Category Archives: Workshops and Retreats

Telling Stories: Art Huipil Mixed Media Workshop

The Art Huipil Workshop in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico just ended. Our instructor Lena Bartula says, Textile is text, which is why she incorporates stories, messages, poems and other writing into the mixed media art workshop she teaches.  Textile is also cultural subtext, telling personal stories of the makers through pattern and design.

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Exquisite Corpse Huipil — Group Collaboration

The huipil is the oldest Mesoamerican clothing form worn by women. Each woman who weaves a piece of cloth on a back-strap loom has to tell that is incorporated into the cloth.  No two garments are alike.  They may incorporate similar materials and patterns, but they are arranged differently, reflecting our distinctiveness.

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Each woman uses symbols that reflect her personal and village history, and place in the world.  Each chooses yarn and thread colors important to her, mother, grandmother and village tradition. The way the symbols flow through the garment is a message about life. Our instructor La Huipilista Lena Bartula, guides along the creative pathway.

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Arrepentimientos by Vicki Solot

We take this Mexican tradition and use the huipil concept to create our own stories. We bring cloth, scissors, thread, canvas, handmade paper, ribbons, photographs, paints, drawing pens, glue, memorabilia and our imaginations.

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We take field trips to local markets to collect paraphernalia.  We look down on street pavement and in gardens to incorporate found objects. We determine what to edit, what is more or less, what is meaningful. We make art.

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We laugh. Dance. Eat. Sing. Rest and renew. We make an altar to bless each other and our work.  We celebrate the creativity and spirit within.

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We celebrate the completion of our work and time together with a spirited exhibition of our work, followed by a fiesta dinner complete with handmade chilis rellenos, roast chicken, tortillas, salsa verde, potato empañadas and a divine dessert called Pastel Imposible — chocolate cake topped with flan.

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As we say goodbye, we lay out our huipils. The sun is shining. The air is clear and warm. The days have sped by quickly and each participant takes away an art piece to display, a memory of an unparalleled experience in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico.

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Here is our work:

Workshop participants and their art.

Workshop participants and our collage of huipils.

I Love Mexico by Carol Egan

I Love Mexico by Carol Egan

Quierdos -- Dear Ones, by Ellen Benson

Quierdos — Dear Ones, by Ellen Benson

XXX by Sherry Bone Peel

Finding Teotitlan by Sherry Bone Peel

Bad Girl by Ellen Benson

Bad Girl by Ellen Benson

XXXX, by Vicki Solot

Natural Grace by Vicki Solot

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Gracias a la Vida/Yin by Ruth Greenberger

XXXX by Sherry Bone Peel

Let It Be by Sherry Bone Peel

XXX by Ruth Greenberger

Gracias a la Vida/Yang by Ruth Greenberger

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More or Less by Norma Hawthorne

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Let me know by email if you are interested in participating next year. I am starting an early notification list.

 

News: Two Spaces Open for Women’s March Writing Retreat

We have been SOLD OUT for months, but today I received two cancellations for the 2015 Oaxaca Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat that starts March 6, 2015.  That means we have TWO SPACES OPEN now. If you have been thinking about expressing your creative self and escaping winter, this could be the workshop you are looking for.  Let me know if you are interested in registering!  We would love to have you with us.

Looking for Secundino and His Textiles, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

On Monday around noon, I pick up Ester at her brick bungalow nestled under the shadow of Picacho, Teotitlan’s holy mountain.  We drive down the cobbled hill, across the small bridge over the Rio Grande, now a trickle in the dry season, to get Janet, an expat friend who lives here during the winter months.

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We are on our way to visit Secundino, Ester’s eighty-seven year old father who still weaves cloth in the old serape style.  His blanket weight wool is soft, very soft, not suitable for rug use. He uses undyed sheep wool that he cards, cleans and spins himself. His is a lost art.

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Ester says he has a couple of textiles finished and for sale, so we are eager to see them.  Secundino only produces about six pieces a year.

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We arrive midday to discover that the rugs are gone, bought up by an exporter. Secundino is not at home. He is out in the countryside in his fields of corn. Though we are disappointed, we make the best of it, stay to visit with Ester’s mother, sisters and nephew with his pet chicken.

This is another opportunity to use my just acquired used wide-angle Tokina 11-16mm lens. I’m liking the results!

