Tag Archives: culture

Chromatica at MACO Oaxaca: New Sounds, Ancient Textures

MACO Best-75

Inside the courtyard at MACO, once a conqueror’s palace

Chromatica, a multi-media art exhibition created by Guggenheim award-winning Mexican artist Tania Candiani, opened last weekend in Oaxaca at the Museo Arte de Contemporaneo de Oaxaca (MACO).  The exhibition takes a new approach to sight and sound.

MACO Best-61 MACO Best-40

Chromatics is about how we communicate through music and color. It can be considered the interdisciplinary intersection between technology and art. Candiani explores the differences and similarities between language systems, sound and the logics of technology through her work.

MACO Best-2 MACO Best-5

This is interpretive, intuitive and not always “in your face” evident through the various experiences of this exhibition that stimulates and questions the visual and auditory senses. The result is to create an emotional experience that could be somewhat uncomfortable.

MACO Best-39

Old loom as modern sound machine

First is the sound of the traditional two-harness pedal loom used to weave serapes and rugs in Teotitlan del Valle.  At the opening, three Mendoza family weavers stood at looms in the courtyard with microphones recording the sounds of their creativity. They wove fast, slow, in harmony and not.

MACO Best-22

Javier and friend from Teotitlan del Valle, with natural colors

We could hear the beating of the treadles, loud, soft, harsh, subtle, the whoosh of the shuttle going through the heddles, the rhythms of wood against wool. The recordings can be heard in one of the exhibition rooms along with an abstract video of the work in progress. For how much longer will we hear this sound?

MACO Best-38 MACO Best-33

Upstairs on the second floor of the museum, we see the historical elements used to prepare the wool.  The dyestuffs: cochineal, indigo and pericone (wild marigold). We see ancient stone grinders where people kneeled to prepare the powder. We see embroidery hoops embellished in red, blue and yellow, telling the story of the colors as recorded in the pre-Hispanic codices.

MACO Best-44

Metates, manos de metates and cochineal powder

But there is more than meets the eye:  tone poems of color embroidered onto cloth that tell of the modern experience of traditional color in a changing, mechanized world. What does blue evoke? How does red make us feel? What is the human labor needed to give us these colors that we take for granted and enjoy?

MACO Best-65 MACO Best-58

As the crowd gathered around an ancient loom converted into a sound box, people took turns cranking the take-up roll, traditionally used to wind the cloth as it is woven. In this structure, it turned the wheel to produce sounds. The “thread” was string — as in violin or piano.

MACO Best-47 MACO Best-51

A cochineal painted room of breeding cactus gives us a sense of how many of these bugs are needed to color just one rug or garment. The color intensity penetrates.

MACO Best-30

Old hand carders against a backdrop of blue

Questions? Did the exhibition go far enough? Were the exhibits as interesting as they could have been? All the explanations were in Spanish with no English “subtitles,” so the meanings could be harder for some non-bilingual visitors to “get.” Was there a clear path to meaning from one gallery to the next?

MACO Best-67 MACO Best-63

Moving from the preparation of cochineal to indigo, we see the concrete vats replicated to show us how the color of the plant is extracted. There is an excellent video created by Eric Chavez Santiago, education director at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca about the process of preparing indigo. It would have been a great educational video to include in this exhibition — better than the one selected to show.

MACO Best-84 MACO Best-81

Ceramic artists from Santa Maria Atzompa created bellowing birds in the “yellow” room. Push and pull the bellows to hear how sound emanates and enters our bodies for interpretation. Aren’t we all cogs in the wheel?

MACO Best-90

Meaning comes from many sources. The exhibition raises questions about how technology impacts and changes people, traditional life, practices and uses. How many are using the metate now to grind the cochineal and indigo, when most have gone over to coffee grinders for ease of labor.

Does this change the outcome of the fiber and color? What about the practice of hand-weaving itself? Will automated looms result in lower prices, yes, and the disappearance of a handmade process, perhaps? Will people only do this for a hobby and not for a business or way of life? What does it mean for the continuation of culture to experience this change? What about the raw materials: The hand-spun wool and natural dyes, what will become of them and the people who make them?

