San Miguel's Unofficial Officiant
For this month’s Expat Spotlight we had the pleasure of sitting down with our good friend Alex Van Doren, local metal artist and wedding officiant, to learn more about his life as an expat here in San Miguel de Allende.
What brought you to San Miguel de Allende?
My dad and I were doing large scale metal commission artwork in Northern California when he and my mom were looking for somewhere to retire. He asked me to come down and explore San Miguel with him to see if it was the right place for them, and we loved it so much that we bought property within three days. My wife Katie and I visited for years and always said that we would love to live here, but of course it's hard to uproot your life.
After they were living here for about 10 years my mom got cancer. We immediately sold everything in Portland, where we were living at the time, and ran down here to spend as much time with her as possible. We were really lucky and got another two good years with her. The wonderful legacy that she left was motivating us to have this adventure that moved us out of the States to find this amazing life in San Miguel, where we've been living for going on five years.
How did you get started officiating weddings?
I got started officiating weddings probably about 12 years ago back in Oregon. A friend asked me if I would officiate her wedding, so I got ordained as a minister. It went really well, and afterwords a lot of people came up and asked if it was something I did professionally. Of course I said, “oh no no, I just do this for fun.”
Then other friends continued to ask me over the years to officiate their weddings. It was when I was officiating a friends wedding here in San Miguel that a person who works with Penzi Weddings actually came up to me afterwards and asked if I would be willing to be their official officiator. So now I do a number of weddings through them as well as other wedding planners in town.
How many weddings have you officiated now?
I have officiated 18 weddings, and I'm scheduled to officiate another five or so this year. People just keep coming out of the woodwork wanting me to officiate more and more, which is wonderful. I've always been a romantic at heart, and I love love, so it's just really wonderful to be part of somebody's most special day.
What is the process when someone hires you for their wedding?
I customize every wedding that I do to the wants and desires of the bride and groom. For example, I’ve done religious, spiritual, jewish, and gay weddings. Every time I do a wedding I just cuddle up and huddle up with the bride and groom and their families. We look at all the different options like incorporating things that are more traditional, less traditional, and different cultural potentials in terms of inclusion. It all comes down to what they want for their day.
How do people book you for their wedding?
People usually get ahold of me through their wedding planner or through referrals from other weddings I have done. Of course, my main passion is metal art. I have a business called Van Doren Metal Art Workshop where we do commission metal artwork and have a school that teaches people how to do their own metal art. I can be reached directly through the “contact” button on my business website here.
Tell us more about Van Doren Metal Art Workshop and your commission work.
My dad used to drag me out to Taos, New Mexico every summer to build houses with him. He has a background in architecture and commercial and residential construction, so we would build a house every summer and then sell it. Eventually we started making artistic metal accents to differentiate our houses from the other houses that were on the market. We realized we were having more fun making the metal art than when we were doing the actual construction, so we transitioned into making more metal art stuff like doors, fountains, fireplaces, and abstract sculptures for residential and commercial application.
When I went off to college and minored in sculpture, my dad continued to learn the craft. We came back together when I was in my early 20s and started a business called Van Doren Studio where we did huge metal art for public art projects and commercial stuff such as bars, restaurants, insurance building, etc. Then my dad retired, stole all my tools, and moved down to San Miguel.
When Katie and I moved here permanently I suggested to my dad that we do some more commission metal art. We had always had so much fun doing it, and people constantly asked us if we could teach them the craft. So we decided to start doing workshops here about three years ago and just finished our 175th session. We have had over 600 students come through with everybody making an individual project.
It has been an incredibly wonderful and enriching experience in my life, and we continue to do it every week. We are usually booked out at least a month or two because we only allow four people into the workshop at a time. We’re foodies as well, so we make lunches for everybody with a wine pairing. We also still do commission projects all over San Miguel, Mexico City, Leon, and Queretaro, for mostly residential projects.
Since this is our wedding issue, and you and your lovely wife Katie have been married for 12 years, what advice do you have for people who are just about to get married?
I think the best advice that I have is to keep the romance alive. Don't get caught up in day to day life and forget to bring your wife flowers and sweep her off her feet. Do the little things that you know she loves, like bringing her a sweet treat or planning a fun surprise. Date nights are huge. Just keep making the marriage and the relationship a priority.
Learn more about metal art workshops at Van Doren Metal Art Workshop!