Category Archives: Pottery

Pueblo Magico Malinalco: Hand-loomed Rebozos and Pre-Aztec Pyramids

The magical town of Malinalco in the State of Mexico is a short thirty-minute ride from Tenancingo de Degollado. One of Mexico’s greatest rebozo weavers, Camila Ramos Zamora, and her family live and work here.

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Her father was a rebozo weaver from Tenancingo and he moved to Malinalco to marry Camila’s mother. They established a workshop that makes some very amazing ikat/jaspe rebozos on the back strap loom. Some use natural dyes. Most have intricate, lengthy fringes called puntas or rapacejos, that in my opinion represent fifty percent of the beauty of a rebozo.

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This week, Came’s son José Rodrigo Mancio Ramos, received the special award for a major piece using natural dyes in the National Rebozo Competition sponsored by FONART and held in Tlaxcala. He carries on the family tradition for creating and executing outstanding textile art.  The punta on his winning piece is made in the pointed style preferred by the Spanish aristocrats who came to Mexico in the 18th century.

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I visited Camila Ramos Zamora’s two shops in Malinalco as well as the amazing Augustinian church built in 1560. I’ve never seen such detailed, dramatic frescoes as these. The church is a sight to behold.

Here’s a note from Mexico expert Silva Nielands: The Paradise Garden murals in the monastery were not painted by the Augustinians who built it, but by the indigenous people who were taught the painting process.  The murals are a mix of European (saintly) themes full of local imagery.  The plants, animals, etc. are all important to the indigenous culture and are like a full encyclopedia of the herbal/medicinal, etc.

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Many towns in Mexico were settled by different Catholic orders: Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Augustinians and Jesuits, missionaries competing for converts. The Augustinian church dominates the central zocalo and is the only Catholic church in Malinalco.

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I admired the black rebozo this woman on the left was wearing as she and two friends exited the church. One friend jumped in to help her put it around her shoulders so I could see the weaving and the very long fringes. I think they were delighted that I noticed and paid them special attention!

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My friend Mary Anne hiked up to the archeological site which she reports is an easy, shaded climb up about 400 shallow steps through amazing landscape.

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Our group from Los Amigos del Arte Popular de Mexico wandered Malinalco independently to explore and discover.  We all met up at Las Placeres for a great lunch on the shaded patio complete with tamarind mezcal Margaritas — mi favorita.

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This experience has been so wonderful, that I want to bring you here with me.

  • So, I’m scheduling a study tour from February 3-11, 2016  to learn about and meet the rebozo weavers of Tenancingo.
  • Meet in Mexico City on February 3 with overnight there.
  • Travel to and stay in Tenancingo  from February 4 to 10
  • Participate in hands-on workshops and demonstrations
  • Travel to Metepec and stay overnight in Metepec on February 10
  • Travel to Mexico City on February 11 to depart for home OR stay on your own through President’s Weekend in Mexico City to enjoy the museums and world-class restaurants

In addition, we will take a day trip to the silver capitol of Mexico, Taxco, a Pueblo Magico, explore the Pueblo Magico ceramics village of Metepec and the Pueblo Magico village of Malinalco.

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We will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites and immerse ourselves in Mexico’s folk art. We’ll even have the option of a respite with massage and facials.

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Send me an email if you are interested in this study tour!

More information coming soon.

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Santa Fe, New Mexico Gala Supports Oaxaca Ceramic Arts

It was two days after the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market closed but the celebration continued.  Los Amigos de Arte Popular de Mexico hosted a gala fundraising dinner at a private home filled with folk art treasures within walking distance of the city’s historic center.

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About forty people attended to support Innovando la Tradicion ceramics cooperative. We were from all over, including Oaxaca, New Mexico, Texas, California. Of course, it was a huipil fashion show, too!

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The food was prepared in the Oaxaca clay cooking vessels made by Macrina Mateo and her family in the indigenous Zapotec village of San Marcos Tlapazola, just a few miles from where I live. I’ve visited Macrina and took photographs of the firing process, which you can see here.

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Susana Trilling, famed Oaxaca chef, cooking teacher and cookbook author prepared the multi-course meal. She was assisted by local culinary school faculty, students and friends. Everyone donated their time and talent!

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When Susana left Oaxaca for Santa Fe, her suitcases were loaded up with Oaxaca cheese, mole coloradito, sea salt, poleo, spices and condiments. Her bags just reached the weight limit, she said.

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The meal was spectacular, of course, because it featured these ingredients which were also available for sale under Susana’s private label.  If you click this link, you’ll get recipes, too.

Here is the Menu:

  • Corn fungus taquitos, pumpkin seed dip
  • Fondue of string cheese, pork, and purslane in green sauce
  • Ensalada de la milpa
  • Oaxacan coloradito mole with chicken, or
  •  Yellow mole with oyster mushrooms and vegetables (vegetarian option)
  • Baked, spiced potatoes from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec
  • Layered mango pudding or “charlotte”
  • Oaxacan chocolate chile truffles
  • Hibiscus flower and ginger cooler, sangria punch
  • Poleo tisane

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John Waddell, one of the organizers, said he made a liter of sangria for each attendee. We started off with huitlacoche tacos and finished with Susanna’s Oaxaca chocolate truffle paired with a mango raisin cream pudding.

