Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Sleek, Functional Contemporary Oaxaca Pottery with Classical Influences: Innovating Tradition

Oaxaca’s cultural identity is defined, in part, by her ceramic arts. For thousands of years before the Spanish conquest, indigenous artisans were giving shape to local clay to form functional cooking and eating vessels, images of dieties for worship and jewelry for personal adornment.

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Now, after six years of operating from various temporary locations, La Tiendita del Barro/1050 grados and Innovando la Tradicion recently opened a gallery to promote its ceramic arts cooperative and new eco-tourism program. It is located at the corner of  plaza de la cruz de piedra, Rufino Tamayo 800-C and Xolotl, near the 16th century aqueducts and Calle Garcia Virgil.

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I want to say that this is social entrepreneurism, activist art. The program, developed by talented young Oaxaqueños, is committed to sustainable development.  Here you will find stunning pottery that satisfies both a classical and contemporary aesthetic. The work is sculptural and refined, smooth and simple. Emphasis is on form followed by function. The result is timeless beauty. The cookware and serving pieces are lead-free and can be used over a gas burner or in the oven.

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If you’ve never seen a Oaxaca potter at work, here’s a video of a traditional technique:

Rufina Ruiz haciendo una chilmolera from Innovando la Tradición on Vimeo.

Innovando la Tradicion is organizing half-day public tours to various villages, where visitors will meet potters, participate in hands-on demonstrations, and have an opportunity to buy directly from the artisans. Artisans receive 50% of the participant fees that go toward improving their workshop/studio space. The rest goes toward program administration.

                 Join Norma’s Pottery Tour with Innovando la Tradicion                                 Monday, January 5, 2015, Cost: 629 MXN pesos

I can’t participate in any of the January public programs already scheduled and I really want to go on this tour.  So, I’m inviting YOU to join me for a private tour on January 5.  Are you interested?  Send me an email. All the funds go directly to Innovando la Tradicion and I will send you registration information as soon as I hear from you!  Space for 5 people. Reserve before December 15.

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Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30. Join us!

Thanksgiving and Frida Kahlo, Hospitals and Recovery

It’s Thanksgiving Day 2014. I’m at Duke Regional Hospital in Durham, North Carolina recovering from knee replacement surgery in a hospital bed that reclines to any position at the touch of a finger. In the past twenty-four hours, Frida Kahlo has often entered my mind.

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Mostly because she did such a miraculous job of hiding her pain and her deformity when medicine at the time did not offer sophisticated drugs or surgical techniques. She adorned herself in jewelry and costumes to focus attention to her upper body.

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Mostly because I want to look “normal” just like she did. Friends will come to visit today with good cheer, turkey and mashed potatoes in hand. My bandaged leg is under a blanket, my lipstick is applied.

Mostly because having surgery is a solitary experience, even surrounded by flowers, accompanied by Facebook, family and friends who are with me in this virtual world. Frida did not have Facebook and WhatsApp to connect her. She had her imagination and insights.

She reached out to connect by looking in the mirror that still hangs above her recovery bed in Casa Azul, paintbrush and canvas in hand, sketchbook and pencil in hand, to express her feelings about life, death, politics and Diego.

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I have my knitting at hand, my dreams rumbling around in my mind and my plans for the new year formulating.

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When I left Mexico City last week to return to North Carolina for this surgery, I kept the image of Frida on her bed with me. Her effigy was draped in an indigo shawl reflected in the mirror above.

My knee will heal and the pain will subside. This is more than a hope. It is knowledge that my care team led by Dr. Rhett Hallows, a Duke orthopedic surgeon, is expert. Afterall, I did interview four surgeons in September!

Today, one day after the procedure, I used day-glow pink, duct-taped crutches  to walk my first three hundred and one steps down the hospital corridor. The goal was three hundred, but my friend Mary Ann said, go on, you can do one more. So, I did.

