Category Archives: Workshops and Retreats

Details, Another View of Frida Kahlo at Casa Azul

In the last three years, I’ve probably visited Casa Azul, where Frida Kahlo was born and lived with Diego Rivera, over ten times. I come because I organize the art history study tour, Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo Calderon, daughter of Jewish Hungarian father and Oaxaquena mother

Can you get to Mexico City next weekend?

On this latest visit last Friday with a group from Australia and New Zealand, I served as a consultant for their leader who wanted a one-day quick immersion into Frida’s life for her group.

Frida’s father and mother, her portrait of them

I wondered: How do I continue to take photos of the same iconographic details of Frida and Diego’s life?  The paint brushes. The photographs. The furniture. The folk art collection.

Detail of studio paint brushes, her strokes became weaker at the end

The pre-Hispanic ceramics and lava rock sculpture. The clothing. The frog urn that contains her ashes. The paintings she created out of pain. Reverence. Disappointment. Courage. Commitment to love and family. Passion.

Watermelons. Celebration of Life. Finished just before death.

Go to the details, I told myself. Captures the parts, not the whole. Focus on the brush strokes. The lace. The color. The shadows and reflections. The images of the men and women she loved.

Colored oil crayons, still neatly boxed, waiting. Ready.

Go to the details. Find the ribbons. Find the ribs of the plant leaves. The shape of flowers. The accoutrements of the corsets and built-up shoes to hide her deformities. The textures and reflections.

Palm ribs in the expansive garden, Casa Azul

She put such a strong, uplifting face to the world despite her injuries — physical and emotional.

She called Diego “Toad” and “Panza” — ashes contained within the frog jug.

This trip to Casa Azul was different for me and I used the experience to examine the infinite, small parts of life that we often scan over to take in the big picture.

Visceral, the insides of a gourd, like a fertile womb ready to give seed. But she couldn’t.

If you want to join me in Mexico City, Thursday, July 29, for a July 30 morning start to a three-day immersion into the murals, paintings and lives of Friday and Diego, there is a space for you. It’s so easy to fly in and out!

Lover, sculptor Isamu Noguchi, in Mexico

Why is Frida Kahlo an icon? Perhaps you would like to help me answer this question.

Supported by a frame, a corset, exposed, bare and barren.

What does she represent for women who aspire to be independent, strong, feminine and vulnerable?

Painting from a wheel chair, Casa Azul

She hid her misshapen body beneath glorious hand-woven and embroidered dresses, put her best foot and face forward. Persevered and thrived.

Loved by photographer Nicolas Murry. She was devoted to Diego.

Today, she is more famous, more revered than Diego Rivera because she exposed herself and revealed the internal, damaged self.

Frida refused to let her polio define her, though she wore a brace, sturdy shoes.

Andre Breton called her Mexico’s surrealist painter. She is more than that. Surrealism conjures up Salvador Dali and the distortions he saw in life. Frida reflected on her own distortions and created beauty from them.

Saludos, Norma

On the bus, a fateful day of destruction and a lifetime of reconstruction

Would Frida have become the painter she did without having suffered the trolley car accident that sent a metal spear through her uterus?

Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954

Self-portrait, through Frida Kahlo’s looking glass

Sometimes courage requires that we each put one foot in front of the other to move forward, despite set-backs. We love Frida Kahlo because through her story she teaches us that life requires risk, innovation, and that being afraid is part of our existence.

Painted gourd adorns kitchen table in Casa Azul

When Frida died, Diego Rivera wanted to establish a museum to honor her. She was not yet recognized. He convinced his friend, Dolores Olmedo, to invest in purchasing Frida’s paintings and Casa Azul.

Closet where Frida’s belongings were sealed for 50 years

But, he made her promise not to open the green closet door, where clothing, diaries and photos remained secreted for fifty years.

In 2006, the closet was opened and art history was rewritten.

The garden at Casa Azul

Follow Me Cultural + Photo Walking Tour, Christmas Posadas: One Day in Teotitlan del Valle

Christmas in Oaxaca is magical. In ancient villages throughout the central valleys, indigenous Zapotec people celebrate with a mix of pre-Hispanic mystical ritual blended with Spanish-European Catholic practice.

