Manuel Exposito had risen from extremely humble origins to become one of the preeminent sculptors in the cultural flowering of 1920s and early 1930s Spain, a movement that was inextricable from the turmoil of Alfonso XIII’s late reign and the Second Republic. While he had trained under Gonzalez and inherited the latter’s love of traditionally unorthodox materials and designs, Exposito also worked extensively with stone and was willing to partake in traditional sculpted forms that many of his Cubist and avant-garde contemporaries shunned. Hence he worked without irony on the Our Lady of the Ebro marble statue at the same time as the wrought iron and quartz Howl of the Liberation. His pieces tended to include bits of classical sculpture emerging from cubist or art deco conglomorations of lines, shapes, and figures.

When the Civil War broke out, Exposito offered his services to the Republic. Wary of sending a sculptor of some international renown to the front lines, Exposito was instead commissioned to make a morale-boosting sculpture in Madrid from non-strategic materials. With the city flooded by left-leaning talent from all over the world, Exposito was able to gather his materials of choice, quartz and glass, and employ several models and fellow sculptors to speed the process. The overall design was of three crystalline female figures emerging from a jumbled chaos of lines and angles representing the war, to be cast in quartz with glass as a structural support.

In the process of completing the sculpture, Exposito apparently fell in love with one of the models: Karin Sandström, a Swedish anarchist who had come to Madrid with her father and brother (the famous Karl and Erik Sandström) to support the Republic. To this day the exact details of the relationship are unclear, but two love letters from Exposito to Sandström survive, the “crystalline muse” letters, so named after their dedication. Small Expositio studies and figures also turned up in the effects of Karl and Erik when they were shipped back to Sweden after their deaths in the Battle of the Ebro.

Karin Sandström died of disease during the death agony of the Republic in early 1939 (sources differ on whether it was dysentery or typhus), while the completed portions of Exposito’s sculpture were destroyed during Casado’s coup and the resulting street fighting between communists and socialists. Devastated, Exposito had to be bodily carried from the city by his assistants to evacuation in Cartagena, and thence to exile in Mexico.

The artist never completed another sculpture; instead, he immersed himself in amateur geology. In particular, he became a noted authority on quartz crystals and would pay handsomely for specimens sent to him by admirers and correspondents. To anyone who suggested he begin sculpting again, Exposito would only laugh. He declined rehabilitation at the hands of the Francoists, declined to return to Spain after Franco’s death in 1975, and would offer only boilerplate prepared remarks when asked to speak or be interviewed. He also adamantly refused to allow anyone into his studio, insisting that it was only being used for storage.

Upon Manuel Exposito’s death in 1996, at age 98, authorities in Veracruz opened the studio, intending to auction the contents to pay years of rock-hunting debts run up by the sculptor. Inside, they found a massive final sculpture made out of highly polished quartz crystals.

It was a portrait of Karin Sandström, and each crystal was a brushstroke capturing her as she had been in those far-off and dangerous days in Madrid.

Inspired by this image.

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“Okay, I’ll tell you. But it’s probably going to sound crazy.”

Dr. Teller smiled. “I hear things that ‘sound crazy’ for a living,” he said. “Most of the time they’re nothing of the sort; I make it a point never to judge.”

“I’m…I’m walking down a long hallway. An infinite hallway. It’s made of beautiful, cold crystal, faceted like a diamond and colored by the blue sky above. I’ve been walking for hours–days–before I notice something.”

“And what’s that?” said Dr. Teller.

“The walls are made out of little cells, smooth and transparent and unfaceted. And suspended in each one…is me.”

Scratching on the notepad. “You?”

“Not me as I am now–I recognize that even in the dream–but me as I was. This hallway has every moment of my entire life preserved like a bug in amber. As I walk I see what I wear and my age and my position all change, one crystal cell at a time. Eventually, I get to cells filled with me as I am in the dream: confused, disheveled, and in my pajamas.”

“How does that make you feel?” Dr. Teller asked.

“I’m…well, I’m terrified. What happens if I keep walking? What will I see? And does the crystal corridor have an end? The idea scares me more than a hundred psychos in the back seat of my car. It…it chills me to my core, as if the hallway has become ice. But I keep walking. I can’t stop.”