Monthly Archives: August 2011

Three Days in Puebla, Mexico with Mari Seder

Puebla City of Angels—February 24, 25, 26, 27, $495 per person

Either add this on to your Oaxaca art workshop adventure or meet us in Puebla!  If you are adding on, you will travel by First Class Bus from Oaxaca to Puebla, Mexico, home of Talavera tile, the Mexican Revolution, and Mole Poblano. Your three-night stay includes lodging in a lovely hotel, guided visits to Talavera studios, extraordinary museums, Cholula archeological site and the incredible Sunday antique/flea market, plus more.


Puebla is Mexico’s fifth largest city–cosmopolitan without being overwhelming.  It is relaxed, accessible, and easily experienced in a few days. Known as the ‘City of the Angels’” or Angelopolis, Puebla, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded in 1531 as a purely colonial Spanish city built from the ground up—not on top of an existing indigenous site as the trade crossroads between the port of Veracruz and Mexico City.  More than 5,000 of the Baroque-designed buildings date mostly from the 16th century and covered in extraordinary Talavera tile.

Uriarte Talavera Vases

Puebla is also about shopping! The highlight is the Talavera pottery and Mari knows the best stores. But there are many other local crafts: Tree of Life clay figures, bark paper paintings, and unique onyx and marble sculptures. You can find these and much more at the traditional markets, the stalls that line Puebla’s beautiful plazas, and at the Sunday flea and antique market.

Chiles en Nogada Original to Puebla

Puebla is known throughout Mexico for its excellent cuisine, a blend of pre-Hispanic, Arabic, French and Spanish influences.  There are many good restaurants at very affordable prices, and we’ll be visiting them!

We’ll also go to Cholula, an indigenous village just outside Puebla with the world’s widest ancient pyramid Quetzalcoatl. The Spanish built the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Remidios with its amazing 24-carat gold basilica atop the pyramid.  On a clear day you can see snow-capped Popocatepetl, an active volcano, showing off his powerful plume.

Nuestra Senora de los Remidios

Our stops will include:

  • Antique market & Barrio del Artista
  • Museo Amparo
  • Talavera galleries and shops
  • Tonantzintla’ Templo de Santa Maria
  • Templo San Francisco in Acatepec
  • La Purificadora Hotel, an architectural wonder, designed by Ricardo and Victor Legorreta

Transportation to Puebla:  Puebla is a convenient stop-over on your way back to the U.S. We will take a first class bus from Oaxaca to Puebla (4-hour trip) on the afternoon of February 24.  On Monday, February 27, we will bus in the early morning from Puebla on first class bus (complete with Wi-Fi) directly to the international terminal at Mexico City’s Benito Juarez Airport (2-hour trip).  Be sure to reserve your return air travel from Mexico City to the U.S. with departure time no earlier than late morning (11 a.m. or later).  Bus tickets will be at your own expense and can be purchased near the Zocalo in Oaxaca city.

Includes lodging and guided visits.  Meals, transportation to Puebla and to local sites, and entrance fees are at your own expense.

There will be a few slots reserved for travelers who only want to participate in the Puebla trip.  Contact Norma if this interests you!

Tips for Traveling with Technology: Get a Back Up Battery

PowerDuo Reserve - AC charger, car charger, and rechargeable backup battery

Griffin Technology gives mobile a boost

Trust me!  I am not getting paid to plug this.  Stephen just ordered two — one for him and one for me, and it came yesterday.  He’s a sweetheart.  The deal is — this  is a portable battery that charges either from the wall charger (on the right) or car charger (on the left).  So, when you hop on the plane you have a spare external back-up battery to power your iPhone or iPod or iPad (yes, I tested it — it works on my iPad) should your battery run down.  It’s made by Griffin Technology out of Nashville, TN, and you can order online.

David Pogue of the NY Times writes about how to keep your music player, computer, and e-book fully charged during travel, especially during long flights.  This one wasn’t mentioned in his last article, so I’m adding it here as a Norma’s Travel Tip when you depend on technology.


Mexican Immigration Heartbreak: Catch 22

Earlier this week I was visiting friends in Morganton and Valdese, NC, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Morganton is fortunate.  It has a chicken plant that is still operating.  Who are the workers?  Latino/a immigrants.  No one else wants the job.

