Monthly Archives: March 2009

Last Day Scramble

Carlos the taxi driver crosses himself when we enter the big highway.  He does this every time.  Perhaps there is a hidden altar I do not see.  Perhaps he is asking for guidance or protection as we pick up speed.  He can make it to the city in under 30 minutes!  He points to the big pink casa in the distance.  Empty, he says.  The owner has lived in California for 30 years.  We are on the way to Oaxaca for the last time this time.

There is a tendency to scoop up everything that one forgot to buy before on the last day in Oaxaca:  mole rojo, coloradito or negro paste packed by efficient Mayordomo girls into double strength plastic bags.  Do we have time to get to that special galleria?  Is there a window to find Bertha Cruz in Arrazola?  Maybe a short stop to visit Remigio Mestas?  Who have I forgotten for gifts?  What would she like?  What would fit him?  I sit on the Zocalo in Terra Nova at the outdoor cafe waiting for Eric. Las Nuvas, the clouds, give us shade and there is a little less heat to this day.  I order agua con pepino de limon and the waiter brings a plate of sliced cucumbers with wedges of lemon.  The confusion of language brings a chuckle and the cucumbers are quite tasty.

My pack is weighted with 20 lbs. (or so it seems) of mole, a large countertop aluminum juice squeezer useful for making quantities of lime juice (nowhere to be found in the U.S.), an unusual huipil hand embroidered from San Antonino of a design I had never seen before and impulsively purchased, a burgundy red three-dimensional star, and a string of paper cut-out white cupids and red hearts to give to my son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law.  There is no rhyme or reason to this assortment other than the last day scramble to bring Oaxaca home with me.

Loco Viento — That Crazy Wind

Wind arrives and blows through the valley each day in February around 3 p.m.  It whips and blusters.  Whoosh.  It’s kite building time.  From the rooftop I can see two triangles with tails zigzagging, rising toward the top of the mountain.  In the courtyard, Taurino, the new brother-in-law, is helping the young brothers make a kite — one for each of them.  They cut sheets of green plastic and use tape and glue to affix the plastic to bamboo forms.  Later they will run in open fields to test their work.

Today there was chicken, rice and mole negro for lunch along with fresh tortillas, and a choice of guayaba juice fresh squeezed or jugo de jamaica (hibiscus flower juice).  We were deep into the editing process using Final Cut Pro, trying to figure out how to trim 15 minutes of interview and 25 minutes of broll into a 5 minute rough cut.

The wind rattles the steel framed glass windows and rustles the leaves of the pomegranate tree.  Magda’s striped “coat of many colors” scarf is a horizontal blur trailing behind her as she walks across the courtyard.  The laundry on the second story line is a string of multi-national flags.  Crows, wingspans wide open, surf the undulating air waves I cannot see.  A bee alights atop a tangerine-colored cactus flower.

Painting Workshop in Oaxaca with Pantaleon Ruiz See examples of painter Pantaleon Ruiz’ work!

Pantaleon is an accomplished and widely exhibited painter who has shown his work in Oaxaca, Cancun, Mexico City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon.  He taught workshops in both the U.S. and Mexico.  Pantaleon, who is bilingual, works in oil paint tinted with the same natural dyes he and his family uses to color the wool they weave with — cochineal, indigo, moss, wild marigolds.  His painting techniques — the use of brushes, fingers, and sweeping strokes of the hand dipped in paint and beeswax — lend themselves very well to working with children and adults to learn to use paint as an expressive, artistic medium.

Newsflash:Pantaleon will be one of the people we will interview and film during the Documentary Filmmaking Workshop: Visual Storytelling, February 19-26, 2010.  See the course description posted on this blog.

We have added a new class to our offerings of arts programs in the village of Teotitlan del Valle.  Come for a studio painting class with Pantaleon or a weaving workshop with Federico Chavez Sosa.  We can arrange customized programs for any time during the year that you can travel (with confirmation of availability of the instructors).  These can be full days, half-days, and multiple days.  We can offer you weaving, dyeing and painting workshops — half and half!  Half day of weaving and half day of painting.  I will work with you to price out the program that fits best within your schedule and budget.

Note:  shorter workshops will be experiences and will not produce a completed piece, but only a ‘sampler’ for you to take away with you.  Nevertheless, this will give you a hands-on opportunity to work with weaving and painting masters in an indigenous Zapotec village renown for its craftsmanship.

You can contact me at with your requests and I will send you a proposal.



