the permanent collections of such institutions as the New Orleans Museum of Art, Johnson & Wales University, Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, and in numerous private collections in Europe and the Americas.
"I started as a figurative (artist), but abandoned it when it became too limiting, and I moved toward the abstract," the artist says of the shift that began to occur about 17 years ago. "I wanted to explore to the utmost the formalities of color and composition. The works now are extrapolations of the former mode, more a perception than factuality. An identity comes from the convergence of figures. I have it in mind and I look for it to come through as I work. But each work brings surprises."
Six months after purchasing their home, the Cundins began a second, much-needed phase of the renovation, transforming an old barn into a light-filled studio for Jose Maria, who typically spends as many as nine hours a day working. Jose Maria designed the studio with several goals in mind: creating a structure with the indigenous look of an Acadian cottage while also creating one that would harmonize with the original house and surroundings. A roomy, relaxing porch was added to the 1,000-square-foot reconstructed space to achieve the former; pale gray hues, vaulted ceilings and ample windows were incorporated to achieve the latter. Like the house, the studio contains numerous works by Jose Maria -- including, of course, those still in progress -- and yields calming views of its idyllic, unspoiled environs.
"We host get-togethers here and people love to lunch al fresco and enjoy the splendorous beauty of this countryside," says Marion. "Jose Maria's two older sons, Fernando and Luisiana, their wives, and Jose Maria's first grandson, Javier, enjoy spending time with us here."
"Our setting in Claro de Luna has been a very felicitous one," adds Jose Maria. "We enjoy everything about it, the rural peacefulness, the expanse and clean air, the seclusion and yet neighborly existence. The locals have showered us with help, affectionate attention and sometimes, with vegetables, fruit and eggs."