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I am reclined in my hospital bed ready to welcome visitors. I give thanks for the gift of life as it presents itself each day, each moment a different experience and not as I predicted.

It is a perfect day for giving thanks, to my family and friends, to the strangers who care for me, and to Frida’s memory, a woman who endured hardship and pain. Frida is a model for what it means to transcend, create and live large.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am grateful you are a part of my life.

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Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Art History Study Tour, April or July 2015.

Update: How to get a visitor’s visa to come to the U.S. from Mexico

As many of you know, it is not easy for family members to come to the United States for a visit. In fact, it’s almost impossible.  I get lots of questions from readers about how to get a visa for a mother, grandfather, brother or sister to come for a visit based on two posts I wrote in 2010:

  1. How can someone from the U.S. get a tourist visa to the U.S.
  2. Hillary Clinton, where are you?

Since President Obama’s plan to reform the immigration system is top of the news, now is the time to revisit this topic.  Immigration reform will make a difference for undocumented Mexican immigrants in the U.S. It will not likely make a difference for those wanting to visit and then return.

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In 2006,  I was successful in helping Zapotec weavers from Teotitlan del Valle get 10-year visitor’s visas to come to the United States? Why and how did this happen?

All are artists and artisans. They had letters of invitation from United States cultural arts organizations, museums and universities to come and present their work.  We had a schedule of events organized and arranged in advance, along with planned arrival and departure dates from the United States. I worked through my local Congressman’s office in the district where I live to help alert the U.S. State Department Embassy in Mexico City, providing the date of the visa interview, Mexican passport number, and complete name of the person applying.

I have also been unsuccessful. In 2010, I tried to help a family attend a sister’s wedding in Santa Ana, California. The entire family planned to attend  — a young mother, father and two small children. They were denied, even though I went through the process of alerting the Congressman’s office and providing a letter of invitation. You can read about this in the blog posts above. They paid the application costs for four people.

If you want to pursue getting a family member to visit you in the U.S., I suggest you first find the office of your elected Congressional representative in the city/town where you live and make an appointment for a visit. You must be a U.S. citizen to do this. Ask if they can help you bring your family member to the U.S. for a visit. There are congressional aides who can help with this process. This is your first and best approach.

  • It costs over $125 USD for a visa application.
  • It costs travel dollars to get to Mexico City for the interview.
  • You must make an interview appointment months in advance.
  • If your visa application is denied, your application fees are not refunded.

This is a difficult process, something I am not proud to report in the way people are summarily dismissed when consular officials don’t even open and read their documentation. This is a subjective process. It is painful and shameful how separated families can never see each other because of this broken system. I have heard many stories from family members who have not seen their loved ones in ten or twenty years.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera: Art History Tour 2015

Come to Mexico City for an art history tour to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art.

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2015 Schedule

  • April 9 – 13, 2015

We will have a long weekend — 4 nights and 5 days, to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.  Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history.

If you want to register, send me an email.

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Our guide is art historian Valeria Espitia, M.F.A.,  who shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists and narrates the expedition.  She leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School and Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

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Casa Azul  — Museo Frida Kahlo is a tribute to the life of both artists. Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño has the largest private collection of Frida and Diego paintings in the world. She was a benefactor and life-long personal friend of Rivera.

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Plus, we will shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants!

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The trip includes:

  • 4 nights lodging at a top-rated, historic center hotel
  • guided discussions by art historian Valeria Espitia, MFA, educated at UNAM and Southern Methodist University
  • visits to folk art galleries
  • introduction to Norma’s favorite restaurants (meals not included)
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum

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Preliminary Itinerary

  • Day 1, Thursday: travel day, arrive and check into our hotel.  Join in for an optional group welcome dinner (arrive by 6 p.m.)
  • Day 2, Friday: guided visit to SEP, San Idlefonso, and the Abelardo Rodriguez market where Rivera’s students painted, optional group dinner
  • Day 3, Saturday: guided visit to Palacio Bellas Artes and Museo Mural de Diego Rivera, optional folk art shopping
  • Day 4, Sunday:  guided visit to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño
  • Day 5, Monday: depart

Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more!  Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack the treasures you pick up along the way.

