Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Red Pottery of San Marcos Tlapazola, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

My dad was a potter and I grew up with a potter’s wheel and an electric kiln in our garage.  Tools were piled on the table, where also sat clay forms drying to the leather hard before he put them into the oven.

San Marcos Tlapazola-44

This is where he would go to work when he came home from work.  For him, I think, putting his hands on the clay of earth and forming it into something beautiful or whimsical or functional was his joy, more fun than work.

San Marcos Tlapazola-27

I always have a special feeling for people who put their hands on clay.  In San Marcos Tlapazola, just 8 kilometers behind Tlacolula, in the foothills, the Mateo Family women work with an organic low fire clay body that becomes unglazed, utilitarian and decorative pieces for hearth and home.  It is lead-free and safe to eat from and cook with.

We work with our hands. We bring the mud from our fields. It takes a week to dry it.  We wet it. Stir it, strain it and mix it with sand.  Finally, we let it dry under the sun to make it. We are ready to work with it. 

San Marcos Tlapazola-31 San Marcos Tlapazola-37

The vessels are made on a simple turning wheel as the women sit on the floor.  They use pieces of wood, stone, coconut shell, gourds and corn cobs to shape and polish.

San Marcos Tlapazola-43 San Marcos Tlapazola-42

You might recognize them as they sit on their knees, on petate woven grass rugs at the Sunday Tlacolula market. You might notice them as they pass through the restaurants and food stalls calling out their wares for sale. Their dress is distinctive and colorful.  They sell comals of various sizes, bowls and plates, platters and large vessels perfect for cooking soups and stews.

San Marcos Tlapazola-53 San Marcos Tlapazola-50

But, the best, largest and most impressive pieces are in their San Marcos Tlapazola home workshop studio. Here, tall jugs are decorated with chickens and roosters, pot lid handles might be dancing dolphins or turkey heads or pig snouts. You might even come across a national award-winning bowl sitting regal on its clay pedestal throne. The selection is enormous and often you can see the black fire flash in the red clay form, giving it an elemental connection to the earth, wind, fire.

San Marcos Tlapazola-55 San Marcos Tlapazola-47

When we got there, we came into the courtyard filled with smoke.  It was firing day.  The pots were hidden under corrugated metal sheeting, piled with tree branches, dried corn husks, discarded bamboo sticks, twigs, brush, and protected by a ring of broken pots to keep the heat in at ground level. We arrived just in time to add our bundle of brush and branches to the fire.

San Marcos Tlapazola-25

Here at Matamoros No. 18, in San Marcos Tlapazola, live the parents, sisters, cousins and nieces of the extended family of Alberta Mateo Sanchez and Macrina Mateo Martinez.  The home phone number is 951-574-4201.  The Cel is 951-245-8207.

San Marcos Tlapazola-35 San Marcos Tlapazola-36

Their mother Ascencion is ninety years old.  Almost as old as my own mother who just turned ninety-nine.

San Marcos Tlapazola-29

Call to make an appointment to be sure they will be home.  Maybe you will be lucky enough to come during a firing, as we did.

San Marcos Tlapazola-39 San Marcos Tlapazola-46

As we shopped, the rains came and the wind whipped. It wasn’t a heavy downpour but a light Lady Rain drizzle that causes the smoke to curl through the courtyard and burn our eyes. As we left, the rains made a mist and droplets coated the car window through which I took these ethereal photos below.

San Marcos Tlapazola-58 San Marcos Tlapazola-57

Thanks to Merry Foss, Oaxaca folk art collector and dealer, and Sara Garmon of Sweet Birds Mexican Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM,  and Christopher Hodge for taking me on this adventure.

San Marcos Tlapazola-28

 

 

How to get there?  Go toward the hills behind Tlacolula, following the road that goes through the center of town.  There will be a crossroads at 4km.  Turn right and continue another 4 km until you get to the village.  You will see the traditional church in the distance as you wind to the right through high desert.  The main street is Matamoros and the sisters’ house is on the left past a couple of blocks past the church.  Look for the sign: Mujeres del Barro Roja.

