Category Archives: Oaxaca Mexico art and culture

The Journey Begins: San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Most of our Penland School of Crafts travelers continued on with me from Oaxaca to explore Chiapas. Our journey began at the ADO bus station where we boarded an overnight luxury bus called the Platino with twenty-five reclining seats, leaving at 8:30 p.m. and arriving in San Cristobal de Las Casas at 7:30 a.m. the next day.   ChiapasBest45-16

Our destination, La Joya Hotel, is our base for exploring the art and archeology of the region. It’s a long and winding road! I recommend taking ginger drops in water, eating some crystallized ginger and taking a sleep aid! Hosts Ann Conway and John Do prepare a spectacular first night Thai welcome dinner after we visit Sergio Castro and his museum. Next, bed!

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Chiapas vies for the title of Mexico’s poorest state along with Oaxaca.  It is a sorry competition.  Both states are filled with isolated mountain communities that have little access to health care, education, nutrition and employment. Rural life is tied to the land where people cultivate corn, squash and beans and weave on backstrap looms. The result is the creation of magnificent textiles, a tourist draw. Isolation has preserved tradition at a huge cost and the politics are complex.

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Chiapas is rich in Maya culture filled with pre-Hispanic, indigenous folk practices blended with Spanish-introduced Catholic beliefs.  Known as syncretism, we can see this in every corner of life ranging from food to textiles to religious celebrations today.  The Mayan world spans southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras and her political borders are artificial and seamless.

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Our expert first day guide is Patrick, fluent in English, who studied archeology and history at University of California at Berkeley, son of a Mexican mother and Irish father. His uncle was the famed Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, who mediated the peace treaty with the Zapatistas and the PRI.

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We learned much from Patrick about Spanish colonialism, the cultural and political history and the life of indigenous people. One cannot visit Chiapas without putting the textiles into the context of the people who make them.

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That’s why we include a visit to the Sergio Castro Museum as an introduction to Chiapas life on the first day, after a walking tour of the great pedestrian avenues of San Cristobal de Las Casas with Patrick.  Much has been written about Sergio.

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Sergio Castro is a hero, folk legend and medicine man who treats indigenous people who have suffered burn injuries at no cost.  Donations from visitors like us help fund medicines and supplies. He has won many humanitarian awards.

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We see everyday and ritual clothing. We see the skull rattle and string instrument made from gourds. We learn about the Maya language variations and the Lancandon tribe in the forest who escaped Spanish colonization.

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The photos on this post include our walking tour around San Cristobal de Las Casas, and our visit with Sergio Castro to see his textile collection of the region and understand his work.

We are not guides but educators. Norma Hawthorne Shafer has spent over 35 years at major universities organizing and delivering award winning educational programs for adults. When you travel with us you can rely on getting an in-depth experience from local experts who are most knowledgeable in their fields. We can include hands-on workshops to enrich the learning experience. Our forte is developing customized programs for arts and cultural organizations like we did for Penland School of Crafts. 

 

 

 

 

Penland School of Crafts in Ocotlan de Morales, Oaxaca

Our Penland School of Crafts group travels through Oaxaca arts and artisan villages this week.  One destination is the regional town of Ocotlan de Morales where we met artist Rodolfo Morales through the murals he painted in the municipal building during the mid-century. These frescoes depict the rich agricultural tradition of the Ocotlan valley and honors the labor of the campesinos — the people who till, plant and harvest.

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The Morales home is a treasure trove of 1930’s and 1940’s collectibles and folk art. It includes a traditional tile kitchen with walls adorned in tiny clay cooking vessels. Every room opens to a central, plant-filled patio.PenlandBest91-3

The primary caretaker of the home is nephew Alberto Morales, who greeted us at the front gate and let us inside. He is also the head of the Morales Foundation that keeps the house renovated and open to the public. On our request, he generously opened the private bedroom and studio where his uncle slept and worked.

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With more than an hour to explore the always diverse and culturally delicious Friday Ocotlan market tianguis …

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we went off to San Antonino Castillo Velasco to visit folk art potter Jose Garcia Antonio.  Jose and his family work in red clay sculpture and he is recognized as a Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art.

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Next, a quick stop to the women’s embroidery cooperative.  The quick stop became an hour-long shopping forage through the piles of gorgeous Oaxaca wedding dress style blouses and shirts, preceded by a demonstration about pattern making and stitching techniques. This coop is excellent quality with affordable prices!

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Fortified by a delicious lunch at Azucenas Zapotecas at the San Martin Tilcajete crossroads, we backtracked to Santo Tomas Jalieza for a visit with Grand Master of Oaxaca Folk Art weaving family of Abigail Mendoza.

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A long day, but not too long to return to enjoy a lovely dinner at Casa Crespo. I put together a tasting menu with Oscar Carrizosa made up of  an array of first courses.  It was just perfect.

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator organizes arts workshop study tours for groups of up to ten people. Please contact us for more information.  Norma Hawthorne Shafer has over 30 years experience developing award-winning university programs.

 

Oaxaca, Mexico: Center for the Graphic Arts

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Before going to meet Alan Altamirano aka MK_Kabrito, founder of La Chicharra graphic arts studio for a workshop demonstration on woodcut techniques, we spent the morning with master printer and lithographer Fernando SandovalPenlandBest91-32 Fernando and his group do traditional lithography using copper plates and the acid wash technique. Master artists like Francisco Toledo and Sergio Hernandez rely on his impeccable expertise to produce the highest quality images. We were able to see many of these masters’ work during our visit.