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The first course was a pork stew floating in salsa verde, topped with Oaxaca string cheese, garnished with wild greens and served in one of Macrina’s handmade clay duck bowls.

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The entree was chicken with mole coloradito served with Isthmus of Tehuantepec style tangy potatoes, mashed with peas, carrots and onions.

For dessert, we dove into the mango cream pudding and exhaled.

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After dinner, Susana and Macrina presented the culinary school with a gift of their largest cooking vessel. Then, Eric Mindling talked about his book, Fire and Clay, a bilingual journey into the traditional ceramics making culture of Oaxaca.

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The gathering was relaxed, informal and fun. We hung around to sip more sangria, visit with new and old friends, and just savor the experience of welcoming Oaxaca folk artists to Santa Fe.

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There was just enough remaining after the folk art market of the beautiful, lead-free black and red pottery to present tonight for sale at a free gallery opening at Santa Fe Clay gallery and workshop. If you are in town, don’t miss it. Call to check times.

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During my visit, I made a day trip to Taos to visit friends Jane and Adam. On the drive, you pass through the Rio Grande River canyon. It was so beautiful, I stopped several times just to get that special inspiration from the landscape. It is sacred space that offers renewal, healing and enlightenment.

See you soon in Oaxaca!

Where to find this pottery in Oaxaca:

  1. 1050 Degrees ceramics shop, Rufino Tamayo 800-c (Xolotl), 68000 Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Call us: +52 951 132 61 58
  2. Tlacolula Market every Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Find Macrina and her family at the intersection of the main road and church. They lay out a straw mat to display their work and sit cross legged on another
  3. At the family studio any day in San Marcos Tlapazola






Color Culture: Oaxaca at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

Oaxaca and Mexico is well-represented at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, a knock-your-socks-off bazaar of many of the world’s best artisans.

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Interspersed among the over 150 exhibitors are some of Oaxaca’s best artisans, too. Selection to participate is very competitive. Preference seems to be given to collectives and cooperatives that further the economic, cultural and social development of at-risk folk art.

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Here are the groups from Oaxaca who came this year. We are proud of their accomplishments. They did very well and the income from sales are significant in sustaining and developing their personal lives, culture and craft.

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  • Macrina Mateo, Silvia Garcia Mateo, Silvia Medina Hernandez from San Marcos Tlapazola, Tlacolula, who are part of the ceramics cooperative Innovando la Tradicion
  • Flor de Xochistlahuaca weaving cooperative represented by Margarita Garcia de Jesus and Antonia Brigida Guerrero Santa Ana, working in natural dyes and indigenous cotton
  • Jose Garcia Antonio and family from San Antonino Castillo Velasquez, Ocotlan, who make life-size primitive clay figures
  • Odilon Merino Morales brings Amuzgos textiles hand-woven on the backstrap loom, many using natural dyes, all with expressive designs


Last Thursday I went to a discussion about color at Collected Works Bookstore given by textile design instructor Barbara Arlen. She talked about the psychology of color, how we choose it for fashion, home decor, mood, political importance, emotional well-being and comfort, and what we think looks good on us.

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I’m moving toward indigo, the deep, intense blue derived from a plant, compressed, dried, ground and then made into a dye bath. This is a change for me and at the folk art market I was in search of indigo from Mexico, India, Africa. This seems to be the hot color this year, although it fits into the cool zone. Wear it with hot red beads.

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Here in Santa Fe, like in Mexico, colors tend to be hot as a reflection of the environment. What works here doesn’t make it in New York or Detroit. Barbara talks about how New Yorkers prefer black and gray, the color of business, solemnity, seriousness and sophistication.

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I am in New Mexico, the land of carefree fun, heat and brilliance with a deep Native American tradition of color. Red, coral, orange, turquoise, lime green, deep blue, pure gold, primary colors prevail here. Red, the color of passion, excitement, and yes, even sex, is predominant. Purple, the color of royalty, which came from the rare caracol purpura seashell.

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Barbara Arlen says that color has to do with craftsmanship, faux vs. real, as in clothing, handbags and yes, even food. Slow food vs. fast food, the difference between flash cooked goodness where food is still close to its original fresh goodness and commercial food with chemical additives that give off a gray or brown or overcooked look.

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Her discussion was an excellent introduction to folk art market shopping, where your bank account could be decimated within minutes. She asked us to pay attention to color hues, values and intensity.

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She asked us to stretch to try a different color than we are used to wearing. Barbara recommended that we look at Style.Com and Vogue UK to keep up with current textile and fashion colors.

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Always, she says, choose what makes you feel good. So, I did! And my friends Sheri and Sara did, too.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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.


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!


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.