Category Archives: Workshops and Retreats

San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca: Mezcal on the Mountain

We didn’t start out planning a trip to San Juan del Rio, Oaxaca. It just happened as we moved into the day. Friend Sheri Brautigam, textile designer, collector and Living Textiles of Mexico blogger, is visiting me. After a roundabout through the Teotitlan del Valle morning market, we headed out to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to visit master flying shuttle loom weaver Arturo Hernandez.

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Don Arturo creates fine ikat wool shawls and scarves colored with natural dyes, including cochineal, indigo, wild marigold and zapote negro (wild black persimmon).  Sheri knew him from the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where he exhibited in summer 2014.  I’ve known him for years through my friend Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. So, of course, we couldn’t help ourselves and new rebozos made it into our collections.

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It was only eleven in the morning. I asked Don Arturo if he knew the village of San Juan del Rio, where some of Oaxaca’s finest mezcal is produced and sold under private label. He said, Yes, it’s only about forty-five minutes from here.

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I looked at Sheri, she looked at me. We said, Let’s go. I invited Don Arturo to come with us and he said Yes, once more. A native Zapotec speaker, we were lucky to have him with us. He helped find our way!

About Mezcal: The agave piña or pineapple is dug up out of the ground at maturity (seven to twelves years of field growth) and taken to the distillery, where it is roasted over a wood fired, rock-lined pit.  That’s what gives it a smokey flavor. It’s then crushed to yield the liquid that becomes mezcal. Good mezcal goes through two distillations.

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Years ago, Sheri  worked with a seamstress embroiderer Alma Teresa who lives in San Juan del Rio. Sheri designs gorgeous quechquemitls and Teresa crochets the pieces together. To reconnect with her was another reason to go.  Notice Teresa’s blouse and jacket, with the elaborate crochet trim. Seems like some of the most fun days in Oaxaca start with no particular plan.

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We headed out toward Hierve del Agua but made a left turn onto a winding road that soon became unpaved dirt, rough from recent rains. It took a good hour plus to get there from Mitla.  The road ends at the picturesque village, tucked away in a river valley. Houses are built on hillsides.  Other hillsides are terraced with mezcal palenques and maize crops. The stills are at river level.  They use the water to cool the distillation process. This is not yet a tourist destination.

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This village is known for small production, artesenal mezcal. I was on a hunt for reposado. What I found was an extraordinary reposado at a third the price of what I usually pay in Oaxaca city, plus a wild agave (silvestre) mezcal called Tepeztate from a mezcalero who is akin to a winemaker. He produces mezcal that he sells to some of the top hand-crafted brands.

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Sheri got a taste of just distilled mezcal, warm and just out of the still. At eighty-percent alcohol her engine was roaring after just a sip.  I inhaled and almost fell over. Don Arturo joined us. Being the designated driver, I had to be more careful. The whole thing reminded me of North Carolina moonshine, but the resulting product here is so much more refined it’s not even comparable.

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There are now so many varieties of mezcal, depending on the type of agave used and whether the mezcal is aged and for how long. Añejo can be aged as long as twelve years in oak which takes on characteristics of the wood. Wild agave has a distinctive herbal flavor and aroma. You need to taste to see which you prefer.

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This is a full day trip. We could have stayed longer and visited more mezcaleros. But I think we came home with some of the best produced in the village at a fraction of the retail price. If you go, bring your own liter size glass bottles with tight lids. Some bring gallon jugs to fill up. Plan to leave Oaxaca by nine in the morning. You’ll return around seven at night. Don’t go in the rainy season! You will slide all over the road!

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Who to visit?

  1. Redondo de San Juan del Rio, Rodolfo Juan Juarez, mezcalero. Tel. (951) 546 5260. Reposado and Tepeztate
  2. Perla del Rio Mezcal, Ignacio Juan Antonio, mezcalero, Tel. (951) 546 5056. Espadin joven.
  3. Alma Teresa’s clothing cooperative, a block from the church. She is sending two daughters to university in Oaxaca. Her husband went to the U.S. to work years ago and never came back.