A moment’s rest. Christmas Posada, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, 2015

They retrace the Census pilgrimage (Roman command to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for Cesar’s census) of Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. The posadas in Teotitlan del Valle are held for nine nights, culminating with the last posada on Christmas Eve. Each host family serves as innkeeper for the night, throwing a big party, and welcoming guests into the home.

Cradling Baby Jesus at the altar, Teotitlan del Valle

The procession is elaborate and takes the pilgrims and the litter carrying Mary and Joseph from one inn to the next, through the winding cobblestone streets of the village, touching each neighborhood. Women carrying beeswax candles and children with sparklers guide the way. Altar boys illuminate the streets with candle-topped stanchions.

The last posada, Christmas Eve, Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Copal incense leaves an aroma trail. Church officials send firecrackers skyward to announce the coming of the pilgrims to the next neighborhood. It is solemn, festive and spiritual.

Wishing you season’s greeting with health and joy always.

What could be better than to experience one day of this celebration with those who lives here? This is an informal cultural immersion walking tour, so be prepared to walk, and then walk some more! Please bring your camera if you like. You will have permission to take photos.

  •      When:  Friday, December 22 — One Day ONLY
  •      Time:  1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (approximate end time)
  •      Where: Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico
  •      Cost:  $125 per person includes late afternoon supper

Who is this one-day study tour for? Anyone interested in knowing more about how Christmas is celebrated in a Mexican village. All amateur photographers are welcome, from no to mid-level experience, and anyone interested in photo tourism and who wants a more personal travel experience.

Group Size Limited to 8 People: We welcome children and young adults ages 12 and over.

Parking lot, Tlacolula market sky, Sunday before Christmas

You will follow me into the homes of Zapotec families to talk about and observe the celebrations and decorations. You will have plenty of photo opportunities to capture images of people and place. You will take home memories that cannot be duplicated, to be treasured and shared for a lifetime.

Nochebuena flower or poinsettia, native to Mexico, Christmas full-bloom

What You Will See:

  • Behind the gates, behind the walls, honest village life
  • Food preparation for special occasions
  • Homes and altar rooms elaborately decorated for Christmas
  • Candlelit processions, complete with incense and mysticism

During the day, we will visit several family homes to see how they celebrate Christmas. We will bring chocolate and bread to the altar in greeting, a tradition.

Blessings before the altar at the home of the Patron.

After dark, we will take part in the procession that will carry Mary and Joseph on litters from one home to the next on their recreated journey to Bethlehem.

Photography Opportunities–What You Will Do:

  • Attend to natural and artificial lighting to get the best shot
  • Practice street photography on-the-hoof
  • Request permission from people to take their photos
  • Discuss photo-taking etiquette, When to ask or not?
  • Create portrait opportunities with the people you meet
  • Gain access to family compounds
  • Point out great photo opportunities
  • Explore night photography challenges and opportunities
  • Go home with a portfolio of your experiences

The pilgrims entering the altar room, Teotitlan del Valle

We DO NOT give instruction on how to use your camera. This will not be about camera settings or technical information. You will want to know your camera before you arrive. We will not offer an editing session or instructions on how to edit.

Food preparation area for posada participants

We DO provide a rich, cultural immersion experience, with all types of cameras welcome: mobile phone cameras, film, DSLR and mirrorless, instant, Poloroid, etc.

What to Bring:

  • Your spirit of discovery and adventure
  • Your camera
  • Extra batteries and charger
  • Extra storage disks
  • Optional tripod, if you wish
  • Notepad and pen

Lodging Options: You may wish to make this a day trip and return to Oaxaca city on the same night. Or you may wish to spend the night in Teotitlan del Valle (or perhaps several). Choose Casa Elena, Las Granadas B&B guesthouse, or La Cupula. Make your own reservations and pay your hosts directly.

Watching the procession go by, Teotitlan del Valle

About Your Photo Walking Tour Leader: Norma Schafer is an experienced amateur photographer who enjoys taking portraits as much as capturing the pulsating world of Oaxaca village life. Her photographs have been exhibited at Duke University, The Levine Museum of the American South, and featured in two chapters of the award-winning book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico (Thrums). She is most interested in the aesthetic of photography, rather than the technical details, acknowledging that to get a good photo, one must know how the camera works first!