Morganton is also the home of the deceased, venerable U.S. Senator Sam Ervin, Jr. chairman of the Watergate Committee, who claimed, “I’m just an ‘ole country lawyer from Dixie” as he brought his constitutional law prowess to bear on a presidency gone amok.  Ervin brought government jobs to Morganton. There is a vibrant downtown with galleries, shops, businesses, and cheap labor to clean homes, landscape yards and government school lawns and chickens. The local furniture and textile industry moved their plants off-shore to Asia years ago.  Their empty shells are a reminder of employment loss and the end of traditional prosperity.

Valdese has Hmong and Latino/a immigrants, lots of Asian restaurants, and a very multicultural feel to the very small town that was alive with furniture manufacturing.  The store fronts are empty.  The rails are silent. Latinos wait in the parking lot in front of one of the two town laundromats. The summer Waldensian festival the second weekend in August still draws people from far and wide.  There are great ceramic artists in these hills, too.

I had lunch with a local coach.  He told me, painfully, how some of his most talented students, both academically and athletically, are children of undocumented Mexican immigrants who, for the most part, crossed the border to escape drug war violence.  The children may have come here as infants or toddlers and will never be able to attend university unless they pay out-of-state tuition — which, of course, they can’t afford.  In-state tuition requires residency which requires a birth certificate or social security card.  The young people are working hard to get out from under fast food service jobs, the line up for chicken plant employment or at the day labor pool corner.  Their eyes are downcast, can see down the short stretch to the dead-end before they reach age 20.

He told me how his politics have changed.  He sees first hand how wrong it is for smart children with promise who have been in the U.S. for most of their lives not to have access to education.  We, as a society, keep them down and then complain that they can’t get up and take care of themselves.   Catch 22 comes to my mind.

We are a multicultural and blended society.  Soon, people of color will outnumber whites.  Bilingual signage is appearing everywhere, not just in bigger cities or airports. We are going to need to teach Spanish in our schools starting in early childhood if we are going to understand each other and communicate and problem-solve.

In the most rural areas of North Carolina immigrants are part of the labor pool and contributing to local economies.  We reward them with shame, fear, discrimination, and entrap and then incarcerate them as undocumented immigrants even when they try to return to Mexico.

I wonder what Senator Sam would say?

What would you say?

Make Mexican Sterling Silver Jewelry: Workshop in Oaxaca

Learn to make sterling silver jewelry — rings, pendants, earrings — using the ancient lost-wax process.  This is an excellent introduction to wax carving and sling casting techniques, plus the finish work needed to laminate, stretch, cut, file, solder, polish and buff your piece.

Comprehensive 3-Day Silver Jewelry Workshop: $325

             Offered most Fridays-Saturdays-Sundays throughout the year.  Contact us to schedule a custom workshop to suit your travel plans!

Class size is limited to 4 people.

You do not need to be experienced.  
 Beginners welcome.
We work closely with each participant to suit each person’s individual learning styles and needs in a safe learning environment.   Whether you are a visitor to Oaxaca and want to add this experience to your travel itinerary or you live here, we welcome your participation.  Brigitte and Ivan speak French, English, and Spanish and they are happy to translate as they teach.

Workshop Schedule:

  • Day One:  9 a.m. to late afternoon, with a lunch break (bring your own lunch).  We may end at 5 or 6 p.m., depending on group size.
  • Day Two: 10 a.m. to late afternoon, with a  lunch break (bring your own lunch).  We may end at 5 or 6 p.m., depending on group size.
  • Day Three: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with one hour lunch break (bring your own lunch).

During the first two days, you will:

  • Choose and reproduce a design based on ancient Mixtec, Aztec, Mayan and Zapotec symbols
  • Carve, build-up and sculpt a 3-dimensional Kand-art design in wax for a pendant or a ring
  • Prepare the casting flask with plaster for your piece
  • Attend to the oven with the flask in the charcoal
  • Participate with supervised instruction to cast the silver in the mold
  • Learn how to use the sling to cast your own work in the future
  • Hand-finish, buff and polish your piece so it is ready-to-wear

All materials, tools, instruction and your sterling silver piece are included in the course fee.