 

 

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You can buy a road map of Oaxaca state at the Proveedora, corner Reforma and Independencia, in the Centro Historico. Comes in handy for exploring and having an aventura, like we did.

Coming Up: Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop, Starts Jan. 30, 2015

Mystery of Muertos in Oaxaca, Mexico

Procession, Dia de los Muertos

Procession, Dia de los Muertos

You may have noticed that I changed the blog banner to a night-time Oaxaca, Mexico, Day of the Dead cemetery scene. Rituals are ancient, family-centered and mystical. Dia de los Muertos will start at the end of October and continue through November 3 this year.  In Teotitlan del Valle, the traditional November 2 cemetery ritual moves to Monday, November 3, because November 2 falls on Sunday.

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

Teotitlan del Valle, Dia de los Muertos

September brings rain. It has always been this way. (The ancients did not worry about global warming.) The circle of life is complete and comes around once again. The rains bring the October profusion of wild marigold blooming throughout the countryside, coming just in time as Mother Earth’s gift to decorate altars and grave sites to honor deceased loved ones.

Copal incense burners

Copal incense burners

Muertos is coming. The season is changing. This week, the night air turned chilly and I wrap myself in a handwoven wool rebozo.  Hot chamomile tea is on the stove. The corn has tassled and is ready to harvest.  There is a full moon and the evening sky sparkles. Days are still warm, but the afternoon winds bring with them a whisper of winter.

Xoxocotlan Ancient Cemetery

Xoxocotlan Ancient Cemetery

In the next few weeks, our Oaxaca snowbirds will return. Visitors will arrive to experience the wonder and mystery of Muertos, and bring with them much needed tourism dollars that artisans depend upon.

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

Pan de Muertos, Bread of the Dead

In the central valley of Oaxaca, we will light copal incense, gather marigold flowers, decorate homes and reflect on the meaning of life and death, memory and relationships. The scent of the copal and marigolds help guide the dead from and back to their graves.

Sueño de Elpis-Muertos Marigold Art Installation

Sueño de Elpis-Muertos Marigold Art Installation

Portrait Photography Workshop Starts at the end of January. Taking Registrations!

 

 

 

Pre-Hispanic Women’s Clothing Design: The Huipil Endures

Years ago, after I first arrived in Oaxaca, I discovered an incredible small book by Mexico City fashion designer Carla Fernandez. Taller Flora: Indigenous Dress Making Geometry of Mexico, Pre-Hispanic Origin (2006) is now difficult to come by. But, it has become my bible for easy-to-make, easy-to-wear, comfortable, flowing clothing  that is versatile and beautiful.

The book is also my inspiration because it tickled an idea to develop the             Felt Fashion Workshop several years ago.

During the week-long workshop, January 17-24, 2015, we use naturally dyed merino wool to make wet-felted cloth.  Then, we sew it using the simple  geometric patterns to construct the garments. Our instructor, Maddalena Forcella, is internationally-known for her work.

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The results could be a jacket, a blouse, a shawl or scarf, a dress or a poncho. The quechquemitl is one of my favorites.

I was recently in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I saw jackets, blouses and dresses made with felt, sewn and blocked, selling for $500 to $800 USD and more.  And, United States clothing designer Eileen Fisher uses variations for many of her patterns including the asymmetrical merino poncho priced at $248 USD.

There is more to the huipil than an article of clothing. It is a symbol of womanhood, female creativity and personal experience.

In ancient Mexican culture, each community created identity by weaving a distinctive pattern into the cloth.  And, there were different pattern variations for important life cycle events like weddings , births and baptisms. The woven cloth told a story about the village and the woman who created that particular garment.

