Mexican Muralist Orozco’s Prometheus at Pomona College, California

Last week while I was visiting my son in Southern California, I decided to make a pilgrimage to see Jose Clemente Orozco’s famed mural at Pomona College. Orozco, along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siquieros, is one of the Three Grand Masters of Mexican Muralism.  Like a three-legged stool, the study of one balances and informs the work of the others as they shaped and reflected post-revolutionary (1910-1920) Mexico art and politics.

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During our Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Tour in Mexico City (coming up November 13-17), Orozco and Siquieros figure predominantly in what we see since they all painted frescoes in Mexico City’s public spaces.

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We compare and contrast the styles of these three  to better understand how they interpreted social and political change within the context of their personal beliefs and values.

Orozco’s work is powerful, compelling and monumental. So, I take art historian Valeria’s advice to see this work in Frary Dining Hall at Pomona College.

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It’s summer and I call ahead to make sure of the dining hall hours to be certain I can enter (breakfast is served 8-9:30 p.m. and lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.), then prepare my route from the beach to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, navigating a series of freeways. This is the land I grew up in and I’m completely at home.

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The trip takes about an hour and I arrive a bit after ten in the morning.  A good time to travel since I am going in the opposite direction from morning rush-hour traffic heading toward downtown Los Angeles.

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Pomona College is private, liberal arts and part of the Claremont Colleges Consortium. The grounds are carefully manicured and the buildings convey the ambience of of classic California architecture, combining southwest colonial Spanish influences with art deco style.

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I loved walking the park-like, tree-lined pedestrian avenues filled with talented young people representing every multicultural mix in the world.

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Orozco painted and completed his mural in 1930, at the start of the Great Depression.  There is an extensive art history discussion of the mural so I won’t go into much detail here, other than to say that Prometheus incurred the wrath of Zeus when he gifted humankind with fire — a symbol of learning, enlightenment and innovation — a perfect metaphor for a relatively new institution of higher education.

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I decided to stay and have brunch in the richly paneled dining hall that students call Hogwarts, bought a meal ticket for $7.50, and settled in for the next hour-and-a-half to take photos, people watch, and gaze at the ironwork, paneled walls, and the play of light on Orozco’s masterpiece.

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Note: If you arrive before or after the scheduled dining hall opening hours, you will be able to view the Orozco mural in natural light.  Incandescent lights illuminate the mural during the hours when the dining hall is open.  In my opinion this distorts the mural and the light casts an unwelcome glare. So, my recommendation is to enter the dining hall either between breakfast and lunch or between lunch and dinner.

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Best time to travel there:  Between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. I left campus at 1:30 p.m. and had an easy return to the south coast, again circumventing Los Angeles’ famed clogged freeways.

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Labor Day and Saludos From Taos, New Mexico

We have this last 3-day holiday weekend of summer, Labor Day to honor the United States of America labor movement and workers around the world.

Taos, New Mexico Sunset

Taos, New Mexico Sunset

As I look out onto  panoramic scene of the Rio Grande River Gorge from my friends’ home on a high mesa outside of Taos, New Mexico, I think about the advocacy and personal risk required to create the child labor laws, safe working conditions and the forty-hour work week.

Hot air balloons over the Rio Grande River gorge.

Hot air balloons over the Rio Grande River gorge.

Today, some of us stretch the Labor Day weekend into perhaps a seven or ten-day holiday to enjoy the last of summer.   Yet, in Oaxaca, we still see young children peddling candy on the streets to make a few pesos long after bedtime and a standard six-day work week, Monday through Saturday, that likely may not include paid vacation time, health benefits or a retirement plan.

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I’m on the road for the next six weeks. The stop in Santa Fe was to visit my met in Oaxaca friends Martha, Sheri and Norma Uno who spend their time between Mexico and the “new” part of it. Mexico’s flavors and influences permeate here, hence Our Lady of Guadalupe images everywhere. As part of my experience, I even slept in a yurt in Norma’s garden outside her adobe casita built in the Pueblo style with modern adaptations.

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After a mighty fine brunch visit at The Tea House cafe in Santa Fe, I hopped on a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-skirts Twin Hearts Express shuttle service to take the two-hour ride to Taos, where my friends Karen and Steve picked me up.

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We have been gorge-gazing, eating, cooking, shopping and other sundry activities all weekend.  The scene reminds me of Oaxaca — big vistas, high mountains, lots of scrub oak and mesquite, grazing sheep and neighbors who are very fun.

