Family is more than important here in Teotitlan del Valle. Being and staying connected, committed to each other’s well-being, is a way of life. The social fiber of the village is based upon maintaining strong family ties and mutual support. That manifests by participating in ancient rituals and celebrations tied to life cycle events such as birth, death, birthdays, engagements and marriage.
Porfirio and Gloria with their seven children
Yesterday was no exception when at least a hundred extended family members — brothers, sisters, children, nieces, nephews, cousins and in-laws — gathered to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Gloria Bautista and Porfirio Santiago.
Family gathers at the altar to congratulate the couple
We first gathered in Teotitlan del Valle’s beautiful church for a 1:30 p.m. mass to honor the couple. While I am not Catholic, I am spiritual. So, being inside the Preciosa Sangre de Cristo church, now undergoing fresco restoration in its interior, gave me time to reflect on what it means to be married to one person for half-a-century.
Gloria and Porfirio with daughters-in-law and sons-in law
Many in the United States are unable to endure the longevity of marriage and respect its attending responsibilities. There are many reasons for divorce. There is ample cause for celebration when a couple honors this promise and commitment they have made to each other for a lifetime. This was a reason to celebrate. In addition to their 50th, Porfirio recently celebrated his 75th birthday.
And now, all the grandchildren
Gloria and Porfirio were surrounded with love. They have devoted their lives to their family and now it was their children’s turn to honor them. At the end of the mass, everyone took turns surrounding them at the altar, taking group photos and exchanging hugs and kisses.
Preciosa Sangre de Cristo church, Teotitlan del Valle
People lingered. They took photos. Took turns gathering. First the sons and daughters. Then their husbands and wives. Then the grandchildren. My friend Hollie said we were in the middle of a love fest.
Then, we all went to the family compound for a meal of goat consomme, barbecue goat, handmade organic corn tortillas, plenty of beer and mezcal. The toasts were ample. A trio of musicians entertained the group under a large fiesta tent.
Guests flowed in with flowers, cases of beer, bottles of mezcal and wrapped gifts. We all went to the altar room to greet Gloria and Porfirio and offer gifts, a customary tribute. The altar room is where all family celebrations take place, where promises are made, people honored, prayers offered.
Daughter Carina Santiago Bautista, Tierra Antigua Restaurant owner
The younger women of the family prepared and served the meal. Their husbands, brothers and sons pitched in, too to make sure there was enough for everyone. In this land of abundance and plenty, containers were passed for the leftovers to carry home. One sister told me six organic goats were slaughtered for the meal.
The ritual meal that can serve hundreds is part of this village tradition. I think of it as “let no person go hungry.” I think it is part of the strong values here to maintain family and community support, so show respect.
A 50th wedding anniversary cake like no other, baked by Norma Gutierrez
For the grand finale, we had cake. Not just any cake, but a multi-layered almond confection that looked like it belonged at a wedding. This was accompanied by the ubiquitous gelatina — a mosaic jello mold, only lightly sweetened, that everyone here loves, including me.
Young boys busied themselves on smart phones
Gloria’s brother is director of the village symphony orchestra. They marched in, horns out front, and we all waited for them to strike up the Jarabe del Valle, the traditional Zapotec line dance, men on one side, women on the other, that is played at every fiesta gathering.
People here take their commitments seriously. There were three or four generations sitting together around these tables, each knowing their roles and what they were responsible for doing. This usos y costumbres village is based on the guelaguetza system of give and take, mutual support and harmony. To maintain the village, there are volunteer responsibilities that residents must accept and do.
An astounding practice is the way all guests are greeted individually. Instead of a receiving line, all arriving guests go around the tables and offer two hands extended to each person seated. They say hello in Zapotec (zak schtil) or Spanish (buenas tardes). This is practiced by adults and children alike, a show of respect and thanks for participating together. P.S. Zapotec is an oral, not written, language. There are researchers who are writing a transliterated oral dictionary.
Gloria in a tete-a-tete with her mother. Chismes?
