The Magical Mind of Jaime Merengue

Thoughts from the Tile Park

Emily Murray

Here at the Tile Park, it’s not really about the tiles. There’s a “why” about this project, and it can be summed up in one word if we must give it just one word: “You.”


The Tile Park project is all about taking a rundown piece of Vallarta’s Old Town and bringing people together to declare their love for it, piece by piece. It’s all about creating a place, for you and me, that tells the story of us. That has my voice and your voice, and they mingle in this place… and there’s a melody to the mingling… a song worth singing.


This week I’m totally honored to share with you a little about James, the sole artist behind one exceptional column in the Tile Park. James actually purchased 3 workshops, just to have a whole column himself.

What an outstanding result! It is absolutely perfect in its design and proportions. It showcases the artist’s clear eye for pattern and detail while keeping it sweet and whimsical with sunny colors and a nod to his beloved Mexico.


Though he lost his battle with lung cancer, he left us all with a story. One that he’ll tell us anytime we want, we just have to go there and hear it.

This is a little about James, as written by his partner Al, one of the many people who dearly loved him.



(December 25, 1958, to March 7, 2019)

60 years young, taken by lung cancer.


James was born in Santa Cruz, California, and moved to Portland, Oregon at a young age. He had a pretty normal childhood.

Early in life, James got married and became the father of two daughters and a son. He was a proud family man.

I met James back in 2000, and it would be a few years before our friendship would evolve into love.


He worked in the grocery business for nearly 30 years, mostly in produce for Albertsons stores. James was by far the hardest worker I ever knew, either at work or around the house.


In 2008, President George Bush issued a $600 tax incentive to all adult citizens. Nearly the same time a garage sale happened in the neighborhood. A young man was selling boxes of glass from his late father’s stained glass studio. For that $600 he bought two pickup truck loads of stained glass. He had no idea what he was going to do with that but knew he had something stirring. He began tinkering with an old saw that was in the garage. Soon he had made a glass and wood panel for the yard, using old fence boards and some stained glass.


That got him excited and he made more. Soon after that, he put some of the panels out for our own garage sale. He sold them all! With the excitement of a child and faith of a saint, James quit his decades-long job and started making garden panels for color in the yard. These became really popular, so he took them to art shows around Portland. He was able to make a living doing something he loved. It was amazing how well he was received in the arts community, and that gave him encouragement.


James had no art background, barely a high school diploma, he was just a natural.


One day someone told him that his work was reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. Jameses’ response was, “Who?”


From that time, and for the next six years, things just really grew fast. He took risks and made commitments that he was unsteady about.


He loved making the garden panels, but more and more people were hiring him to do custom work.


He was able to do the work and still get in several weeks in his beloved Puerto Vallarta every year.


Never one to take a lazy day off, he got creative with washed-up tiles on the beaches and made interesting designs with them.


I can’t think of anything that thrilled him more than having the opportunity to work in the tile park and even tile his own pillar. He’d never done that kind of work before but thought he was an expert.


Just as authors and painters sometimes use a different name for their artistic endeavors, so too did James, but only for the art he made in Mexico! Here, he became the one and only Jaime Merengue.


Fearless dreamer, gifted artist, beloved friend, and partner.


Just a little about James.