Try as you might, you can’t define Gabriela Valenzuela-Hirsch in one single way.
This Costa Rican beauty was raised by an actor/radio pioneer father, and fine seamstress mother, and as one of six children she was destined for creative greatness from the time, as a first grader inspired by an iconic image from House + Garden Magazine, she recruited the neighborhood kids to build a swimming pool in her yard.
Today, her artwork is shown around the world, but Tamarindo is in her heart. After all, that’s where she lives with her husband Jerry Hirsch, a successful fashion mogul, whom she met in New York. He’d been to Costa Rica many times, but they discovered Tamarindo together, and remain here all these years later.
THE Tamarindo News talked with Valenzuela on a break from painting in her Langosta art studio, where she is preparing for 2017 New York and Paris shows.
THE Tamarindo News: You have a creative heart. Have you always been that way?
Gabriela Valenzuela-Hirsch: I grew up at the heart of an artistic family; my father had a variety TV show, featuring artists like Alberto Vásquez. My mother was a seamstress who made handmade gowns and fine clothing for the San Jose ladies. Carlos my oldest brother was studying architecture, building and designing the television sets for my father’s show, painting art, designing and manufacturing furniture, as well creating Costa Rica’s version of the world fair at Banco Central, in 1960’s San Jose. I was part of the creative clan.
TTN: You went on to study academics and arts at the Conservatorio de Castella in Heredia, and then received a scholarship to study dramatic art at The Royal School of Dramatic Art in Madrid. Was acting your original goal?
GVH: I wanted to be an actress since I was a little. My father was an actor during the golden years of Mexican film industry, so it was in my blood. When I got the opportunity to study in Madrid, I went. Soon after, I went to Paris to study Mime and Improvisation with Jean Louis Barrault, at the Petit Théâtre. I worked with film directors Claude Zidi, Patrice Leconte, doing couple of little parts. In Paris, at the time, trading for special favors by aspirant actors for career advancement was an everyday thing. As soon I realized I needed to prove myself elsewhere other then to just be a good actress, I decided to leave the trade. So I went to Belgium and registered at Universite Libre de Bruxelles to study Philosophy and Letters with an emphasis in Journalism. I also took modern dance classes at the prestigious vanguard MUDRA School of Dance by world famous Choreographer Maurice Béjart.
TTN: How did you transition into fashion journalism?
GVH: I was babysiting this girl whose mom was sister to top Italian fashion journalists, Laura Dubini and Christina Dubini-Otina. During a Christmas holiday visit to their sister they said, ‘you’ve got to come work with us.’ So I went to Milan. I started at Mondadori, under Linea Italiana beauty department as the “Va-Cherchez”—go get me this, go get me that! It was a major opportunity for me, and I had to work very hard, my advantage was all the little things I knew how to do, coming from an artistic family. Frequently, we had fashion conundrums on the photo shoot set, I’d ask, “Can I try?” and problem solved! The senior editors begin to trust me with more responsibilities
TTN: From there you went to Vogue and to Harper’s Bazaar Italia who made you New York Correspondent. Is that where you met your husband Jerry?
GVH: We met by accident at a restaurant in New York, and were really in love right away. He eventually told me he wanted to launch his GO>Silk clothing line in Europe. He asked me to help organize the first event and every single editor came. I became, by default, in charge of his international sales and also wore a hat as creative director of his company. At this point, we were engaged.
TTN: It must have been some wedding.
GVH: Ours was the first beach wedding anyone had ever heard of. Every famous caterer said, ‘no, it was suicide’ to have a wedding on the beach. That day, it was 102 degrees, and the caterer called that his truck had a major accident, showing up last minute with baskets of fresh produce and pies from local farms. By then the ice sculptures were melting. At some point I went to the kitchen to give them instructions on how to make cucumber tea sandwiches, when I saw the bag of Wonder Bread; I ran towards the ice pool filled with champagne bottles and drank fast some Dom Perignon. I was so tipsy when I said yes! But it was one of the happiest days of my life!
TTN: Were you the one who introduced Jerry to Costa Rica?
GVH: Yes! When we met he told me that he was going to retire at 40 and just go surfing for the rest of his life. It wasn’t until we were married and he was folding the company for an early retirement, that I realized he was serious. He looked into Hawaii, but I said, ”Do me a favor, go to Costa Rica and find yourself a wave!” And he did! After a safari along the pacific coast he chose Tamarindo’s river mouth.
TTN: Can you tell me briefly about your Heartwood Designs?
GVH: Heartwood is a collection of wooden sculptures and decorative objects that are distinctly modern. They are handmade with precision, craftsmanship and clear-cut design. This work has been labeled as eco-modernist, because of implementation and adoptive reuse of natural resources as part of its design agenda.
TTN: You are one of the most outspoken and active people regarding the betterment of our town. Why?
GVH: Tamarindo is a beautiful place to live; when we first arrived we were in a nearly narcotic trance. Unpaved roads, amazing beautiful beach, white sand, pristine blue waters, and wild life galore! Jerry was surfing three times per day. It was clear to us from the start that we would not come to colonize Tamarindo, but rather to quietly and respectfully make our nest here. We fought for many years for the raw simplicity that brought us here. Our town is also a melting pot, people come from across the globe to get off the grid and re-calibrate their essence. I often ask myself the honest question “how can we tailor our growth?”; there are no easy answers, but we are here together unified by our interest in this piece of land, and we better make the best of it while protecting mother earth and our natural resources, which are the base of our livelihood. You can’t just walk away and mind your own business, you have to be involved, care for our community and help each other in any way we can without ego, with a common interest. As we grow and become less rural, we have the opportunity “together” to creating the coolest, hippest, humble, generous, compassionate, Pura Vida “little beach town” in Costa Rica