Porfirio served as president of the municipio, the village governing body, some years ago. That means that Gloria was by his side to serve the village, too. Honor, ritual, connection, keeping the chain of tradition going are admirable values. There is time given to celebration and to being with people. Lots of time for an eight hour fiesta. There were few cell phones in sight.
I love this photo of Gloria. It honors her strength, dependability and tenderness.
And, to cap it all off, just a couple of out-takes to keep you entertained!
Oaxaca artist Gabriel Mendoza Rodriguez lives obscurely and paints large. His works are filled with color, humor, sadness, political and social commentary. They are playful and grotesque, childlike and sophisticated, simple and complex.
Two large paintings in Gabo’s studio
Look into Gabo’s eyes and you know that he feels what he paints — street children, prostitutes, farm animals. These are interpretations of life as he knew it growing up in Mexico City and what he sees here in Oaxaca.
Gabriel “Gabo” Mendoza Rodriguez in front of colonial adobe wall
Gabo lives and works within the second courtyard of a vintage colonial adobe home in the historic center of Oaxaca. The front door is now metal with only the street number visible. Inside, the first courtyard is filled with old restaurant equipment and surrounded by vacant rooms.
Three calaveras — skeletons — a common theme, a different approach
Walk further back and you enter an expansive brick patio where Gabo works. Here are easels, a printing press, a table saw for building frames for paintings and doors, murals and drawings on the crumbling stucco walls. Beyond are abandoned rooms where only debris and termite eaten timbers lay waiting for rehabilitation or burial. Work is in progress.
Decades of disuse in a building with great bones
This is studio space that is used by several artists and Gabo hopes that more will come here to create and collaborate.
Please feel free to go and knock on the door. This is a part of Oaxaca worth exploring and a talented young man you will want to meet. With thanks to Dumpster Diver Diva Ellen Benson for the introductions!
Layers of acrylic paint on woven paper, texture and color
Gabriel “Gabo” Mendoza Rodriguez, Xicotencatl #303 (between Guerrero and Colon). Knock loudly and ring the bell several times! You say the street: She-Koh-Ten-Caht-L
Above left, my artist friend Hollie Taylor visiting from North Carolina. Above right, a painted kitchen cupboard.
Portraits of women, in progress, with cut-out paper doll
Carry Somers founded Fashion Revolution in England some years ago. It has grown into a worldwide organization with country representatives who promote the use of natural materials, fair trade and sustainability in the fashion industry.
Yo hice tu ropa! I made your clothes!
Carry advocates for transparency, says we should all be aware of who makes our clothes. She is committed to giving recognition to each artisan around the world whose labor creates clothing that gives us so much more than protection from the elements.
Pedal loom weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca
Clothing is a fashion statement. Fashion Revolution aims to bring us in touch with artisans dedicated to preserving their culture through the cloth they make.
This blog post features the work of one of my favorite artisans, Arturo Hernandez, who weaves on the counterbalance flying shuttle loom, from his home studio in Mitla. His random design ikat shawls are all made with natural dyes. He is invited to the 2016 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market in July, a juried show and sale.
I hope you have a chance to read what Carry just published.
This study tour is designed as an intensive personal learning experience. Here in Tenancingo de Degollado and beyond, you will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, understand family traditions and culture, and help honor and preserve craft.
Rebozo seller, Tenancingo Town Market
Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (Edomex), is the source for handwoven ikat rebozos or shawls made on back-strap and flying shuttle looms by master artisans. Some count only 27 remaining reboceros — the men who weave the cloth. Not long ago there were hundreds. We will also meet the puntadoras — the women who hand-knot the intricate fringes. The experience of being there is so inspiring that I want to keep sharing it with you. I invite you to return with me for a memorable, curated Mexican textile and folk art study tour.
Jesus Zarate ikat rebozos are like a Monet painting — innovative, full of movement
February 2-10, 2017. 8 nights, 9 days. $1,995 per person shared room with private bath. Single supplement is $300 more per person. A 50% deposit will reserve your space.
