The prickly pear cactus has outgrown its neighbor, the quaint tin-framed shack that has been sitting on the corner of Waugh and Fairview since the early 1900s. You can feel the age of the building with its exposed metal framing and cracked concrete floor. The urban outpost has held six brightly colored letters on its face for the last 18 years: CORAZON.
Chris Murphy, the current owner, notes a signed, dated, and painted red dot almost covered by the cactus. The red dot is part of a nationwide art installation by former Houstonians and Red Dot Boys Robert Ramos and Rick Carpenter, inspired to create a dialogue around art in its simplest form. There are over 20 dots in the Houston area, which can be found on their Red Dot locator. (According to urban legend, the art installations were all completed in the nude until the two gentlemen got into a bit of hot water for it, but that's a story for another day.)
The red dot is like a creative cookie crumb and Chris leads me through a spirited red door. I become inebriated with the vivid colors, textiles, and images of folk art from Central and South America. The full name of the store is Corazon Fair Trade, Artes Populares—walking in the door brings back my favorite memories of trips to San Antonio to visit El Mercado.
Varied works by Fernando Llort bedeck the wall behind the cashier’s counter, his iconic style now an international symbol of El Salvador. Fantastical creatures from Oaxaca known as alebrijes fabricated out of imagination, papier-mâché and wood, pop out from unassuming shelves next to baskets woven out of pine needles and straw skeleton ornaments. Mexican wood masks over two feet tall stare with lifelike glass eyes. Hand painted crosses, stunning carved horn bracelets, hand woven cat collars, vintage postcards, and many more items cling to walls and are ensconced in nooks as I stroll through the store.
Much like an antiquing experience, Corazon has its treasures neatly but solidly packed in. You could spend hours moving inch by inch through the shop exploring each item. Alongside smaller items, long-established garb is at the ready for Houston’s hotter months. A plethora of contrast-stitched guayabera shirts hang on rows of racks rearward in the shop, harkening to summer evenings with a cold beer in hand. Finish the look with an authentic light taupe fedora or Guatemalan palm leaf hat. Or find your spirit animal in a luchador costume, with sizes at the ready for both adults and children.
Similar to the red dot painted on its exterior, Corazon is a simple concept that begs deeper conversation about the items it holds that help to define the cultures of South and Latin America. Corazon translates to ‘heart,’ and it's clear that it's not just the artists’ hearts that are encapsulated in each item, but the shop owner’s, too.