MACO Best-26 MACO Best-28

I presume these are the questions that the artist is asking us to explore in this exhibition. As supporters, appreciators and consumers of art and artisanry, how do we each contribute to the continuation or demise of hand craft?

MACO Best-11 MACO Best-14

The contemporary art museum is located on the Andador — Macedonio Alcala between Murguia and Morelos.

Festivals and Faces: Chiapas Photography Workshop

Evoking Frida Kahlo: Workshop to Make a Mixed Media Altar

Mexico is filled with altars that usually include sacred images and a Virgin of Guadalupe retablo. During Day of the Dead a family altar displays photographs of departed loved ones. We are taking this mixed media art workshop, based in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, beyond the norm to create a three-dimensional altar suitable for display. Frida Kahlo is our muse.

4 Days, February 25 – 28, 2016

Frida with monkey copy 800 kb self-portrait-with-necklace-of-thorns

e·voke. əˈvōk/. verb

bring or recall to the conscious mind, conjure up, summon up, invoke, elicit, induce, kindle, stimulate, awaken arouse, call forth.

Frida offers us inspiration for constructing an altar about life, womanhood, loved ones, family, health issues, successes and set-backs. We hold up Frida’s image, perhaps in self-reflection, to imagine her life and its challenges and to evoke meaning for our own. We then translate these concepts into an altar or shrine that can be used for wall art, to display on a surface or to design as a shelving unit for collected objects.

Diego_Frida_July2014-115 Frida close up2.800KB.copy

Frida was an avid collector of exvotos and perhaps you would like to merge this simple expression of thanksgiving and devotion in your work, too.

Diego_Frida_July2014-101  Diego_Frida_July2014-107 DiegoFrida4Group2-10

When we think of Frida Kahlo, we may conjure up many images and words to describe her: a woman of strength, power, frailty, independence, weakness, accomplishment, talent. Biographers say she was fierce, passionate, defiant, innovative, creative, vulnerable. We know she was deformed, in pain, proud.


Your personal altar can be based on your own experience. We embrace Frida as a metaphor to jump into a new creative realm. Your altar might be a tribute to someone you love who is living or passed on. Your altar might contain a message to send or include as a gift. It can be about you, friends, family or Frida herself.


About Hollie Taylor, MFA, Workshop Leader

Hollie Taylor earned the BFA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill focusing on painting and printmaking. She then went on to the University of Georgia and received the MFA with a concentration in printmaking.

Hollie taught drawing, printmaking, painting and ceramics at the college, middle and high school levels. For over 20 years, she has taught adult workshops in handmade paper-making, screen-printing, woodcutting, photo-imaging on clay, ceramic hand-building, mixed media art and art journaling.  

She is a recipient of the North Carolina Museum of Art annual artist scholarship award. Her work is published in Art Voices South and The Village Rambler. She earned the prestigious National Board Certification for Teaching Excellence and her students placed repeatedly in national shows. 

Hollie encourages deep personal exploration, offers demonstrations and samples of finished products.  Art produced at her workshops is highly individualistic, broad ranging in style and expressive of the maker. Participants come to the table with varied past creative experiences and she accommodates fully for this range of novice to accomplished artist. She gives personal feedback and encouragement and holds informal discussions to compare intent with outcome, noting what has been learned. A workshop with Hollie is engaging and fun!

A new project for Hollie involves making a book using found family letters and archival photos from Brazil during World War II. This will become a mixed media art show installation based on composites she is rendering in Photoshop to glean new meaning from the material. 


Process and Materials

Using found objects, copies of photographs, paint, paper, memorabilia and embellishments, you will construct either a 8” x 10” three-dimensional sculptural piece or a 12” x 16” flat art wall piece.

Materials We Provide: We provide step-by-step altar-making directions and construction materials, plus selected art supplies such as self-healing cutting mats, box cutters, some acrylic inks, assorted decorative papers, handmade clay medallions and selected ephemera art associated with Frida Kahlo.