Cost includes luxury van transportation from Mexico City to Tenancingo and back, daily excursions, all hotels, 7 breakfasts, 5 lunches, 5 dinners, private guide services, gratuities for artisans, guides, drivers and service staff. Does not include alcoholic beverages and optional expenses not included in the itinerary.
Group size limited to 10 people.
Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art Evaristo Borboa Casas at his loom
You will arrive and leave from Mexico City.
Meet together in Mexico City on February 2 with an overnight there at a historic center hotel
Travel to and stay in Tenancingo from February 3-9 at a bed and breakfast oasis
Enjoy the company of our bi-lingual guide who migrated from the U.S. to Tenancingo to marry a local thirteen years ago
Meet the master weavers of Tenancingo de Degollado in their home workshops
Learn about ikat warp thread preparation, the complexity of this at-risk textile art and how to differentiate quality
Participate in hands-on natural dye and weaving demonstrations
Understand the intricacy of a fine hand-knottedfringe called punta or rapacejo, and how it adds to the beauty of the lienza (cloth)
Visit three of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos – magic villages where traditional life flourishes
Spend a day in Malinalco, a Pueblo Magico, to discover archeology, ancient frescoes, weaving traditions, natural dyes and more
Travel to Metepec, a Pueblo Magico. Climb the archeological site of Teotenango, meet outstanding ceramic artists who make Tree of Life sculptures and cazuelas cooking vessels
Spend the last night in Mexico City to depart on February 10 for home OR stay on longer to enjoy museums and world-class restaurants
Puntadora Amalia shows how to tie the finest knots
Along the way, you will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites, visit three Pueblo Magicos – Malinalco, Taxco and Metepec — and immerse yourself in some of Mexico’s outstanding folk art.
Primarily, we are here to learn about the art and craft of making a fine rebozo, meet the men who weave the cloth and the women who tie the elaborate fringe.
Ikat rebozo handwoven on the back strap loom from Rapacejos gallery
Some of the weavers are innovators, like Jesus Zarate, who incorporates intricate floral, bird and animal motifs on the ikat cloth.
Some, like Fito Garcia, use splashes of color that looks like confetti. Camila Ramos ikat designs employ ancient indigenous symbols and figures.
The revered master, 82-year old Evaristo Borboa Casas, is a traditionalist. All have received top honors for their work worldwide.
Each technique requires mathematical and technical precision, extraordinary creativity and months of work to produce one rebozo.
It can take weeks to prepare the ikat warp threads, dye them and dress the loom, with another month or two for the weaving. It can take two or three months to tie a punta, depending on length and elaboration.
After this study trip, I can guarantee that you will better appreciate this textile art form that is at risk of disappearing. Only three or four weavers in Tenancingo continue the back-strap weaving tradition. Sixty years ago there were over 200 weavers working on the back-strap loom.
8 nights lodging
Round trip transportation to/from Mexico City center and Tenancingo
Transportation to all towns, villages and artisans noted in itinerary
Gratuities to artisans for demonstrations
Tips for most services, including hotel rooms, van driver, guides
Day 1, Thursday, February 2: Arrive in Mexico City, overnight. Dinner on your own. We will stay at a historic hotel on or near the Zocalo. As soon as you register, we will tell you where. You might also like to arrive a few days early to explore the city. It’s wonderful!
Study tour group tries gives fringe-making a try in hands-on workshop
Day 2, Friday, February 3: Travel by luxury van to Tenancingo, overnight (B, D) Group dinner.
