The Journey Begins: San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Most of our Penland School of Crafts travelers continued on with me from Oaxaca to explore Chiapas. Our journey began at the ADO bus station where we boarded an overnight luxury bus called the Platino with twenty-five reclining seats, leaving at 8:30 p.m. and arriving in San Cristobal de Las Casas at 7:30 a.m. the next day.   ChiapasBest45-16

Our destination, La Joya Hotel, is our base for exploring the art and archeology of the region. It’s a long and winding road! I recommend taking ginger drops in water, eating some crystallized ginger and taking a sleep aid! Hosts Ann Conway and John Do prepare a spectacular first night Thai welcome dinner after we visit Sergio Castro and his museum. Next, bed!

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Chiapas vies for the title of Mexico’s poorest state along with Oaxaca.  It is a sorry competition.  Both states are filled with isolated mountain communities that have little access to health care, education, nutrition and employment. Rural life is tied to the land where people cultivate corn, squash and beans and weave on backstrap looms. The result is the creation of magnificent textiles, a tourist draw. Isolation has preserved tradition at a huge cost and the politics are complex.

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Chiapas is rich in Maya culture filled with pre-Hispanic, indigenous folk practices blended with Spanish-introduced Catholic beliefs.  Known as syncretism, we can see this in every corner of life ranging from food to textiles to religious celebrations today.  The Mayan world spans southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras and her political borders are artificial and seamless.

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Our expert first day guide is Patrick, fluent in English, who studied archeology and history at University of California at Berkeley, son of a Mexican mother and Irish father. His uncle was the famed Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who mediated the peace treaty with the Zapatistas and the PRI.

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We learned much from Patrick about Spanish colonialism, the cultural and political history and the life of indigenous people. One cannot visit Chiapas without putting the textiles into the context of the people who make them.

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That’s why we include a visit to the Sergio Castro Museum as an introduction to Chiapas life on the first day, after a walking tour of the great pedestrian avenues of San Cristobal de Las Casas with Patrick.  Much has been written about Sergio.

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Sergio Castro is a hero, folk legend and medicine man who treats indigenous people who have suffered burn injuries at no cost.  Donations from visitors like us help fund medicines and supplies. He has won many humanitarian awards.

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We see everyday and ritual clothing. We see the skull rattle and string instrument made from gourds. We learn about the Maya language variations and the Lancandon tribe in the forest who escaped Spanish colonization.

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The photos on this post include our walking tour around San Cristobal de Las Casas, and our visit with Sergio Castro to see his textile collection of the region and understand his work.

We are not guides but educators. Norma Hawthorne Shafer has spent over 35 years at major universities organizing and delivering award winning educational programs for adults. When you travel with us you can rely on getting an in-depth experience from local experts who are most knowledgeable in their fields. We can include hands-on workshops to enrich the learning experience. Our forte is developing customized programs for arts and cultural organizations like we did for Penland School of Crafts. 

 

 

 

 

Indigo Dye Workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Making a shibori scarf using indigo dye was a highlight of the Penland School of Crafts visit to Oaxaca.

Penland Indigo WorkshopWe settled into the workshop studio of the Chavez Santiago family to hear about the planting, cultivation and preparation of indigo on the coast of Oaxaca in the village of Santiago Niltepec.

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Some people called it tie dye, but we know better since the technique was originally developed in Japan.  Lots of ways to make designs and patterns in the cloth that will resist the dye that coats its surface. PenlandBest91-60

It is a long seven month process to grow the indigo plant.  It needs the right soil and climate plus the knowledge of how to extract the blue color from the plant so that it becomes a stable and strong dye.

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The Museo Textil de Oaxaca now has an excellent exhibit and video that explains the fermentation, dye extraction and drying process.  What you end up with is a hard chunk of material that looks like coal.  It’s then ground into a powder and carefully added to a water bath so that the oxygen molecules are not activated.

PenlandBest91-56After we use rubber bands, string, marbles, beans, nuts, and just simple folding to create the pattern, we tie a string to the cotton cloth to submerge it gently into the dye bath.  It stays there for about twenty minutes.  Those who used the folding technique wrapped their cloth around styrofoam cylinders.

PenlandBest91-58 PenlandBest91-65 PenlandBest91-51 I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If you organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.

PenlandBest91-69 PenlandBest91-64Art making in Oaxaca comes in many forms and varieties.  Making indigo scarves is just one way to participate hands-on in all that Oaxaca has to offer.

PenlandBest91-71 PenlandBest91-68 PenlandBest91-62At the end of the workshop we enjoyed a tapestry weaving demonstration with Federico Chavez Sosa and his wife Dolores Santiago Arrellanas who operate Galeria Fe y Lola in Oaxaca city. Its amazing to see how they color all their wool with natural dyes and use the color together to make extraordinary, vibrant carpets.