8.Frida.Paint altar parts with acrylic ink.800KBcopy

Materials To Bring: A sharp pencil, rubber bands, assorted size small brushes, embellishments such as stamps, charms, shells, milagros, copies of photographs, textiles. Try to imagine what will symbolize the different attribute’s of your altar’s theme and bring what will enhance its meaning. After you register, we will send you a complete list of supplementary supplies to bring. Participants often share for a wider range of choice.


Resources: Hollie recommends Crafting Personal SHRINES, Using Photos, Mementos & Treasures to Create Artful Displays, by Carol Owen, Lark Books, 2004.

Our Schedule: Daily, 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. includes catered lunch  

Day One, Thursday, February 25: We look at images of altars and sacred boxes, visit church and private home altars, and talk about Frida Kahlo – her style and what she valued. You will come with a concept for your creation, and with Hollie’s guidance you will finish the design and begin to build your project.

Day Two, Friday, February 26: Continue to build your altar, wrapping it, painting it, and gluing it together to form a completed container for what will come next. You may also want to add a door and small shadow boxes to display memorabilia reflecting your concept.

Rolling on Matte Medium to seal the foam core.

Rolling on Matte Medium to seal the foam core.

Day Three, Saturday, February 27: Finish altar construction. Begin to decorate and embellish your altar with photos (copies), writing, drawing, found objects and memorabilia you have brought with you.

Day Four, Sunday, February 28: You will add the finishing touches before we hang your finished work for a group show and presentation of your piece, followed by a grand finale mezcal margarita cocktail reception.


Workshop Cost

Base Cost – Workshop Only: $495 per person, includes all instruction, materials to construct your altar or wall art, hand-outs, guided visits to family homes and churches for altar research, 4 lunches and cocktail reception. This option is designed for people who do not need lodging, and want to travel back and forth daily from Oaxaca city.

Upgrade 1 – Workshop + Share Room: $665 per person shared room with private bath en suite. Includes all of the above plus 4 nights lodging, arriving on Wednesday, February 24 and departing Sunday, February 28 by 6 p.m. Includes 4 continental breakfasts. We assign rooms in order of registrations received. Contact us for availability.

Upgrade 2 — Workshop and Private Room/Bath: $795. Includes all of the above.

How to Register

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.  We can arrange taxi pick-up and return from/to the Oaxaca airport at your own expense (approximately 280 pesos).

Reservations and Cancellations A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The last payment for the balance due (including any add-ons) shall be paid by January 6, 2016. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register.  After January 6, refunds are not possible.  You may send a substitute in your place.  If you cancel before January 6, we will refund 50% of your deposit.


Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Workshop Details and Travel Tips.  Before the workshop begins, we will email you a map, instructions to get to the workshop site from the airport, and documents that includes extensive travel tips and information. To get your questions answered and to register, contact: oaxacaculture@me.com

This retreat is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

DiegoFrida4Group-77 copy





Bully Pulpit: Why Not Fly Aeromexico to Oaxaca?

Aeromexico, are you listening? Why is it so hard to have a decent customer service experience with your airline company? I’ve been debating whether to publish this and decided to go ahead. Maybe it will get a decision maker’s attention. There is no customer service feedback link on your website!

I arrived in Mexico City from the U.S. on June 4 from San Francisco on United Airlines, in time to get from Terminal One to Terminal Two and the Aeromexico counter. I wanted to buy a ticket to arrive in Oaxaca on the same day, despite the one-way ticket cost of $217 USD.  I rationalized that the cost was worth the wear and tear to avoid the overnight bus.

At the Aeromexico counter,  I pulled out my passport and credit card and gave it to the agent to buy the ticket. I signed the voucher and put my bags on the scale to weigh.  She said, I need your credit card back to charge you $50 USD for the second bag. (She was holding my ticket and my passport behind the counter.)

I said, you still have my card. She said, No, I gave it back to you.  I said, No you didn’t, and searched my wallet and handbag six times. We went back and forth: I gave it back to you. No, you didn’t.