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We met Alan and translator/photographer Luvia Lazo Gutierrez in the studio and for the next two hours we learned about the printmaking process, using different plates for each color. (Note: we are offering a printmaking workshop in January 2016. Please contact us if you are interested.)

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There is also a large work area and a printing press.  So the large pieces go through the press rather than transferring the image to the paper by hand.

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I work with local experts and guides to put together an unusual and intimate view of Oaxaca, her art, food and culture. I am not a tour guide but an expert at award-winning university program development. If your organization has interest in a program such as this one, please contact me.

Oaxaca Mardi Gras with Jacobo and Maria Angeles

It’s Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, we have our own version of Mardi Gras or Carnaval in the Zapotec village of San Martin Tilcajete.  The people know how to put on a good party.

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A group of artists, collectors and supporters of Penland School of Crafts from North Carolina are with me and certified tour guide Rene Cabrera for a week. Our time is almost over but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write a blog post.

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Our days have been packed visiting artist and textile studios, attending workshops, rising early to get to markets, and staying out much too late dining in Oaxaca’s exquisite restaurants.

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Today we arrived in San Martin Tilcajete early to get a jump start on the comparsa that we were told would start at eleven in the morning. But, life in Oaxaca is on Zapotec time.  The Zapotecs know that whoever controls time controls the world.  In reality, the formal festivities didn’t begin until four in the afternoon.

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So we shifted plans, went to the workshop home and studio of famed alebrijes carvers and painters Jacobo and Maria Angeles. What was planned to be an hour demonstration of alebrije-making techniques became a full day of watching the carvers and painters become transformed into revelers and merrymakers.

PenlandMardiGrasBest20-10 PenlandMardiGrasBest20-9 Jacobo and Maria welcomed us and invited us to stay.  They are warm and hospitable people, the largest employer of talented painters and carvers in their village and do so much to promote the artisans of the village and Oaxaca.

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After lunch — anyone for a tlayuda? — several of our more courageous Penland participants were invited to join in the face and body painting to become part of Jacobo and Maria’s comparsa entourage.

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We then followed them down village streets, costumes with cow bells clanging, voices ringing in shouts, cheers and grunts, breaths panting, dust kicking up under our feet.

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It was ninety degrees fahrenheit in Oaxaca today and this was no easy task, keeping up with young men painted to the nines and ready to party.  We sucked a lot of water to stay hydrated and pulled sun hats down over our faces in protection.

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The smarter villagers huddled in the shade of their doorways to watch the revelers shout and clang up and down the streets.

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I’ve got a lot of catching up to do to keep you up to date. This week we did an indigo dye workshop and made shibori scarves, took a cooking class and made mole amarillo, visited San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site and entered the inner sanctum of Oaxaca artist Rudolfo Morales’ bedroom and studio.  We met painters and lithographers, learned about Oaxaca’s contemporary art scene, and tried our hand at making a woodcut. With a mezcal tasting, we learned about this Oaxaca art form and how this artisanal beverage is crafted.

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On Thursday, seven of us will be continuing on to San Cristobal de Las Casas to explore the art and archeology of that wonderful region.  More to come!

Oaxaca Portraits: Photography by Norma Hawthorne Shafer

For our culminating photography fiesta, we each chose the best twenty photographs from the entire week of hundreds of pictures we took during the Oaxaca People Portrait Photography Workshop.  What made it easier was that each day we selected our best ten photos, projected them for everyone in the workshop to see and talked about what worked and didn’t work. At each session we received valuable feedback from our knowledgeable, patient instructor, photojournalist Matt Nager, who also gave a Lightroom photo editing tutorial for those who wanted it.

In the eye of the beholder: each of us sees our world through a different lens. Though we photographed many of the same people this week, each of our photos offers an alternative image. That is what makes photography so interesting.

Norma Hawthorne Shafer, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico and Graham, North Carolina, USA

d_Jose Buenaventura, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographs b_At Tierra Antigua n_Hugo_Cristobal_Danny  i_In the campo, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographsk_Candelaria with Luvia, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographsh_Waiting for Collectivo, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographs g_Francisco y Angela, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographs e_Luvia, Norma Hawthorne Shafer PhotographsMy own photography has improved over the years. This year I sold three photographs and invested in a 50mm prime lens that I tried once and put away. I forced myself to switch to it for most of this workshop week and was happy I did. I got used to moving my feet instead of a zoom lens, followed the natural light and shadows, asked people gently to turn their heads or bodies, place a hand, step up or step back.c_Ernestina, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographsr_Lorenzo y Alonzo, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographs  a2_Hanging Out, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographsj_Norma Gutierrez, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographsm_Lupita, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographs f_In the hammock, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographsl_Artist Studio, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographsq_Fernando Sandoval, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographs h_Coca Cola Man, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographsp_Antonio Camuña by Norma Hawthorne Shafero_Hugo, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographs a_TukTukDriver, Norma Hawthorne Shafer Photographs

Are you interested in coming to Oaxaca for a Day of the Dead photography workshop in October 2015? Send me an email and let me know.