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Penland School of Crafts in Ocotlan de Morales, Oaxaca

Our Penland School of Crafts group travels through Oaxaca arts and artisan villages this week.  One destination is the regional town of Ocotlan de Morales where we met artist Rodolfo Morales through the murals he painted in the municipal building during the mid-century. These frescoes depict the rich agricultural tradition of the Ocotlan valley and honors the labor of the campesinos — the people who till, plant and harvest.

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The Morales home is a treasure trove of 1930’s and 1940’s collectibles and folk art. It includes a traditional tile kitchen with walls adorned in tiny clay cooking vessels. Every room opens to a central, plant-filled patio.PenlandBest91-3

The primary caretaker of the home is nephew Alberto Morales, who greeted us at the front gate and let us inside. He is also the head of the Morales Foundation that keeps the house renovated and open to the public. On our request, he generously opened the private bedroom and studio where his uncle slept and worked.

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With more than an hour to explore the always diverse and culturally delicious Friday Ocotlan market tianguis …

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we went off to San Antonino Castillo Velasco to visit folk art potter Jose Garcia Antonio.  Jose and his family work in red clay sculpture and he is recognized as a Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art.

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Next, a quick stop to the women’s embroidery cooperative.  The quick stop became an hour-long shopping forage through the piles of gorgeous Oaxaca wedding dress style blouses and shirts, preceded by a demonstration about pattern making and stitching techniques. This coop is excellent quality with affordable prices!

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Fortified by a delicious lunch at Azucenas Zapotecas at the San Martin Tilcajete crossroads, we backtracked to Santo Tomas Jalieza for a visit with Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art weaving family of Abigail Mendoza.

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A long day, but not too long to return to enjoy a lovely dinner at Casa Crespo. I put together a tasting menu with Oscar Carrizosa made up of  an array of first courses.  It was just perfect.

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator organizes arts workshop study tours for groups of up to ten people. Please contact us for more information.  Norma Hawthorne Shafer has over 30 years experience developing award-winning university programs.

 

Oaxaca, Mexico: Center for the Graphic Arts

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Before going to meet Alan Altamirano aka MK_Kabrito, founder of La Chicharra graphic arts studio for a workshop demonstration on woodcut techniques, we spent the morning with master printer and lithographer Fernando SandovalPenlandBest91-32 Fernando and his group do traditional lithography using copper plates and the acid wash technique. Master artists like Francisco Toledo and Sergio Hernandez rely on his impeccable expertise to produce the highest quality images. We were able to see many of these masters’ work during our visit.

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We met Alan and translator/photographer Luvia Lazo Gutierrez in the studio and for the next two hours we learned about the printmaking process, using different plates for each color. (Note: we are offering a printmaking workshop in January 2016. Please contact us if you are interested.)

PenlandBest91-37 PenlandBest91-36 Some of us volunteered to try our hand at it — time consuming and labor intensive.  Alan says it takes him at least thirty hours to make a large woodcut. Then he does the registration process, applying the ink to the wood and laying the paper exactly over the correct spot.

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There is also a large work area and a printing press.  So the large pieces go through the press rather than transferring the image to the paper by hand.

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I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If your organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.

Penland School Cooks in Oaxaca

We will be going back in time this week. A few days ago our participants from Penland School of Crafts gathered at Casa de los Sabores, the cooking school operated by chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo.

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Our menu focused on mezcal including a flaming skewered pineapple and shrimp dish that went up in flames before we ate it. The pineapple chunks were soaked in mezcal so the natural sugars ignited instantly. They were accompanied by a salad featuring tiny tomatillos that we ate raw.

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Pilar has been preparing great food for a long time.  Her La Olla Restaurant is well known in the city for using organic ingredients that are artfully prepared. Because our study tour focuses on Oaxaca arts and artisanry, food is an important ingredient in the Oaxaca mix.

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Pilar is also very knowledgeable about the artesenal process of cultivating and distilling mezcal, too.  Before we sat down to the meal we participated in preparing, we enjoyed a four-flight mezcal tasting that began with young espadin.  She explained the different varietals, aging process and the rising cost of the smokey beverage based on escalating international interest.

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First, it’s important to smell.  Then, take a first sip and let it go down your throat slowly.  At the end of your drink, suck on an orange slice dipped in worm salt (sal de gusano) for a perfect finish.

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After the memelitas with squash blossoms and queso fresco, and after the chicken with mole amarillo, we ended with an incredible flan.

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With a beautiful table and an array of complex tastes, we were more than satisfied.  Oh, and I forgot to mention a shopping trip to the Mercado de la Merced before the class started to pick up essential ingredients.

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I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If you organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.