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There are more cowboys and cowboy wannabes here. Snakeskin boots, Navajo bolo ties, turquoise and silver abound.  At the organic Saturday farmers’ market on the plaza  we foraged for wild golden chanterelle mushrooms picked by a retired French couple who live here. Turns out they know people in Toulouse, France, where I’m heading in two weeks to visit Brigitte and Ivan. And, look at that native corn. Perhaps genetically similar to the Oaxaca corn I know and love.

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Last night we went to a house party for an intimate soiree by Susan Gibson, formerly of the Dixie Chicks.  The night before found us on another mesa eating grilled lamb chops and drinking a some delicious red wine. Yum, yum. Our hostess concocted a great sautee of fresh corn and squash New Mexico style, which she says is her favorite mainstay.

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Perhaps the most satisfying part of this leg of my trip is spending it with friends whom I have known for almost forty years. Our lives have turned in different directions yet the camaraderie and bond are constant.

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So, from Mexico to New Mexico, I find myself in the bosom of a shared culture, in a landscape that is familiar yet different, among a concurrent history of conquest, weaving, food and art.  I wish you all a satisfying and joyous weekend as I prepare to return to Northern California to visit my ninety-eight year old mother on Tuesday.

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at the Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico with Day of the Dead overtones

 

Oaxaca Gold, Silver Filigree Earrings, Plus Woven Tapestry Bags for Sale

After a long day of travel yesterday, by bus from Puebla to the Mexico City airport, then to San Francisco with a connection to Orange County, California, I have settled into my son’s home in Huntington Beach.

Shoulder bag, approx. 14"x16" with leather straps, $85 + shipping.  Dyed with wild marigold and nuts.

Handbag, approx. 15″ high x16″ wide, $85 + shipping. Dyed with wild marigold and nuts, lined with strong zipper closure, strong leather straps approx. 28″ long.

I’m carrying with me two beautiful hand-woven, tapestry wool bags that with natural dyes, made by my friend Lupe from Teotitlan del Valle, and a group of gold vintage filigree earrings and a pair of silver filigree from my personal collection. All are for sale here.

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Lupe is a single mother of three sons ranging in age from elementary school to college. Her goal is that all boys receive a college education. She makes ends meet, uses her small income to pay tuition and has few opportunities to market her work.

Handbag, approx. 14"x16", $85 + shipping. Handwoven, leather straps, zipper, lined.

Handbag, approx. 15″high x16″ wide, $85 + shipping. Hand-woven, 28″ leather straps, zipper, lined. Dyed with cochineal, wild marigold, nuts.

Lupe is talented and resourceful. Recently, she got a grant from the state economic development office to take a course to learn leather-work. The leather is soft, the workmanship excellent. She is making lined shoulder handbags and I offered to help her sell these two.  The leather shoulder strap measurements are approximately 28″ long, end-to-end where they are attached to the bag.

Are you interested?  Send me an email.

Now, for the jewelry!

#1: Frida Kahlo Style 3-Tier Chandelier Earrings: Luscious 10K Gold Filigree, Pearl, Purple Stones, $495. plus shipping and insurance. 2-3/4″ drop from ear hole! Approx. 1-1/2″ at widest point of the two leaves.

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I came by this amazing pair of vintage 10K gold, pearl and stone earrings because another indigenous friend needed money to buy a refrigerator. How could I say no? The filigree work is gorgeous. She says her father gave them to her about thirty-five years ago. These earrings are substantial, elegant, dramatic. A true statement.

Selling these and all the rest  for the price I paid (smile).

#2. Juicy Red Vintage 10K Gold Filigree and Pearl Earrings. $195. + shipping and insurance.  Deep bezel setting. You don’t find workmanship like this now! 1-3/4″ long from the ear hole and 3/4″ wide.

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FiligreeJewelry_WovenBags-23#3. Mario Perez Sterling Silver Filigree Earrings, new. $225 + shipping and insurance.

Among the finest, most intricate filigree workmanship in Oaxaca. Mario has his gallery on the Macedonio Alcala walking street in Oaxaca. These earrings have secure French-style hooks. The dangling drop is about the size of a quarter. 1-1/2″ long from the ear hole, 1″ wide. For more detail, click on the photo.

#4. Vintage 8K Gold and Pearl Earrings. These dramatic dangles have a huge, oval, clear cubic zirconia stone that sparkle with every move. $165+ shipping and insurance. 1-3/4″ long from the ear hole and 3/4″ wide.

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#5. Vintage 10K Gold Filigree Traditional Zapotec Earrings from Teotitlan del Valle. These are probably at least forty years old. They were part of a family collection and the owner needed to raise money for home improvements. $385. + shipping and insurance. Hook goes from back of ear to front, with gold disk facing forward. 2-1/4″ drop from ear hole, 1-7/16″ wide.

