The desire to be an artist runs deep and constant. This holds true of Ximena Sheldon, a charming Colombian lady born into an artistic family in Bogota, who has spent her life fulfilling that desire – despite leading a peripatetic existence in many different countries, including Thailand, her adopted home.
Counting among her ancestors a famous painter and national artist, Ximena tells how she has had a special relationship with visual arts since an early age. As a child and teenager, Ximena treated her love for art as a hobby, which was to change in time.
After graduating early from high school, she spent one year at Tortington Park School in Arundel, UK, where she learned drawing and painting, followed by a year in Switzerland at Montreux with the focus on interior design. She then returned to Bogota and tried her hand working at a large international company, but soon realized that it was not her calling.
Searching for a career that would be closer to her heart, Ximena enrolled in the newly introduced curriculum at the Institute of Art Education in Bogota, studying techniques of art education, with the aim of working with young children.
However, art seemed to continue to have a strong pull on her, and Ximena took action to satisfy it by taking lessons in the afternoons following university classes. Her teacher was David Manzur, an internationally known Colombian artist, whose work hangs in museums next to that of Botero.
“He was the best teacher you can imagine,” says Ximena. ”His strong personality in painting influenced my style.” She adds that Manzur believed that drawing is the basis to all art, and Ximena practiced with him for seven years, exhibiting her art along with his work in Colombia, and in Washington DC. At that time she also had a solo exhibition in Bogota.
Ximena met her husband Douglas in Bogota where he was sent to work with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. They married in 1975 and continued to live in Colombia for a further six years. Later they moved to Miami in the US.
While in Bogota, Ximena continued to paint while teaching art at the elementary level of the International School of Bogota. The birth of her first child, a daughter, set Ximena on a new track, and she began her own business designing and selling educational toys.
Ximena’s art kept growing and changing while she continuously experimented in new styles and working with various media. In Miami, she took a course in garden design and after a year the family was on the move again “The story of my life,” she says bemoaning the fact that she had to abandon so many projects and courses before being able to finish them, as life had other designs for her. This time they were on their way to Sri Lanka, where Douglas was transferred. Adds Ximena: “This is what happens to a woman who follows her husband, but I always continued my art.”
Next destination was Hong Kong, a place that Ximena fell in love with immediately, with its diversity of people and art. “You can’t run away from art,” she declares with a smile. In Hong Kong Ximena began brush painting. Being passionate all her life about art, she seemed to find a special corner in her heart for this seemingly enchanted place.
When the news came that they were moving again, Ximena cried for one whole week. Feeling somewhat guilty in interrupting his wife’s life once again, Douglas bought her a Chinese silk rug, which she quickly named “the crying rug.”
Then came Thailand. The year was 1984. This time Ximena was in luck, the family remained in one place for the following fifteen years. Compared to the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, Bangkok seemed slow paced. Searching for her common denominator, which was art, Ximena wanted to enroll at Silpakorn University and study art. This was not possible, however, as all classes were held in the Thai language, which Ximena was not familiar with.
Once again, Ximena had to recreate her own world of art in a new country. She began taking classes in watercolors with Suchart Yonthong, an established Thai artist. At that point, she did not appreciate working with watercolors, which she later came to love.
Several talented foreign women took lessons with her; some of them later became famous artists in their own right, such as Gay Patterson, Ginny Woolman, Nancy Chandler and others. Ximena enjoyed those lessons as she points out that she likes to see artists at work, their transfer of images that flow onto the paper, “You feel the moment.”
Ximena became very active in Bangkok’s art scene. She organized workshops bringing artists from neighboring countries, and organized exhibition in which her work was included. In the 1990s, she organized an international exhibition together with Khunying Kanitha in honor of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit to mark International Women’s Day.
Other exhibitions followed, and many of her paintings were sold, now adorning walls in countries around the world. Never pausing, Ximena continued acquiring new skills and techniques, mastering watercolors, learning etching, calligraphy, papermaking and photography.
After long and fruitful fifteen years, it was time to move again, this time to the New York area. “I had to start again,” she states. This time she landed in a haven of art and her desire was to become a docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Interview followed interview, and then more, having her go through their rigorous drills. Armed with great passion, knowledge and experience in art and able to speak three language fluently, English, French and Spanish, worked in her favor.
Elated, Ximena was accepted to the docent program that lasted one year that was taught like a mini master’s degree, learning with the best people in the field. The regulations were strict, no one could miss a day, rain or shine, or even be one minute late. After passing the course, Ximena guided at the museum for seven years, while continuing her studies at the Art Students League of New York.
In 2014, Ximena came back to Thailand where her husband has his own business. Living in her comfortable home with an art studio, she continues to paint and exhibit her work, and has the privilege of passing down her art to the young generation of her grandchildren. Ximena now works in a new style of mixed techniques using acrylic, pastel and watercolors. She wants to continue learning and go on doing what she loves. Forever!