 

Mexican Impressions: Oaxaca Printmaking Workshop

Sunday to Friday, January 10-15, 2016, 6 workshop days. Starts Sunday morning and ends Friday evening with a gallery show and reception. Anyone with an interest, including beginners as well as emerging and established artists who want to build their portfolio and add a gallery show to their resume, is welcome. $995 per person.

PenlandBest91-40

Oaxaca is a vibrant center for the arts with a rich tradition in the graphic arts. There are more than 20 active printmaking studios here and many more galleries where artists and their work are featured. We invite you to learn more about Oaxaca’s graphic arts scene and take part in an in-depth, hands-on workshop to apply the printmaking traditions of Oaxaca and Mexico. You will make your own carved relief prints using wood and multi-density fiber board (MDF), professional carving tools and a traditional press.

Who Should Attend: Anyone with an arts interest, emerging and established artists, and mixed media artists will want to incorporate this medium into their work.

PenlandBest91-41

Your Workshop Leaders: THREE Amazing Professionals

Complete instructor bios are included below.

Jaguar Feet Stelae

Before we go to work in the studio on Monday, we take you on Sunday to museums, markets and Monte Alban archeological site to examine historical objects, fine art and popular crafts. Take a closer look at indigenous and vernacular design motifs, then use your sketchbook and/or camera to record your impressions and create a starting point from which to develop your relief print – an impression of Mexico.

ChicarraflyerWEB

Our workshop is held at a fully equipped graphic arts studio located in the historic center of Oaxaca. During the course, you will make an artist’s proof and a small edition of six or more 18″x 24″ black and white prints. Then, you will carve an additional block to introduce color into the print. This is called a two-plate relief system.

2015Jan (11 of 297)

To ensure a quality hands-on experience, this workshop is limited to 10 participants.

During the week, you will receive group and individualized instruction, coaching, constructive feedback and review. Our final day will culminate in a gallery opening and reception with a group exhibition open to the public. You are welcome to invite guests.

2015Jan (6 of 297) 2015Jan (4 of 297)

Before the workshop begins, we will send you suggested readings and materials to prepare you, including essays on the artwork of printmakers Jose Guadalupe Posada, the Taller Grafica Popular and artists currently working in Oaxaca. Our packet includes travel and packing tips, restaurants, shopping guide and more!

  • Sunday: Starts 10 a.m. with field trips to Monte Alban, markets and museums (shared taxis to/from Monte Alban)
  • Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Studio workshop time with lunch break) to develop designs, carve and print.
  • Friday Evening: Gala reception and Gallery Exhibition.

2015Jan (9 of 297) 2015Jan (15 of 297)

About Kevin McCloskey

Kevin McCloskey, professor of Communication Design, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, has been visiting Oaxaca for over 30 years. In 2007, he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to study the visual arts of Oaxaca. He has written extensively about Mexican political prints and has curated eight exhibitions of Mexican prints across the U.S, notably at the Fowler Museum, University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). In 2012, he was invited to Princeton University to lecture on Mexican prints at the Woodrow Wilson School of International Studies.

2015Jan (5 of 297)

McCloskey holds an MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts, New York. His humorous illustrations have appeared in magazines and newspapers, including the Village Voice, New York Times, New York Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer. His prints and illustrations have been exhibited widely and his has published numerous books.

Articles on the Oaxaca art scene by Kevin McCloskey:

About Miles DeCoster

While Miles DeCoster teaches interactive design in the Communications Design Department at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, he is also a painter, photographer, printmaker, book artist, web artist and designer. He received formal training at the Washington University School of Fine Arts in St. Louis (BFA 1972) and the Art Institute of Chicago (MFA 1979). His work is in numerous collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the California Museum of Photography, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Washington University Rare Books and Special Collections and private collections.

10888707_10206020597976769_870854181127157238_n

DeCoster has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, Post-Newsweek Stations, Nexus Press and the Chicago Arts Council. His studio is at the GoggleWorks arts center in Reading, PA, one of the largest facilities of its kind in the USA. His work is included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, The Walker, and many regional exhibitions.

