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Angels Heralded as Heavenly Works of Art : Collections: Suzi Chauvel views her menagerie as extensions of artists' beliefs, while the paintings that grace Consuelo Chozas' walls are rooted in tradition.

July 17, 1993|KATHY BRYANT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Angels fill their homes for different reasons: Suzi Chauvel collects them because she has been touched by the artists' passionate belief in their subject; Consuelo Chozas is keeping alive a 16th-Century Spanish art tradition that also reflects her own religious beliefs.

For both women, the angels are important parts of their lives.

"I started collecting angels about 15 years ago," Chauvel said. "I was walking down a street in Florence during a siesta time and spied an open door. I looked in and saw an old wood-carver working in a room full of every kind of angel imaginable. We had a conversation in broken Italian-English and he totally intrigued me, so I bought my first angel from him. That got me started."

Chauvel, who at that time was the head designer for Ocean Pacific clothing, traveled throughout the world as part of her job so she had many chances to add to her collection.

"You know how you aren't aware of something, but then when you are aware you see them everywhere? That's what happened to me and angels. I found them in India, Thailand, China, Japan, Europe. It didn't matter how far off the society was from the Judeo-Christian tradition, there were always angels in every society, in every history."

Archeologists found a stele, or stone slab, depicting a winged figure descending from heaven at a dig 149 miles from Babylon. It is from the Sumerian culture that lived there from 4,000 to 2,500 BC. Some say this is the earliest known angel, but there were winged creatures also in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Asia Minor.

There was the concept of angels in Aryan, Mithraic and Zoroastrian myth that runs down through the centuries from Persian to Judaic to Christian to Islamic.

Chauvel's own collection continued as she bought angels that caught her fancy, not because they were valuable--some only cost a couple of dollars--but because they had something special about them.

"I believe that when you see one of these angels you're seeing a major belief system in the raw, and it's pretty powerful. The angels are beautiful, protective, higher beings created by talented artists who put all their passion into their work. To me these angels just vibrate."

Chauvel's collection is displayed mainly in a long hallway between the living room and the kitchen in her Laguna Beach cottage, but there are also angels depicted in the mirror over the fireplace in the living room and on the wall alongside the staircase leading to the basement. "I really don't know how many angels I have," Chauvel said.

The collection contains many unusual pieces, such as the Indonesian angel suspended from the ceiling that flies with a package of wishes around its neck; the 300-year-old Mexican angel painted by Indians on tin; the Brazilian altar candlestick from the 1600s made from wood and plaster; the sophisticated German angel in the tradition of Hummel; and even the angel painted by Charlton Heston's secretary on velvet while she waited on the set of "The Ten Commandments."

Chauvel is still traveling and still collecting angels. Her company, Chauvel, markets videos to companies that want to know the latest in fashion and fads throughout the world.

Chauvel sees angels as talismans today, guarding over the world and representing a higher level of thought and creativity.

"I put my collection on the wall when we moved into this house five years ago, and people really enjoy them and feel they get a calming feeling from them."

Angel art also plays an important part in the life of Consuelo Chozas .

The angel paintings she imports from South America revive the rich art from the Viceregal Period in Peru, a time that lasted from the 16th to the 18th Century and is called the Cuzco School of Painting since it originated in Cuzco, Peru. She is an expert on this field and is an adviser on the subject to the National Endowment for the Arts.

"When the Spaniards came to South America during the Middle Ages they taught the indigenous people their Catholic religion," explained Chozas . "The Jesuits, who were the main teachers of the arts and religion to the people, put a special emphasis on the worship of the guardian angel. The people accepted this since it was common in their own beliefs, which began way before Columbus arrived."

This shared belief made it easy for the local Indians to accept the Catholic idea of angels and they were attracted to the idea of angels surrounding and helping God, much as the viceroy's guards protected him.

What makes Chozas' angels so unusual is this combination of angelic wings with military garb. Using the painting techniques taught by the Spaniards, the Indians created resplendent angels that were dressed to guard God in the same aristocratic outfits (without the wings) that the viceroy's own armed guards wore.

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