Day 3, Saturday, February 4: In the morning, meet some of Tenancingo’s best master weavers. We will confirm who later! The group can include Evaristo Borboa Casas, Jesus Zarate, Adolfo “Fito” Garcia Diaz, Fermin Escobar Camacho and Luis Rodriguez Martinez. Take a ride on the flying shuttle peddle loom. (B, L, D)
Day 4, Sunday, February 5: Today we will visit the big, weekly rebozo market where weavers and puntadoras, the women who hand knot the rebozo fringe, sell their wares. Then, we have lunch at a beautiful outdoor family restaurant in the countryside, followed by a demonstration in late afternoon. (B, L, D)
Day 5, Monday, February 6: We leave early to spend a day in Taxco de Alarcon, Pueblo Magico, with the next generation owner of the William Spratling silver jewelry workshop. First, we will have breakfast at the famous Spratling Ranch followed by a tour and silversmith demonstration. We’ll return to town for a late lunch Spratling’s home and first workshop, Las Delicias, now S’Caffecito. Then, you can roam Taxco on your own. We start our 2-hour return to Tenancingo in early evening. (B, L)
Day 6, Tuesday, February 7:Malinalco Pueblo Magico. Climb the ancient archeological site (if you wish), the only one in Mesoamerica carved out of the rock face. Visit the workshop of Camila Ramos Zamora and award-winning son Juan Rodrigo Mancio Ramos. See how they work the back strap loom and make natural dyes. See how to dye and prepare ikat threads. Take time to visit the 16th century Augustinian church with the amazing Paradise Garden Murals. (B, L, D)
Day 7, Wednesday, February 8: After breakfast, we will have a demonstration of another type of weaving, the fiber made from the Joshua Tree leaf called izote. An indigenous family will join us from the countryside to show the process that is made into beautiful, finely crafted bags, some dyed with cochineal. Afternoon on your own to return to your favorite rebocero, do last-minute market shopping and begin packing. (B, D)
Day 8, Thursday, February 9: Travel to Metepec Pueblo Magico. First, we will stop to climb the Mesoamerican Teotenango pyramids (if you wish) or visit the adjacent museum. Then, we will visit the Museo del Barro ceramics museum to see the finest examples of Tree of Life sculptures and highly decorated, sturdy cooking pots called cazuelas. After lunch, we will have time to explore the artisans market before returning to Mexico City. Overnight in Mexico City. (B, L)
Day 9, Friday, February 10: Depart our Mexico City hotel by taxi (at your own expense) to catch your flights home. Or make your own arrangements to stay in Mexico City a little longer and enjoy the Independence Day festivities around town.
The study tour includesround trip transportation between Mexico City and Tenancingo de Degollado, lodging in Mexico City and Tenancingo, meals as noted in the itinerary, travel to all artisans and destinations noted on the itinerary, cultural bi-lingual guide services and most gratutities/tips. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the study tour begins.
The study tour does not include airfare, taxi from Mexico City airport to Mexico City hotel, return taxi from Mexico City to the airport, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.
Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before 45 days before the study tour begins. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.
If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After the 45-day cut-off date, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before the 45-day deadline, we will refund 50% of your deposit.
About Travel to Mexico City: The Mexico City Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) is our gateway city and a Mexico City historic center hotel is our meeting point. You can fly to Mexico City from many United States locations on most major USA airlines. Mexico’s excellent new discount airlines Interjet and Volaris service some U.S. cities, as does Aeromexico.
International Travel Insurance Required.We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for insurance documentation as well as a witnessed waiver of liability form that holds Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC harmless. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.
William Spratling died in 1967 but his legacy lives on through the efforts of Violante Ulrich and her sister Consuelo. Their father, Alberto Ulrich, was a close Spratling friend and supporter. They drove race cars together along the narrow winding roads connecting Taxco with the Pacific beach resort of Acapulco. Ulrich took over the Spratling enterprise then to keep it going and his daughters are also committed to this.
There are few remaining silversmiths in Taxco from that era. All the shops whose mast-head bear the names of the famous masters such as Los Castillos, Antonio Pineda and Enrique Ledesma are now mostly filled with production pieces. Very little is still made by hand. (There is one Taxco shop called Hecho a Mano that makes excellent reproductions of significant pieces.)
In production, silver fish with ebony, a favorite Spratling jewelry hardwood
I made arrangements with Violante to spend a day with her in Taxco during our recent folk art study tour. Silver is to Mexico what rebozos are, too. Part of this country’s cultural identity. So, seeing the Spratling home Las Delicias where he first lived and worked was an essential part of this experience.