Cost:  $695 per person double occupancy.  $995 per person single occupancy.

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What the trip doesn’t include:

  • breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks, alcoholic beverages
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • museum admission fees
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services

Cost:  $695 per person double occupancy.  $995 per person single occupancy. Maximum: 6 people.

Optional: Arrive early and/or stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will provide you with a list  of recommendations to explore on your own. $200 per day per person additional. Tell us your dates and we will make your hotel reservations and include this in your invoice.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance is due 45 days before the program start date.  Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will send you an itemized PayPal invoice.

Please understand that we make lodging and other arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email.   After 45 days before the program starts, no refunds are possible.  However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute.  If you cancel on or before the 45 day date, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

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Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a signed and witnessed waiver of liability, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  Unforeseen circumstances happen!

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

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This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.

More About Mexico City: Museums

For the past week, before returning today to North Carolina for knee replacement surgery next week, I have been in Mexico City where some of the world’s best museums are found. I added on two days on my own before we started our fifth Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Study Tour this year!

Highlights to share with you:

At the Franz Mayer Museum there is a special exhibition of the collection of Ruth Lechuga’s folk art collection. A physician and photographer, Ruth Lechuga left Vienna, Austria with her family at age eighteen to escape the Holocaust. Mexican people and their creativity became her passion. (Mexico received many who sought asylum when the United States closed its doors.)

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In another exhibit hall at the Franz Mayer Museum is the art of TANE, the Mexico City silver and gold jewelry and design studio. Their bench artists have been working in precious metals since 1942.

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What is not to admire? Even Oaxaca’s great artist Francisco Toledo has worked with TANE to design this extraordinary silver fish that you see above.

2014MuseumsB-83 2014MuseumsB-86          In addition to contemporary jewelry designs, TANE creates traditional hammered and woven silver pieces, like this exceptional hammered rooster chandelier, above left.  This is an extraordinary exhibition if you love the history of silver and silversmithing in Mexico. And, if you want to shop, there’s a TANE boutique at El Palacio de Hierro, Mexico City’s great department store, just a block from the Zocalo in the historic center of town. Pay attention to the Tiffany glass ceiling there, too.

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The courtyard patio of the Franz Mayer Museum offers a lovely respite for espresso, sweets and good sandwiches, plus a perfect venue for a fashion photo shoot where amazing posters of social and political commentary from around the world hang.

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We packed it in that day. Our next stop was to see the collection at the Soumaya Museum and the Jumex Museum in the wealthy Polanco district of Mexico City. These are both private museums owned by family foundations. The collections range from classical to contemporary.

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We were blown away by the extent of the Soumaya Museum’s collection of Rodin and Dali bronze sculptures, and a floor devoted to Sophia Loren in Mexico.

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Photos above show museum architecture and the office complex backdrop. This is not far from Chapultepec Park where we returned the next day to immerse ourselves in the art at the Rufino Tamayo Museum (the BEST museum store in the city, IMHO) and where we saw the temporary exhibition of Japanese-American artist Yayoi Kusama.

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Then, on to the Museum of Modern Art that houses Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas and Diego Rivera’s portrait of his second wife Lupe Marin, plus other important works. We followed this with dinner at Chef Alejandro Rios’ Guzina Oaxaca.

How do we get around Mexico City?  If I can’t get there on foot, I call UBER.  Yes, Mexico City is served by UBER and you can usually get a private, secure car and driver to come pick you up in less than ten minutes. All cars have seat belts, most drivers provide a small bottle of water as a courtesy, and there is no exchange of money and no tipping.  It’s the best!

Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30.

Scheduling 2015 Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Study Tour. Are you interested? Send an email!