The musicians always lead the way, announcing the coming of the procession

How to Book Your Reservation: Send Norma an email to let her know you want to participate. We will send you an invoice to make a PayPal payment to secure your place.

Cancellations: If, once you make your 100% prepaid reservation, and you find you are unable to attend, you may cancel up to 30 days in advance and receive a 50% refund. After that, refunds are not possible. You are always welcome to send a substitute in your place.

Even a blurry photo evokes mood and sense of place

Trip Insurance: We strongly encourage you to take out trip cancellation and medical evacuation insurance. We cannot emphasize enough how important this is when traveling in any foreign country. Since this is a one-day excursion, trip insurance is not mandatory, but highly advisable.

 

 

 

 

Who Made My Clothes? Digging Deeper Into Fashion and Consumption

Who Made My Clothes? is a program of the Fashion Revolution. I’ve been following them and its co-founder Carry Somers since she came to Oaxaca in February 2016 to take one of my natural dye and weaving textile excursions.

Pedal loom weaver Arturo Hernandez, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Oaxaca

I introduced her to some of the weavers who make my clothes and the rugs that adorn floors and walls where I live in Teotitlan del Valle and Durham, North Carolina.

When I got notice of an online course Who Made My Clothes? produced by Exeter University and Fashion Revolution, I decided to sign up.  The first of three sessions over the next weeks went online yesterday. I’m eager to tell you about it.

But first, what also prompted me to pursue this course was the discussion we had during the WARP Conference about recognizing and naming the people who make our garments.

African indigo tie-dyed cotton that I sewed into dress and skirt

This is true here in Oaxaca, where many of us value, buy and wear beautiful locally made dresses and blouses. If we can afford it, we might buy from Remigio Mesta’s Los Baules de Juana Cata, from the Textile Museum Shop, or from Odilon Morales at Arte Amuzgos. Buying fewer pieces and choosing better quality can be one justification for paying a higher price.

This is a mantra of the Fashion Revolution: the high cost of fast fashion, disposable clothes. Who is paying the price? Our planet and the workers.  In the end, we are, too because we are contributing to a system of over-consumption.

  • 75% of garment workers are young women
  • the world purchased 400% more clothes than we did 20 years ago
  • in the USA in 2012, 84% of unwanted clothes ended up in the landfill or incinerator

If we buy on the street, we have no idea who made the garment or what they were paid for their labor. Usually, it’s a reseller who takes this work, either buying outright or on consignment.

  • What are we doing to make our own clothes?
  • What are we doing to mend our own clothes?
  • What are we doing to buy at up cycle/thrift sales?
  • What are we doing to buy directly from the maker?
  • Do we read labels? Check clothes “ingredients?”

The WARP conference was also about fashion designer theft, talk of label switching by designers in the NYC fashion industry, and mainstream appropriation of indigenous cultural patterns.

A challenge in this week’s online lesson was to read about the 2013 tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, when more than 1,100 people died, mostly young women. From this rubble, the Fashion Revolution was born.

The women in the building were making clothes for brands we all know: Gap, Walmart, H&M, Sears, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Questions came up: Who is ultimately responsible for worker safety? The brands, the subcontractors, the government? All of the above?  How does one person make a difference?

Family mourns death of loved one, Rana Plaza, Bangladesh

So, the course developers are asking me to look in my closet, evaluate what’s there, choose my favorite garment(s), ask whose lives are in the making of these clothes? What materials: cotton, synthetic, linen, flax? How old is the oldest thing in my closet?

The dress and skirt I made (above) last week, took me hours of labor, a total of about four days. I’m particular. I like French seams. I also made my own pattern. I appreciate good garment construction and fabric.

There may still be room in the course.  We have a week to finish the first module, and its insightful, reflective and purposeful to ask: Who made my clothes?

If we care about the food we ingest, we can also care about what we choose to say about ourselves in what we wear.

WARP Oaxaca Walking Tour: Textiles and Folk Art

Last Sunday, a group of ten WARP conference participants gathered in the lobby of our hotel at 9:30 a.m. We set out for a day-long walking tour of textiles and folk art, concentrating on a few superb venues to see the best of the best.

Walking around Oaxaca on a Sunday morning.

I had set meetings up in advance with two of Oaxaca’s most distinguished shops where the finest textiles are curated and sold, Arte Amuzgo and Los Baules de Juana Cata.