Rafa melting 925 parts silver and 75 parts copper to make 925 jewelry
I remember visiting the Spratling silver galleries in Taxco in the early 1970’s. I was young and couldn’t afford much. Even then, Spratling was a legend. There were many beautiful pieces for sale in the showroom on the plaza. I managed to buy a small chain for $35 USD — a big sum then — and still have it!
Sterling silver flatware with rosewood, $1,000 USD a place setting
Taxco is about a two-hour drive from Tenancingo, so it made sense to me to schedule this as a day trip. When we arrived, we had breakfast at S’Caffecito prepared by Violante and her staff, got a tour of the house, galleries and and rooftop terrace overlooking the church.
Above left, Violante with a Marilyn Monroe chair. Right, the Spratling monkey.
1950’s vintage Spratling owl pin with amethyst eyes
Then, we got in the van and drove to Taxco El Viejo on the road to Iguala, where Spratling later built his ranch. He did this for many reasons. He wanted privacy and a workshop away from the hovering eyes of other Taxco silversmiths who began to copy his work.
Spratling workshop, just as it was then. Antonio demonstrates.
It was amazing to be in this space where all the equipment used now was the same as it was then.
The beginning of the owl pin with the amethyst eyes.
The jewelry molds are exactly as they were, and skilled craftsmen are creating silver flatware inlaid with rosewood, pins, necklaces, bracelets and earrings in the same gauge metal and quality that William Spratling used.
Annealing the silver owl pin that will have amethyst eyes
Not much has changed, thankfully, except that the next generation of Spratling silversmiths include Violante and Consuelo who have registered a new stamp with the Mexican government and also design and produce their own work.
We toured the workshops and met silversmiths Antonio and Rafael who demonstrated the process to make Spratling’s famous owl pin with the amethyst eyes. We saw the original molds, examples of Spratling’s original work and the pieces made today that are for sale. (Of course, there was lots to try on.)
We saw the chairs that Spratling designed for Marilyn Monroe that went undelivered because of her suicide.
How did they know this? Margarita Gonzales, the accountant, kept impeccable records, and when Alberto Ulrich found the stash of chairs tucked away in a closet, he knew exactly where to look to track the provenance.
Old iron nails kept for furniture restoration projects
After a tour of the ranch and the workshops, we settled in for a delicious lunch under the corridor next to the kitchen. We talked about beauty, history, Spratling’s love of red, white and blue ornamentation that represented to him the colors of melting silver. We saw pre-Columbian sculpture and folk art figures from Spratling’s personal collection.
A day with Violante Ulrich is a rich experience by which to understand the lore and history of Taxco silver making and the life of William Spratling. She is an artful cook, outstanding silversmith, great host and dedicated to preserving the ranch which is in need of restoration. We were fortunate to spend this time with her.
At the end of the afternoon there was enough independent time to explore the steep cobbled hill town, go into the church and search for more silver treasures before heading back to Tenancingo.
A surprise awaited us! In the church was sculptor Miguel D. Sobrino who created the silver Virgin of Guadalupe that stands beside the altar encased in protective glass. Except today, Our Lady had been removed from her case and was being thoroughly cleaned to prepare her for a move to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City to greet Pope Francis.
We enjoyed lots of views — from the Las Delicias rooftop garden and the terrace overlooking the central plaza. For some on the study tour, this trip to Taxco was a dream come true. I hadn’t been back for 44 years until last September. I’m looking forward to the next time. I hope you can come with me.
Ten wonderful women + me, February 2016 study tour on the Spratling terrace
I will be organizing this rebozo study tour for mid-September 2016 to coincide with the Tenancingo rebozo fair. There will be a few modifications in the itinerary we just completed but the trip to Taxco is set in stone! Please tell me if you are interested. Get on the notification list!
If you want to take a silver jewelry making workshop at the Spratling Ranch, please contact Violante directly. She is also starting a B&B there, so there are some accommodations. The ranch is in need of restoration so please support her efforts in any way you can. It’s an important part of Mexican history. Thank you!
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma contributes personal essay, How Oaxaca Became Home
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
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Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
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