A supervisor ( whose name is Mr. Cisneros, I was told) came out and watched as she rifled through papers and searched the counter. He did not help in the search for my missing card. In frustration, I pulled out another credit card to pay for the second bag and pushed my luggage around the side of the counter.

No, he said, blocking the way, you have to put it on the scale. I said, I already did that. She knows how much it weighs. I was traveling with my cane because of my recent knee replacement surgery, but that didn’t seem to matter either.

By now 30 minutes had passed and the window was closing on when I could board the plane. The scale was blocked by another customer.

I said, please hurry. Is there enough time for me to get through security and get on the plane? I heard him mutter under his breath, I don’t care.  

I was startled. What did you say? Did you say you don’t care if I make the plane or not?  He stared at me. I said, As a courtesy you should put my second bag through at no extra cost. You lost my credit card, I’m going to have to call the company to cancel it, it’s a huge inconvenience and I’m going to have to run to make this flight.

Mr. Cisneros was steadfast. Crossed his arms. Glared, then said, I don’t believe you. You hid the card in your purse so you could ask us to send your bag through free. Then he turned on his heels and walked away to the back.  I asked the agent to cancel the ticket and give me his name.

When I got to TAPO regional bus station and after I bought my bus ticket. I called Chase and cancelled the card. The card never turned up in my bags or luggage when I unpacked. Chase sent a new card via UPS Express to Oaxaca and I received it within three days!

What to do? Fly Volaris or Interjet to/from Oaxaca and Mexico City? Take the ADO GL or Platino bus (a six-and-a-half hour ride when there are no roadblocks)? Fly directly to Oaxaca from Houston on United Airlines? Avoid Aeromexico at all costs?

I did not buy an advance ticket on Aeromexico because if you don’t check in two hours before scheduled flight departure, they have the right to bump you. That’s happened to me before and I lost the value of the ticket. Planes are delayed. Lines at immigration and customs can be long. Odds are not good you will make a connection if you are not flying on a Delta codeshare with Aeromexico.

My friend Lee Ann who lives part of the year in Puerto Escondido, says, When you cross the border, never ask why and always look down? In many places in the world there is an attitude of why try, it is impossible to change the system.

We always look down here to avoid the potholes and pitfalls on the sidewalks so as not to stumble and fall. The subtle connotation is to look down to avoid confrontation. One becomes acculturated not to challenge authority based on upbringing and country of origin. Never asking why means accepting things as they are, of knowing that it’s not your right as a visitor to effect change. It’s a lesson I’m still learning.

Iconic Frida Kahlo: A Look Inside Her Closet

Frida Kahlo is iconic. I have described her as the 20th century’s Virgin of Guadalupe. Her legend endures. The Huffington Post has just published a photographic essay by Ishiuchi Miyako of her personal belongings, along with letters and photographs, first revealed decades after her death.

These clothes and other life’s artifacts — letters, corsets, altered shoes to correct the leg length difference of childhood polio, family photographs — are part of a temporary show at Casa Azul where Frida and Diego shared a life together.  So popular, it will continue and you will see it as part of our fall 2015 educational arts programming.

Diego_Frida_July2014-101 Diego_Frida_July2014-107 Diego_Frida_July2014-103

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour. Click this link for complete program itinerary. This weekend walking tour also includes visits to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo with transportation.

Choose Your Dates:

  1. September 24-27, 2015.
  2. October 22-25, 2015.
  3. November 12-15, 2015.
  4. December 3-6, 2015.

Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Hawthorne Shafer accompanies all programs.

Visit for the weekend. Make it a getaway. Make this trip part of your Mexico City travel plans. Stop here with us and then go on to other parts of Mexico or wrap up your Mexico trip and explore Mexico City with us before returning home. This is a great orientation to Mexico’s art, history and culture, and to become more familiar with Mexico City .