On Day Three, you will have an Introduction to Classical Jewelry Making.  You will learn to use classical jewelers’ tools: the laminator, pliers, saws, electric motor, solder torch, and do finish work using different grades of sandpaper to clean, polish and buff.  In this session you will learn how to melt the quantity of metal you will need, laminate it, stretch it, cut it, and solder the different elements of a design together.  Using the techniques you learn, you will build up a small silver pendant or a pair of earrings ready to wear, choosing a design among the ones we offer you.

Sue Baldassano from New York says … I spent two lovely days  learning to  make jewelry with Brigitte and Ivan in Oaxaca, Mexico. It felt great to be in a working studio with artists.  They were both passionate about their work and seemed to enjoy sharing their knowledge. They were patient, kind and open to my personal artistic style. The  surroundings were comfortable and I never felt rushed in any way.  I came home with not only a beautiful necklace but an appreciation for  the art of jewelry making.

About the Lost-Wax Process.  In many cultures in South America, as well as Africa and India, gold and silversmiths used the technique of lost-wax casting to create complex and delicate shapes.  The item to be cast is first modeled in wax and a clay mold is built around it with a small hole piercing the mold.  The mold is baked until the wax melts and runs out of the mold through the hole.  The molten material is then poured through the same hole into the empty cavity.  After it cools and hardens the mold is broken open and the casting is removed and cleaned.

Lost Wax Workshop Photos: The Process and the Product


All materials, tools, instruction and your sterling silver piece are included in the course fee.

I had a wonderful workshop experience.  Thank you for the class of a life-time. For a serious jewelry student, this is an opportunity that I doubt is available anywhere else in the Americas – and certainly not at this price.  –Beryl Simon



Carol Egan from New Jersey says … I absolutely loved the three-day workshop for making Mexican sterling silver! I learned how to carve in wax and cast a sterling silver pendant/ring. I also made earings and a carved ring. I found the casting in the ancient sling facinating! Absolutely everything is done from scratch as it has been done through the history of silver jewelry making. I worked with three master jewelers. You will love the work of Brigitte, Ivan and Ricardo! I learned to saw metal and solder using the torch, and then polish my piece. If you really want to learn how to make silver jewelry this is the class. The teachers are very kind and professional. They are also patient guiding you through each step. If you wish to make some of your own designs this must be organized a head of time. They have this down to a science. If you are serious about making silver jewelry this is the class for you!

Photos of Classical Jewelry Making Process and Product


Who Should Attend: You do not have to be an experienced jeweler or artist to participate!  Beginners are welcome.

  • Artists
  • Hobbyists
  • Jewelry designers
  • Aspiring jewelers
  • Anyone who wants to have fun and make something special

About Your Workshop Leaders—Brigitte Huet and Ivan Campant, Kand-Art Jewelry Workshop

Kand-Art creations are inspired by pre-Hispanic symbols and carved in high relief.  The jewelry has been exhibited and sold in galleries throughout the United States and in Oaxaca, and many have collected their work over time whenever they return to Oaxaca, or when Brigitte and Ivan travel to the U.S. for private shows.  Kand-Art Jewelry designs are in private collections throughout the world.

Brigitte Huet.  Brigitte Huet attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts and majored in art history at university in France.  She was the first young woman apprentice accepted into the studio of a Lorraine, France, master jeweler where she learned to work in silver before emigrating to Oaxaca in 1993.  Brigitte is an experienced classroom teacher as well as a talented jewelry designer.  Her designs are fluid, interpretive and elegant.

Ivan Campant.  Fascinated by the Mayan culture, Ivan is an accomplished self-taught artist and musician.  His jewelry designs are detailed, intricate, textural and complex and incorporate many of the Mayan symbols that intrigue him.  He began carving wax designs for the jewelry soon after he and Brigitte arrived in Oaxaca from France.  An older Zapotec jeweler – a master craftsman – taught Ivan how to use the traditional sling for casting the silver in the ancient technique.

Workshop Location.  The workshop will be held in the Oaxaca, Mexico home studio of Brigitte and Ivan, in a neighborhood about 10-15 minutes from the historic center of Oaxaca.  Transportation at your own expense.  You can take a taxi (40-50 pesos [$4-5 USD] one-way) or a local bus.  We’ll give you more details and directions after you register.  Brigitte and Ivan will call a taxi to return you to the historic center at the end of the workshop day.

Meals.  All meals are on your own and at your own expense.  Most of our participants bring their own lunch.  There is a lovely local market, Mercado de Santa Rosa, two blocks from the studio, where you can shop and bring your food back to the studio.  There is a lovely patio garden where you can take lunch and refreshments.