As a professional designer, DeCoster served as art director for In These Times, a national news magazine published in Chicago, from 1983 to 1993, and has designed many print projects and web sites for clients including the American Heart Association, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Freedman Gallery at Albright College, Harcros Pigments, Trattoria Mario in Florence, FESTA, First Books, Yellow Press and others.

About Alan Altamirano

Printmaker/artist Alan Altamirano is one of Oaxaca’s young, up-and-coming artists whose work is collected around the world. His professional nickname is MK Kabrito! You will have to ask him what that means.

Alan is the founder of Taller de Grafica La Chicharra in Oaxaca, Mexico. He attended the Escuela de Bellas Artes, Universidad Autonoma Benito Juarez de Oaxaca (UABJO) and graduated in 2010 in fine and visual arts.

10848710_10206212116119828_1018688424988371677_oAlan has studied with noted printmakers Shinzaburo Takeda, Suzanne Simpson, Tamana Araki, Per Anderson, Raul Herrera. He his work is recognized and exhibited in Mexico, Spain, Italy, The United States of America, Rumania, Brazil and Argentina.

His resume includes a long list of expositions and seasoned printmakers recognize Alan as an important contributor to the Oaxaca art scene. At the end of March 2015, Alan traveled to University of California at Davis where he had an exposition of his work and gave a week-long printmaking workshop. He was in California for three weeks to explore the printmaking and contemporary art scene in the San Francisco Bay Area.

10929246_10152731279148978_3321973861086812064_n

The workshop includes

  • all instruction, coaching and review sessions
  • personal attention from three practicing, exhibited artists who are also expert teachers,
  • all printmaking materials (except sketchbook, pencils)
  • dedicated use of a professional graphic arts studio
  • gallery exhibition of group work at the end of the week

PenlandBest134-49

The workshop does not include airfare, lodging and meals, taxis and admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals. When you register, we will send you a list of suggested hotels and B&Bs.

About Suggested Accommodations: We are based in Oaxaca city for this workshop. To keep this workshop affordable, we are not including lodging and meals. We will suggest a range of hotels and B&B’s where you may choose to stay, complete with contact information and estimated pricing. You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom or other online agencies for best prices. All reservations for lodging are to be made and paid for by you directly with the hotel. You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel. We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

2015Jan (17 of 297)

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before November 1, 2015. 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 November 1, 2015, 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 November 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you take out trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for documentation. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

10857738_763546093721057_7242450381037968440_n 22285_10206258352075698_1072652865463566964_n 10917064_10206016526714990_2809302930775283397_n

Ready to register? Send us an email and we’ll send you an invoice to make your $550 deposit. This guarantees your space.

2015 Day of the Dead Photography Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico, is the place to be for Day of the Dead  and you will capture it with your camera: parades, cemeteries, family traditions, special food and decor, markets, fiestas and faces. Follow the copal incense and marigold trail. Starts Sunday morning, October 30 and ends Thursday night, November 3.

2014DOTDTeoti-11

Cost:  $995 per person. Price includes all instruction, feedback sessions, personal coaching and transportation to and from Xoxocotlan and Teotitlan del Valle cemeteries. Does not include food or lodging.  We will provide you with a list of hotels and B&B’s to choose the level of accommodation you prefer after you register. Then, make your own reservations directly. Come early or stay later, too.  We will recommend sightseeing and other activities!

  • Limited to 10 participants. Small Group. Personal Attention.
  • Beginners and more experienced photographers welcome.
  • Bring any camera: DSLR, iPhone or Point and Shoot!
  • Registration is now open!

111

This is a hands-on photography workshop for learning and improving technique while you experience Oaxaca’s famed Day of the Dead rituals.  By the end of the week, you will better use your camera for visual storytelling, photojournalism, portraiture and cultural discovery.

Your Workshop Leader is Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Matt speaks English and Spanish.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

Portraits_1_Best40-7

His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Dallas Morning News and the Rocky Mountain News.