Art of the Huipil: Mixed Media Workshop

Scheduled the week before the Felt Fashion Workshop, set to start on January 8, the Art of the Huipil is a hands-on experience taught by artist Lena Bartula. During the five-day session, participants create a huipil based on their own personal stories, using found objects and those we collect during visits to local weavers and markets. The result is a piece of art suitable for hanging, if you wish.

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In January, Oaxaca days are warm and mild.  Evenings are cool and comfortable. We offer a perfect getaway from winter that is safe and affordable.

You do not have to be an experienced artist or seamstress to attend. All levels are welcome.  This is about having fun and opening yourself up to the possibilities of creative self-expression in an encouraging, friendly place.

Questions? Contact Norma Hawthorne.

Art History Tour: Mexican Muralism, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico City

The Mexican Muralists, and especially the art of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are the focus of our Mexico City Art History Tour: Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.  Arrive on November 13 and depart on November 17. DiegoFrida4Group-77 This intensive study tour takes you into off-the-beaten path public art spaces and those that are more popular where Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros worked. DiegoFrida4Group-65 Be prepared to walk, explore, discover, discuss and enjoy the Old World beauty of Mexico’s capital city.  You will learn more in three days about Mexico, her culture and ethos, than you ever imagined, and how Rivera and Kahlo helped define a national identity after the 1910 Revolution. DiegoFrida4Group-84 If you are intrigued by

  • the mystery of Frida’s relationship with her mentor Diego Rivera, whom she married twice,
  • social and political history of pre- and post-revolution Mexico,
  • Mexican Muralist Movement as populist outcry and government tool,
  • Aztec archeology,
  • Colonial and Belle Epoque architecture,
  • Mexico City as a food, culture, and art mecca,

This program is for you!

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Our art historian has postponed her graduate studies in Europe for one year, so we are fortunate to be able to offer this program again.

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If you have never traveled to Mexico City, this is a great introduction to the historic center and Casa Azul, the home Frida and Diego shared. Plus, we visit the Dolores Olmedo Museum that holds the largest collection of Diego’s and Frida’s work.

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Mexico City is easy to fly to from anywhere in the United States and Canada. The city is safe, clean and hospitable.  Our friendly hotel is located just two blocks from the Zocalo, the Palacio Nacional, the Catedral and the Templo Mayor archeological site of the Aztec power center. DiegoFrida4Group-5 Questions?  Contact Norma Hawthorne.  DiegoFrida4Group2-7

Finding Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo: Photo Highlights

After a week in Mexico City with eight wonderful participants who came along for our Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Study Tour, I came back to Oaxaca to immediately welcome four Australian women, all textile lovers. We have been all over town and out into the craft villages from sunrise to sunset, with more to go!  Sunday, Tlacolula market. Monday, Guelaguetza.

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I must confess I haven’t had a moment to process photos and report on the incredible pre-Guelaguetza activities that make Oaxaca a must-see destination this time of year.  The streets are packed with parades, revelers, music, dance, textile vendors and food.  Yesterday, after circling for over an hour in search of a parking spot (all lots filled, no empty street spaces), instead of sleeping over as I had planned, I gave up and returned to the Teotitlan del Valle casita I call home.

Okay, so here are photo highlights of our Mexico City adventure — a wonderful time was had by all!  Next Art History Study Tour:  August 7-11.  Three spaces open!  This is a great way to ease into discovering Mexico City.

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Several of our travelers had been to other parts of Mexico many times but shied away from the big city.  They discovered that Mexico City is vibrant, safe, rich in art, and has some of the world’s most amazing restaurants.

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It was a really amazing experience for me.  I had never been there before and am left with so much more information and reading to do and historical research to do that it will keep me busy for quite a while. — Susan Sandoval, California

 

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Our art historian, Valeria, is going to Switzerland for advanced study in September, so the August 7-11 repeat study tour will be the last for a while.  It is an amazing introduction to the Mexican Muralists:  Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros, plus provides an in-depth look at the mystique and mastery of Frida Kahlo.

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We enjoy fine dining, market fare, artisan galleries, and much more, too.

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