||Miguel Covarrubias was best known as an illustrator, writer, and anthropologist. He
was born November 22, 1904, in Mexico City, into an upper-middle-class family.
father, José Covarrubias Acosta, was a civil engineer who held various
prominent positions in the government, and his mother, Elena Duclaud, was from
family that included Spanish aristocracy.
||Covarrubias left school at age fourteen and began work at the Secretaría de
Comunicaciones as a draughtsman of maps and street plans. In his free time he
take his sketchbook to theaters and cafés and draw caricatures. His
caricatures were first published in 1920 in a National University student magazine,
Policromías. From 1921 to 1923 his
illustrations appeared in large circulation newspapers such as El Heraldo, El Mundo, and
the Universal Ilustrado.
||Covarrubias' caricatures brought him notice among the artistic circle of Mexico City,
and he became acquainted with its members, including the poet José Juan
Tablada, who helped arrange for a travel grant from the Mexican government to
for Covarrubias' move to New York in 1923. A friend of Tablada arranged for him
meet Carl Van Vechten, who in turn introduced Covarrubias to his celebrity
acquaintances. Van Vechten also sent Covarrubias to Vanity
Fair, and in January 1924 his drawings were first published in the
magazine. The following year his drawings appeared in The New
Yorker; his work would later appear in Vogue, Fortune, and other magazines. His
first book, The Prince of Wales and Other Famous
Americans, was published in 1925 by Alfred A. Knopf.
||In 1930 Covarrubias married Rosa Rolanda (born Rosamonde Cowen), a stage dancer, and
the two traveled to Bali for a lengthy honeymoon. Covarrubias returned to Bali
1933 with a Guggenheim Fellowship to research the culture, resulting in his book
Island of Bali (1937).
||After his father's death in 1936, Covarrubias bought his parents' house -- the house
in which he had grown up -- in Tizapán, outside of Mexico City. Here he and
Rosa entertained a wide assortment of international celebrity guests, such as
Rivera, Georgia O'Keeffe, Orson Welles, Merce Cunningham, Luis Buñuel, John
Huston, Amelia Earhart, Nelson Rockefeller, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
||During the 1930s, when there was less magazine illustration work to be had (Vanity Fair ceased publication in 1937), Covarrubias
devoted more time to the research of indigenous cultures, particularly those of
Mexico. In 1937 he began working on a book for Knopf, Mexico
South: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a project that would take years of
research before it was finally published in 1946.
||In 1938 Covarrubias was invited to paint a series of pictorial maps for the 1939
Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.
provided Pageant of the Pacific, six murals mapping
the countries of the Pacific Rim. With pictorial elements Covarrubias considered
most "characteristic and representative," each panel
presents a different theme: peoples, fauna and flora, art forms, economy, native
dwellings, and native means of transportation.
||In the 1940s and 1950s Covarrubias' activities branched out to include museum work
and dance production, among other things. He participated in the organization
several museum exhibitions in the United States and Mexico. He received the first
museology teaching appointment in Mexico and taught anthropology and art history
courses at the Museo Nacional de Antropología and the Escuela Nacional de
Antropología e Historia. Composer Carlos Chávez, director of the
new Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, appointed Covarrubias as director of the
Institute's dance academy in 1950. Covarrubias mounted thirty-four ballets with
INBA and provided sets for many of the productions. He also continued providing
illustrations, mainly for works on anthropological subjects.
||Covarrubias died February 4, 1957, in Mexico City.