Efigenia, with exquisite Amuzgo huipil, rare caracol purpura (purple snail) dye

I asked the owners if they would select five to ten of their most outstanding textiles, explain the dye and back-strap weaving process, and talk about the maker and the region of origin.

Rare silk + Egyptian cotton huipil, indigo + caracol purpura dyes, San Mateo del Mar

Both are doing an outstanding effort to rescue lost weaving traditions by encouraging villages to bring back an art form on the edge of extinction.

Baby alpaca translates to traditional Mitla weaving, theme of corn + cacao beans

Both have galleries in the historic center of Oaxaca where they offer a market for indigenous artisans to show and sell their work.

Amazing indigo, native coyuchi cotton and caracol purpura blusa, Amuzgos

They give attribution to the weavers, too, by including their names and villages on the hang tags of the clothing.

On the colonial walking street, Macedonio Alcala, Oaxaca

But, first I thought it was important to offer a backdrop to Oaxaca, by explaining a bit about her history and culture. I invited Janet, who was born and raised here, to tell us about her city.

Gold-leaf interior, Santo Domingo Church, Oaxaca

Our first stop was at the cathedral on the Zocalo, where the story of Colonial Oaxaca begins. We then walked up the Alcala, making a coffee stop, a shopping stop for hand-made paper earrings (on special request from Louise), and gathered in front of Santo Domingo Church.

Like a tapestry, silk and Egyptian cotton huipil

Here, we talked about the conversion of indigenous people, the construction of the city, the power of the Dominicans, and the wealth provided by cochineal.

The underside is as beautiful as the front!

With a stop, too, at Andares del Arte Popular before lunch with a welcome from manager Eric Chavez Santiago, by the time we landed at Los Danzantes, hunger had overtaken us. Lots of walking, but we didn’t even complete 10,000 steps!

Efren at Los Baules de Juana Cata explains dedication to preserving Oaxaca textiles

Organic blue corn tortillas, Los Danzantes, Oaxaca

The aperitif, fresh frozen mango mezcal and agua de tuna

Here, I will not bore you with our seven course tasting menu that I ordered in advance.  It included grilled watermelon salad. Coconut shrimp. Rib eye tacos. Wild mushroom lasagna. Let’s go straight to dessert.

Chocolate casacada with house made vanilla ice cream, raspberry drizzle

And, if that wasn’t enough, another taste of my other favorite at Los Danzantes:

Goat cheese flan with toasted, caramelized nuts, honey and chocolate sauce

Oh, and fresh fruit. The figs were out of this world.

I ordered this so we would all stay healthy.

Back into the world of textiles, I want to show you some other beauties that we had the privilege to see this day.

Cochineal dyed silk on Egyptian cotton, embroidered, Ayutla

Irene’s find at Arte Amuzgo

Lollie and Elaine holding down the dressing room fort

Gauze weave cotton by Francisca Palafox, San Mateo del Mar

Getting a closer look

Rare green and coyuchi cotton, native to Oaxaca, Amuzgo

Oaxaca is a vast treasure trove of textile wonderfulness. In the colder mountain regions, the cottons are triple-ply and thick for warmth. Along the coast, the weave is much lighter gauze to cover-up but to also deal with hot, humid weather. Some villages weave. Others work in embroidery.

Close up of Mitla wool rebozo, with traditional corn and cacao pattern

There is a reintroduction of silk weaving, and wool is a perfect wrap around material for rebozos (shawls) to protect from winter chill in the valleys.

Stacks of fine garments at Los Baules de Juana Cata

Early Sunday morning, a perfect time for a stroll in Downtown Oaxaca

WARP Takes a Oaxaca Textile Study Tour with Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Last Saturday, 70 WARP conference-goers divided up and piled into four red vans to go on an all-day natural dye textile and weaving study tour that I organized.

At the Montaño family weavers who make beautiful bags

We left our Oaxaca hotel at 9:30 a.m. and didn’t return until after 7:00 p.m. (and in a rain storm). It takes much longer to move 70 people than it does to lead a small group of three!

Weaver Alfredo Hernandez wearing a wild marigold-cochineal dyed scarf

Of course, I couldn’t be on all four vans at once, so I had great help from dye master Elsa Sanchez Diaz, applied linguist Janet Chavez Santiago, and blogger Shannnon Pixley Sheppard who staffed the other three.