In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal. 6_Zapotecs-7

This cultural immersion workshop tour offers you a deeper appreciation for the food, religious symbols, rituals and family celebrations both in Oaxaca city and in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.

You will learn to:

  • Use natural light and respond to different lighting situations
  • Include portraits in your travel photography
  • Direct your subject through varying body positions
  • Identify your own photographic style
  • Find and execute portraits “on the fly”
  • Practice street photography
  • Use skills you learn through daily assignments
  • Learn more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt
  • Contribute to a gift for subject families — included in your workshop fee

Xoxocotlan2014-30 Xoxocotlan2014-7 Xoxocotlan2014-23

During our week together, we will review each other’s work, give feedback, and offer supportive critiques.  The workshop includes a mix of class instruction and being out on the streets to capture the action.

Xoxocotlan2014-35

 

Technical topics covered include natural light, exposure, manual camera settings and night photography. We will offer optional editing sessions using Lightroom photo editing software.  13_Sunset@Xoxo1a Xoxocotlan2014-14

Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change) 

Day of the Dead Workshop Expedition 2015

Day 1, Saturday, October 30:  Meet after breakfast at a central location in Oaxaca City where we will have a welcome and learning session, with a review of camera settings, exposure and using natural light. Then, we’ll hit the streets and local markets! Option is to meet up for a group dinner at your own expense. 2014DOTDTeoti-28

Day 2, Sunday, October 31:  We meet after breakfast. After showing your best work of Day 1, with review and feedback, we will have a learning session on night photography.  At 3:30 p.m. we depart for the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery for an extraordinary Day of the Dead extravaganza.  Matt is with us every step of the way for coaching and technical support. This could be a late night, so be prepared!  We will stay until at least 10 p.m., maybe later! Includes transportation to/from Xoxocotlan.

14_XoxoMourners

Day 3, Monday, November 1:  You will have the morning on your own to prepare your best of the Xoxocotlan cemetery. We will meet midday to share our work with a feedback and learning session, then get back on the streets to catch the calendas and other processions. Some may want to share an optional taxi to San Pablo Villa de Mitla for their Day of the Dead festivities that start mid-afternoon

.3a_ForSale flowers (1 of 1)

Day 4, Tuesday, November 2:  We leave for an afternoon and evening in Teotitlan del Valle after our morning learning and photo feedback session.  You are paired with another workshop participant to share a traditional meal with a local host family and go with them to the village cemetery. To be embedded with a local family is an amazing cultural immersion experience to learn more about indigenous customs and traditions.  We return to Oaxaca city mid-evening. Includes transportation and lunch.

Day 5, Wednesday, November 3:  We meet after breakfast to share experiences and photos of the day. You’ll have the rest of the day on your own to meander and prepare your Best of Week photo presentation.  We get together in early evening for a Best of Week photo presentation followed by goodbyes. Please feel free to invite guests! Then, we’ll meet for an optional group supper (expense on your own).

What You Should Bring

  1. Camera, either Digital SLR camera with lens(es) — wide angle, zoom, and/or fixed focal point 50mm, or iPhone or Point and Shoot
  2. Optional tripod for night photography
  3. Laptop computer for photo editing
  4. External hard drive
  5. External card reader
  6. Extra batteries (2) and battery charger
  7. Memory cards (at least 2) and jump drive
  8. Pen and notepad
  9. Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat

(Before the workshop starts, we will send you a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list, and other useful information.)

Xoxocotlan2014

Cost:  $995 USD.  Deposit to reserve your space is $500. Workshop includes:

  • All instruction and coaching
  • 1 lunch as specified in the itinerary
  • Transportation to villages included in the itinerary
  • Gift to local Teotitlan del Valle host family
  • Comprehensive pre-trip planning packet (via email)

red shawl

Not Included:  The expedition does NOT include lodging, meals that are not specified in the itinerary, airfare, taxes, tips/gratuities, travel insurance, liquor/alcoholic beverages and optional transportation.