Biography: Pantaleon Ruiz Martinez ws born in 1974 to a family of weavers.  His relatives taught him the art of weaving and he later developed his own designs.  Later, he lived and worked for a time in the U.S. and discovered his calling as a painter.  When he returned to Oaxaca, he had developed considerable artistic skill both as a painter and ceramic artist.  His canvasas project the peacefulness of his sacred village of Teotitlan del Valle, but also a restless need to explore new territory.  Pantaleon paints with a dual consciousness and expands his horizons of self-expression.  Aware of his ancestral Zapotec origins, he places himself within a more vast and ancient tradition — that of human civilizations.  His paintings and sculptures speak of that personal story constructed of two difference societies, two different environments that are part of a larger weaving culture.  He is both pre-Hispanic and twentieth century in his approaches to painting.  He moves from the abstract to figure painting with ease, and experiments so that he is not defined by a rigid style.  He pulls from his historical influences of textile weaving and incorporates graphic designs to come out the other side with a new form of expression.  he mixes conventional pigments with cochineal and othr dyes usually used by weavers, paints on exotic Nepalese paper or more popular bark paper, combines oil with ink and encaustic or synthetic resins or beeswax to produce texture.  He has been featured  in Architectural Digest magazine, Great Design Around The World, the Smithsonian Magazine, Old House magazine, and has received numerous awards.

Painting Workshop Costs Include All Materials:

1 to 3 days, 3-4 hours in a workshop day, Cost is $67 per day.
4-6 days, 3-4 hours in a workshop day, Cost is $57 per day.
7 days or more, 3-4 hours in a workshop day, $47 per day.

These costs do not included food and lodging.  I would be happy to put a package together for you that includes lodging and meals, too.

NC Moss Dye Bath & Silk Cocoons

During one of the visits to Teotitlan last summer, I went to the studio of Arte y Seda.  This family home and workshop employs a horizontal production process:  they grow the worms, feeding them mulberry leaves from the trees in their courtyard, cultivate the worms through the reproduction stage where they become pupae encased in the silk cocoon.   The cocoons are then soaked so that human hands can unravel the silk that is then dyed, spun and woven.  It is said that 914 yards of silk forms one cocoon. It is a multi-step, multi-month process.

I bought 7 pure white cocoons and brought them home with me, waiting for a jewelry project.  When I shake these, I can hear the remnants of a creature that has dried and is trapped inside.

For the past few months I have been gathering moss from downed limbs in the forest around my house.  The moss is pale olive green.  It’s not really long, dripping Spanish moss, but short little hairs that grow on maple trees.

I’ve now collected about 1 cup, and intend to run a dye experiment, coloring the silk cocoons.  Eric Chavez Santiago, director of education, Museo Textil de Oaxaca, responded to my plea for a recipe:  put the moss in 90 degree centigrade hot water, let it sit for an hour.  Cool the liquid keeping the moss in the liquid.  Add the silk cocoons and keep the termperature at 70-80 C for one more hour.  Let the cocoon mixture cool in the dye bath overnight.  It’s important to figure out a way to keep the cocoons, which tend to float, submerged so they evenly absorb the dye color.  Also, don’t stir the cocoons or they could unravel or get mushy.

“It will be very interesting to see if the moss will dye the cocoons,” said Eric.   It works with cochineal and indigo.

I haven’t run the experiment yet so I’ll keep you posted.

My intention is to string the colored cocoons together with a woven yarn or thread, perhaps a crocheted thread, and perhaps embellish the necklace with clay or glass beads.  I may wrap the cocoons in an alternate commercially dyed and purchased silk to give texture and play off the natural and synthetic nature of the material.  Silkworms are only now cultivated in captivity.  None exist any longer in the wild.

Experiment #1:  I did as instructed above using 1 cup of moss to two cups of water, and the color of the cocoons were a pale shade of ochre, so I returned them to the dye bath for another 24-hour soaking for a total of 48 hours in the dye bath.  They maintained their shape beautifully and colored a deeper ochre, yet still not to my satisfaction after they air dried for 24 hours.  I really want a deep, deep golden color.

Experiment #2: I have picked 1 cup of moss and added this to 1 cup of water in hopes of getting a more intense dye bath.  I can see that the color of the water after the moss is cooked to 190 degrees will be more of the color I am seeking.  I will let the moss/water mix simmer at a constant 190 degrees for one hour, then cool the mix to 170 degrees, and add the cocoons for a second go-around.

How to keep the cocoons from floating:  put the cocoons under the moss covering them completely with moss.  Then, put a layer of aluminum foil over the moss, then weight this with a small ceramic plate so the cocoons don’t bob up and out from under the moss.