Diego_Frida_July2014-99 DiegoFrida4Group2-35 Diego_Frida_July2014-100

Tonina, Hidden Chiapas Archeology Gem: The Road Less Traveled


Few people make Tonina, the classic Maya archeological site just beyond Ocosingo, Chiapas, a travel destination. Instead, they choose to go between San Cristobal de Las Casas and Palenque directly, bypassing the most vertical site of the ancient Maya world. It’s another three hours by road to reach Palenque, which demands at least one overnight stay. (Do you see us at the top?)

PenlandToninaNaBolom-55 PenlandToninaNaBolom-47 PenlandToninaNaBolom-45

From San Cris, Tonina can be navigated in about a day-long round-trip, giving you several hours at the site.  We left at seven-thirty in the morning and planned to return to San Cris by seven in the evening, including a one-hour stopover in Oxchuc to stretch and see textiles.

PenlandToninaNaBolom-46 PenlandToninaNaBolom-54

It’s a long and winding road. We traveled from seven thousand foot mountains studded with pines to lowlands bordering the Lancandon rain forest filled with tropical vegetation, banana palms and adobe huts with thatch roofs.  The mountains fall fast to almost sea-level over this almost three-hour journey, so the road curves sharply. Ginger is a great antidote.

PenlandToninaNaBolom-36 PenlandToninaNaBolom-37

This is EZLN territory, and Zapatista politics for and by the people prevail here. It is not unusual to come across an occasional roadblock demonstration. This is a common method for anti-government protest in both Chiapas and Oaxaca. There are grievances here. Sometimes for a donation, vehicles may pass. Other times, it’s important to know alternate secondary routes and have a full tank of gas when passage on the main highway isn’t possible.

PenlandToninaNaBolom-43 PenlandToninaNaBolom-38

At Tonina, we had an on-site Maya guide who participated in site excavations ten years ago. He played here as a child.  Our multi-lingual guide who traveled with us from San Cristobal, anthropologist Mayari (meaning Maya princess), fluidly translated between Spanish, English and Tzeltal, the regional Mayan dialect.


There were at most ten other people at Tonina. From the top of the Pyramid of the Sun there is a spectacular view of the Ocosingo valley. Mayari tells us that Frans and Trudy Blom would fly in a single engine Cessna to Palenque and the Lancandon rainforest in the early 1950’s.  She made that trip, too, with her archeology father as a child.

PenlandToninaNaBolom-58 PenlandToninaNaBolom-59 PenlandToninaNaBolom-61

After most of us climbed to the top (not me this time, because of my new knee), we enjoyed a picnic lunch back at the site entrance, where a small, excellent museum hold pieces excavated from the site.  When I was in Mexico City recently, a huge exhibition (now closed) on the Maya world at the Palacio Nacional prominently featured treasures from Tonina.

PenlandToninaNaBolom-62 PenlandToninaNaBolom-60

Then we back-tracked to Oxchuk.

PenlandToninaNaBolom-65 PenlandToninaNaBolom-64 PenlandToninaNaBolom-63

Oxchuk weavers work on a back strap loom and then embroider the textiles by hand.  If you turn off the main highway and venture onto the town’s main streets, you will find family run shops supplying huipils to the women of the local community.  The quality is first-rate and the price is about half of the cost as in San Cristobal.  Definitely worth a deviation. We were a curiosity since I suspect not many tourists make a stop there.

PenlandToninaNaBolom-42 PenlandToninaNaBolom-34

By now it was dusk and as we approached the intersection beyond Huixtan to turn onto the highway just about fifteen miles from San Cristobal, there was a roadblock demonstration. We turned around, bought two five liter jugs of gas at a roadside stand, asked a local man and his son to go with us (for a fee), and set off on an alternative back road through the mountains that would take us into San Cristobal.  They carried official local papers authorizing travel across mountain communities.


We arrived back at our hotel only an hour later than we had planned. For reassurance at the outset, I called our hotel to tell them our whereabouts and route while our very competent guide Mayari notified ATC Tours to track us on GPS.  Risk of danger? Little to none.


One of our participants said this was definitely an adventure story worth retelling! It was the last day of our two week Oaxaca and Chiapas art and archeology study tour. What a grand finale, wouldn’t you say?