127  manos

About Recommended Accommodations: We will be based in Oaxaca city for this workshop. We will recommend several outstanding hotels and B&B’s where you may choose to stay, complete with contact information and estimated pricing. You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom.  All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the hotel.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel.  We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

2_Chocolate Shop 263

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will reserve your space.   The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before August 1, 2014.  We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After August 1, no refunds are possible; however, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before August 1, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

We require that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, and at least $50,000 USD of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com  We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

street beg red umbrella

This workshop is produced by Norma H-Shafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to alter the itinerary and substitute instructors without notice.

Don’t let this workshop pass you by!

16_BicycleRider

 

Women’s Words, Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat Closes for Another Year

Our fifth annual Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing Retreat just ended.  After an intensive week of writing, listening to each other’s words and offering feedback, our participants dispersed to upstate New York, Denver, Manhattan, North Carolina, the north coast of British Columbia. We are a diverse group.  Our words resonate, are distinctive and universal.

Best29_Writing-22

I have been able to do not much more than organize and actively participate, which I do each year.  This time, I wrote, rewrote and rewrote a poem that was finally ready to submit to Minerva Rising literary magazine where I am a monthly contributor. It was hard and satisfying work. I started a creative non-fiction piece that could likely become the foothold for a memoir. Then, I wrote another about the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, mother earth. I had no time to take many photos or write a blog post.

Best29_Writing-12

This sense of place inspires us.  Others wrote poetry, memoir, creative non-fiction.  Some wrote fiction. Mostly they wrote about relationships between mother and daughter, with husbands and boyfriends, childhood memories, Christmas and grandchildren, the meaning of food, the slipping away of time, death, aging, youthful exuberance and misguided decisions, the strength of being a woman. This is important stuff however trivial it may seem.  We listen. We say what works and what doesn’t work, what we understand or don’t.

WritingWorkshop (72 of 199)

Each morning began with yoga, a refreshing and cleansing way to begin a writing practice. One afternoon, we took the practice to Yagul archeological site where DNA testing of cave corn remnants confirmed that corn was first cultivated here about 8,000 years ago. It is a magical place high above the valley floor where the wind speaks.

Best29_Writing-25

We ate great local Zapotec food, strolled the Sunday Tlacolula market, wrote about these experiences, savored the deliciousness of culture and community in Teotitlan del Valle, and directed this energy into our writing.

Best29_Writing-8  Best29_Writing-6Best29_Writing-2 Best29_Writing-4

We celebrated the upcoming wedding of Becky with flowers, flan, lots of tamales with yellow mole and chicken, and Magadelena’s handmade chocolate with almonds.  She roasts her own cacao beans!

Best29_Writing Best29_Writing-29 Best29_Writing-5

Hermalinda and her daughter-in-law came from San Felipe Usila to give us a private expoventa show and sale of the Chinanteco region’s fantastic textiles, woven on back strap looms and then intricately embroidered in cross-stitch.

best29_writing-21 Best29_Writing-13 best29_writing-17

The end of the week culminated with a public reading followed by a fiesta dinner. Many will return again next year, March 4-12, 2016, and we hope there will be space for you. Interested in participating?  Contact us.

best29_writing-18 Best29_Writing-20 Best29_Writing-16

Best29_Writing-28

 

Pop-up Expoventa San Felipe Usila Saturday Only

Textile show and sale from San Felipe Usila
image

 

When: 1:30-4:30 pm, Saturday, March 7, 2015

Where:  Las Granadas B&B, Avenida 2 de Abril #9, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

What:  think Danza de la Pina — Dance of the Pineapple– at The Guelaguetza to picture what these garments look like

San Felipe Usila is a remote mountain village near Tuxtepec, about an eight-hour drive from Oaxaca. The women weave extraordinary textiles on back strap looms. I was there last October and met a talented family.

Jorge Isidro is coming with his mother, an accomplished weaver, and bringing excellent quality pieces to show our Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat participants. Because he is making such a long trip, I want to open up the opportunity to you to see and buy the work.

The sales go directly to the weaving families.  Prices are reasonable because you are buying direct.

Please invite your friends and share this post to support fine indigenous Oaxaca textile culture.  Thank you.

Norma H-Shafer