Lunch at Tierra Antigua Restaurant, Teotitlan del Valle

Thanks to them and a schedule that brought us all together for lunch and an end-of-the-day reunion, the day went off without a hiccup.

Program Chair Judy Newland adds cochineal to her indigo hair

We hopscotched all over Teotitlan del Valle and made a detour to Lachigolo to visit weavers I know who work in naturally-dyed wool and cotton.

Lola (Dolores) and Fe (Federico) demonstrate over-dyeing techniques

We got demonstrations of the natural dye process, tapestry loom weaving techniques using the fixed frame, two-harness pedal loom used to make rugs.

In the studio of Galeria Fe y Lola — Federico and Dolores

We saw the flying shuttle, four-harness loom that can make yards of cotton cloth with more intricate patterning depending on the sequencing of the foot pedals. The cloth woven for clothing and home goods.

Preparing warp threads for flying shuttle loom

Most importantly, we had the opportunity to meet each family, understand how they work in collaboration and in family units, and see how they are inspired to make very distinctive products from each other.

Francisco Martinez takes pericone — wild marigold — from dye vat

Every family has their own dye recipes and design adaptations. Some are doing very pioneering work, combining wool and agave plant fiber.

Aztecs used dyed chicken feathers to add color to white cotton – revitalized now

Some are doing very fine wall tapestries with 17 warp threads per inch. It is wonderful to see the range and variety of creativity and inspiration.

Alfredo’s son prepares bobbins for the loom — a family endeavor

Alfredo collaborates with Ayutla embroiderer Anacleta Juarez

Alfredo Hernandez weaves the natural manta with the finest cotton threads. Then embroiderer Anacleta Juarez creates the most detailed, intricate finely stitched work I’ve ever seen.

Wild marigold fixes with a local plant called marush

On day one, cultural anthropologist Marta Turok Wallace talked about the importance of collaboration to further innovation that will sustain tradition.

A shady respite along the way — Judy, Ana Paula, Gail, Patrice

Isaac and his mom, Maria de Lourdes, wash the wool before it goes into the dye bath

Wool tapestries with natural dyes, with Francisco Martinez

We gathered at the end of the day at the home workshop and studio of Porfirio Gutierrez and his family for traditional hot chocolate, bread, mezcal and a demonstration. Big thanks, Porfirio, for your hospitality to welcome 70 people!

Cochineal grows on prickly pear cactus paddles behind Porfirio Gutierrez

The family is working in wool dyed with natural plant materials and cochineal. They are innovating with rug designs that resemble a petate that incorporates plant fibers like jute and ixtle.

Two dye masters huddle: Elsa Sanchez Diaz and Juana Gutierrez, Porfirio’s sister

Wrapping up a petate design rug to go — a combo of jute and indigo!

In the courtyard, Francisco and Patrice talk about possibilities

Behind a wall, a flying shuttle loom workshop awaits us

Shopping for napkins and tablecloths made on the flying shuttle loom

Sales assistant in training!

Juana and her 6 months-old granddaughter

Cochineal dyed cotton out to dry on the line

Almost every weaver here knows how to prepare a demonstration using natural dyes. Many have the materials on hand to show visitors. Yet, it takes half the time to prepare wool using aniline dyes as it does to prepare natural dyes. The dye materials are 10 times more expensive.

Cochineal and indigo dye wool

Some say that about 10 to 15 Teotitlan del Valle families may actually use natural dyes in their work. (I don’t know the exact number.)  If this is important to you, you may want to join one of our one-day study tours to take you to them. The price will be higher for these beauties, but there is a distinctive difference in color palette and quality.

On the van, WARP conference Oaxaca

WARP president Cindy Lair with Montaño family

The little red vans that could! Gracias, Silvia and Cesar.

One more post about the WARP Conference in Oaxaca, 2017, and the walking tour of the historic center that Janet and I led last Sunday. We explored the nooks and crannies, found paper earring for Louise, good strong coffee for Diane. In two outstanding galleries, we had talks from owners and managers about quality differences in materials, dyes, and hand-looming.

Tying pom poms on purse zippers, Montaño family

Thanks to WARP for coming to Oaxaca, and thanks to you for reading.