Lodging.  All lodging is on your own/at your own expense.  This gives you the flexibility to choose the level of accommodation that best suits your travel preferences.  You make and pay for your own hotel reservations. We can offer suggestions and contact information for places to stay.    If you are interested in recommendations, let me know.

Marty Knight from North Carolina says …  I recently spent a few fabulous weeks in and around Oaxaca.  A highlight of the trip was the lost wax silver “experience” with Brigitte and Ivan.  With their clear and masterful  instructions and their hands-on teaching techniques I never felt overwhelmed. One of the many benefits of taking classes with them was learning about the highly developed pre-Columbian Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations.  Their positive and always helpful attitude made me want to go further.  And, in fact, I did.  I extended the original class to make a beautiful, original design ring that has received many compliments and even offers to buy it off my finger! I have taken jewelry courses as a hobby for several years but this was the most enlightening instruction to date.  I’m looking forward to more instruction from Brigitte and Ivan and Ricardo, a local silver expert, in the future.  Do yourself and favor and spend some time learning from Brigitte and Ivan.

Reservations and Cancellations.   Full payment is required to guarantee your spot.  We prefer Payment with PayPal.    We will send you an invoice. If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email 45 days before the start of the workshop and we will refund 50% of your course fee.   After that, no refunds are possible.

We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register or for questions, contact us by email or Skype: oaxacaculture

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.

Technology on the Fly: Travel With Your Computer

Here is a handy New York Times technology blog about tech tips for travel. Travel life is now more than taking your laptop — it’s about iPad, Droid, iPhone, BlackBerry and Kindle (more?).

My travel life includes schlepping my MacBookPro, iPhone, iPad, portable LCD projector, Mexican cell phone, Nikon D40X camera and two huge lenses, extra batteries for each device, chargers for each device, data sticks, connectors, adapters, portable external hard-drive for back-up, and now I can’t think of what else, but there must be more!  With my back-pack full, I make my way through airport security and then down the concourse onto the plane like an overburdened mule.

Technology Daydreaming: I can’t wait for the day when Apple makes a laptop that looks/feels like an iPad, has an expandable telescoping screen, comes with 4G (maybe 10G) and a cell phone fits into a slot that can be activated by voice and connected by earbuds.  Or some such configuration.  Then,  all my devices can be integrated.  MobileMe and the soon to be iCloud are not enough!

Here are my tips that coincide with those put forth by David Pogue:

1.  Keep your cell phone and laptop chargers, ear buds, and other necessary devices always packed and handy to reach in your carry-on luggage.  Charge up full before you get on the plane!

2.  Download any documents attached to emails that you want to work on while you are traveling before you leave home.  You don’t know whether you will have airport Wi-Fi access, if it will be free or available for a cost, or if there will even be time to get the document before your plane boards and takes off.

P.S.  There is no free Wi-Fi in RDU or in Houston.  There IS free Wi-Fi in San Jose, California (of course) and Mexico City. I’ve never had it on any Continental flight I’ve been on.  I did have it on an American flight from ORD to SJC recently.)

3.  Use your record locator as your flight record to access the information.  Put this into your handheld in your calendar.  The record locator can then be punched into the airport kiosk quickly to get the printed boarding passes.

4.  I always confirm my flights 24-hours in advance via email and pre-pay baggage fees, saving time and a few dollars.  I have my boarding passes emailed to me, but find the airport personnel are still used to the printed document and always ask me to check in at the kiosk first.  This is how they print out the luggage tags, too.

5.  Because I’ve been traveling to Oaxaca so much this year and last, I have reached Silver Elite on Continental.  I’ll get bumped up to first class if its a light load.  What a treat!  Do I feel guilty?  Yes, a little bit, because my bags come off the plane first and I’m in the upfront cabin which guarantees a fast exit.  This is the benefit of being a loyalty traveler — using only one airline as your preferred carrier.  I’m not certain I’ll be able to sustain this level, but I’m certainly enjoying it while I have it.

6.  Do I track whether my flight leaves late and arrives on time, and do I care?  No.  There is nothing I can do about it.  Once I enter the realm of air travel, they have captured me and I am theirs body and soul.  All I want is my music, my computer and my iPad to read my “book” in peace.