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Masterpiece of Mexican Cuisine and Symbol of Independence: Chile en Nogada

It’s a Chile en Nogada kind of day here in Puebla, Mexico, where it was first prepared by Augustinian nuns, so they say, to honor the birthday of General Augustin Iturbide on August 28, 1821, who orchestrated Mexico’s independence from Spain on the same date.

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I ate one Chile en Nogada today here at El Mural de Los Poblanos. One s not enough. But, lo, I won’t be here long enough, gone by the time you read this! No second day for a second helping.

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History notes that it took Iturbide less than a year to secure independence after he put together a three-part coalition of liberal insurgents, landed nobility and the church who had been in-fighting for ten years. He formulated The Three Guarantees: Freedom from Spain, Religion (Catholicism only) and  Union (all Mexicans treated as equals).

Iturbide translated The Three Guarantees into the Tri-Color Mexican flag — green, red and white —  and added the Aztec symbol of the eagle perched on a cactus to build upon the past. The city is decorated to honor the occasion and the Chile en Nogada season.

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The nuns created the Chile en Nogada to honor the man who created the first Mexican independence.  The dish is tri-color:  A beautiful poblano chile stuffed with minced pork, fresh fruit, pine nuts and savory spices (green), topped with a fresh walnut and cream sauce (white) and garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds (red).

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Today, chile en nogada is THE seasonal dish in Puebla. It is a culinary masterpiece along with the other masterpiece of Puebla origins, mole poblano. Every restaurant tries to capitalize on the popularity of this famous dish.

Chile en Nogada is available fresh only from July to September when pomegranates are ripe, peaches and apples are in season, and mild poblano peppers are prolific.

No restaurant does it better than El Mural de Los Poblanos.  I’ve been coming here for years and the preparation, presentation and taste never wavers from excellent. Paired with Casa Madero 3V red wine from Coahuila, Mexico, this meal was cien percento (one hundred percent) Mexicano.

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Chef Lisette Galicia’s Chile en Nogada is stuffed with a picadillo of pears, apples, pine nuts, raisins and ground pork, seasoned with hints of North African spices that point to Spain’s Moorish history. It is a perfect combination of sweet and savory.  The version here is a sweeter nogada sauce, a counter-point to what I tasted the week before at Mexico City’s Azul Historico, where two sauce versions, one sweet, the other savory, were available on the menu.

Now, it’s off to El Norte for a while. Hasta pronto. I’ll be dreaming of you, Mexico.

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Oaxaca Folk Art: Jose Garcia Antonio Ceramic Figures

Jose Garcia Antonio, one of Oaxaca’s best clay sculptors, participated in the 2014 International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this July. This is no small accomplishment. This juried exhibition invites only the most accomplished artisans from all over the world to show and demonstrate their craft.

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Last Friday, we drove out to San Antonino Castillo Velasco as part of an all-day excursion to celebrate my friend Carol’s birthday. She wanted our first stop to be with Don Jose.

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It’s dark inside the studio, atmospheric. Don Jose works intuitively, feels the clay, feels his wife’s face, the faces of his children and grandchildren. He inspires creativity for those with physical limitations.

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While we were there, he received a call from TV Azteca in Oaxaca. They wanted to come out to interview and film him that afternoon. He is becoming very famous.

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I remember going to his studio years ago when not many knew about him and he was far off the beaten path, long before tour guides had him on their radar to bring clients there.

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I remember when we drove into the entrance of San Antonino and inquired from a moto-taxi driver if he knew where Don Jose lived. We paid the driver 10 pesos to lead us there.

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I remember when I bought a life-size figure of a Juchitan woman carrying a basket on her head, hips swaying, braids hanging, skirt flowing, knowing she was too heavy to ever bring back to the USA, and putting her in the home of friends until the Oaxaca home I was to live in was completed — years later.

Each time I visit Don Jose Garcia Antonio, I am amazed how his magic hands inspire and create work his eyes cannot see. Each time, I am tempted to add something to my collection. This time, it was a pig planter, which my travel mates called Wilbur.

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His daughter, Sara, makes expressive clay face-mask planters to hang on a wall. All the children work the clay. The grandchildren are growing up in this clay culture, shaping simple figures of butterflies, mermaids, and winged angels. Small treasures to pack into suitcases to remember the artist, his family and the experience of being in the arts and artisans mecca of Oaxaca.

How to Find Jose Garcia Antonio: Turn into the village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  Turn right on Calle Independencia. Turn left at the first street. Go several blocks. Look on the left side of the street for the clay lion on the roof. There you are!