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Secundino was the drum major in the village band for decades leading the way in all the processions.  His drums hang like trophies on the wall above his bed. Ester tells us that he joined the village band this year at Las Cuevitas and the family was so happy he could take part again.  A mended broken hip and advanced age doesn’t hold him back.

Secundino's House

We hope Secundino will keep weaving and we’ve put in our order for another one of his wonderful textiles.

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Two years ago, Secudino was the subject for our portrait photography workshop. We have space this year for you, starting January 30, 2015.

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Three Kings Day and Rosca de Reyes, Oaxaca, Mexico

Rosca de Reyes-3It’s January 6, Three Kings Day in Mexico, that marks Christmas celebrations in Latin America and Spain, culminating in the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas.  The children especially gather around to open gifts, sip hot chocolate made with water, no milk, and dig into tamales and Rosca de Reyes.

Rosca de Reyes (1)

Everyone loves Rosca de Reyes. And, everyone tries to avoid getting one of the little plastic baby Jesus figures baked into the sweet dough.  Why? Because if you get the baby, you must host a tamale party for your family and friends on Dia de la Candelaria. This is the official ending of the Christmas season and the transition into Easter. Good tamales, like the women make here in Teotitlan del Valle, are very labor intensive.

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This morning I set out for the Teotitlan del Valle market in search of Eloisa. Last night I bought a rich round egg bread made with pure butter, studded with dried fruit and topped with crab apples. She bakes them in the clay oven tucked into the corner of the courtyard, one at a time.  The outside is crusty and the inside soft, sweet, melt-in-your mouth magic.

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A group of us from the village gathered and after mezcal and tamales, we gobbled up Eloisa’s cake. I wanted more. As I drove to the market early, there she was walking back home, empty basket in hand. But, she had an extra one stashed away at home and I happily gave her 80 pesos to tuck it into my shopping bag.

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Then, in the market bakery section there were any number of bakers selling their own versions of Rosca de Reyes.  I bought two more to give as gifts to friends, another lovely tradition of sharing that comes with living in Mexico.

I’m experimenting with a “new” wide-angle Tokina 11-16mm lens I bought used from B&H Photo to fit my Nikon D7000.  Fun to get a different perspective.  I’m practicing and getting ready for our Portrait Photography Workshop coming up at the end of the month.

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Happy New Year 2015 — Feliz Año Nuevo From Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

For the past five weeks I’ve been recovering from knee replacement surgery, first in North Carolina with dear friends who took great care of me, and then in Santa Cruz, California with my family.  I returned to Casita Alegria on December 30, just in time to celebrate another New Year’s Eve birthday with intimate friends in Teotitlan del Valle, where I live.

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On the eve of the new year, we each wrote our 2014 regrets and our 2015 hopes and wishes, folded the piece of paper and in a private moment of reflection tossed the paper into the fire blazing in the chiminea on the patio.  For me, this was a time of letting go of past, concentrating on now and focusing on  future.

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An honored tradition here in Teotitlan del Valle is the January 1 pilgrimage to Las Cuevitas.  This is a feast day, a day of gathering in the hills behind the village at an ancient pre-Hispanic Zapotec site and looking ahead to what the new year will bring.  The caves, or rocky grottos, hold altars for prayer and making offerings.  Poinsettias, lilies, fresh eggs, candles and money are symbols for the season and starting anew.

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Families gather on the hillsides, start bonfires, bring picnic suppers, light sparklers to mesmerize both adults and children. The day is warm, the early evening balmy.  The sun sets at Las Cuevitas and the entire village, or so it seems, has assembled, puts on an extra layer of clothing to protect themselves from the coming chill. The band plays. Vendors sell soft drinks, pastries.  At a comal, a woman prepares quesadillas for sale.  It is festive, intimate.

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There is an almost full moon. The hillside glows in wonderment of prayer and promise as strewn rocks become constructions of possibility:  a new home, a corral for livestock, a second story.  Zapotec dreams are always tied to the land.

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As for me, my knee is healing.  I am ambulatory with the aid of a walking stick made from a piece of beautiful twisted North Carolina dogwood. I am able to drive my manual transmission car and continue to do my exercises.  The pain and discomfort has subsided but it is still with me.  I’m hoping to be able to walk more than 5,000 steps a day very soon.

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Sending you wishes for a new year filled with good health, contentment, satisfaction and connection. One in which we live in peace, make peace with the past and look forward with hopefulness.  Blessings to all.

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People of Oaxaca: Portrait Photography Workshop starts January 30. There is room for you!