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Make Sure the Pool has Water!

©Judy Vorfeld

Today, Peruvian artist Lucia Fort hand paints tiles that adorn the interiors and exteriors of exceptional homes and commercial buildings. Not long ago, she lived for a month on less than she makes now on the sale of one tile. The story of her transition reads like a novel, but it is only too real.

"Because of hundreds of years of Spanish rule, tiles were integrated into the art culture of Peru as they were in Mexico," says Lucia, a second generation Peruvian of Italian and French heritage. She always loved art and graphic design. As a young woman she began supporting herself by working in graphic design and advertising, while making time to teach others how to create art on tiles. This elegant artwork, however, could be no more than a serious hobby, because of Peru's economy.

In 1990 and 1991, Peruvians experienced extreme hardships: hyperinflation and terrorist attacks shattered all hope of living a normal life. During that time, while Lucia was in a restaurant, a bomb ripped apart the adjacent building, killing many people. Stunned by the realization of how short life can be, even though she was not injured, she decided that the only thing that matters is doing what you really love to do.

Almost broke, she decided to test her luck in the "country of the opportunities, America." Lucia got a visa (her sister lives in San Francisco), but she soon realized the costs for starting a business were too high for someone without capital. After several months she moved to Texas, only to learn that graphic design jobs went to people with computer experience. She had none, so she began working as a baby sitter, house cleaner, etc.

One day while browsing through a library, she picked up an interior design magazine that showcased custom tile work. The artwork, she thought, was adequate, but not extraordinary. And the cost! She'd never seen such expensive tiles. She earned $30 dollars a month in Peru, working two jobs.

Suddenly, an exciting new window opened. She knew she could paint better art on tiles anything she'd seen. Unable to make appointments by phone because of her limited English, she started painting samples and taking them to builders. "I learned that it was more difficult for them to say no when they saw you sitting in the reception area for hours," she says.

Once she had her first client, Lucia bought a small kiln and rented a shop, even though it had a large hole in the roof. Every time it rained, she simply moved everything and cleaned up the mess. Laughing to herself, she took pictures of the ceiling and the mess below, saving them for later. She wanted a reminder of her first American shop with its hole in the roof.

Full of hope, she began visiting stores and leaving free samples of her art on tiles. Sales grew. Five years later, with the Internet in full bloom, and still without a computer, Lucia sacrificed to have a Web site designed.

In August 1997 she stopped by the library to use a computer to check her e-mail. Did she have a sale? Yes! She realized that the Internet was an important communication medium, and that by using it to the fullest, she could reach buyers without having to open a store. Since she couldn't keep paying a designer to maintain her Web site, in February 1998 she bought her first computer. Five months later, Lucia Fort opened

Lucia applies her formidable determination to perfecting her English and wishes it could happen faster. "Right now, I'm working seven days a week," she says. "As soon I have more time, I will enroll in an English class at the university. For now, I read a lot and listen books on tapes while I'm painting."

"Not bad for someone that rode a llama six years ago, metaphorically speaking," she laughs. "Many people know more than I do, but if I've learned one thing in life, it's this: if you try to find the perfect time or the perfect location, etc. to do something, you will never do it. Sometimes you need to jump into the pool and you have no option except to swim. Just make sure the pool has water."

Reach Lucia Fort at or e-mail her at


This article is part of the Handling Adversity series, by Judy Vorfeld

Mark Brennaman | Lucia Fort | Jacques Gesret | Dorothy Valentine McGinnis

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