Tag Archives: folk art

Is Mexico Safe? My Experience

Is Mexico safe? I just got back to Oaxaca after traveling for three weeks in Mexico City, Estado de Mexico and Michoacan. In Michoacan there is a U.S. State Department Travel Advisory, (I include this link to safety vs. sensationalism.)

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I went to Morelia, Patzcuaro and rural villages. I traveled far out into the countryside in a car with two other women and walked gorgeous colonial towns. How safe was it? Was I scared?

Map of Mexico

The day I returned, a must read tongue-in-cheek post came in about safety in the Distrito Federal (D.F.), the nation’s capitol, from Jim Johnston who writes Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler.  It triggered my wanting to tell you about my journey. Is Mexico safe?

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Me and Mary Anne (from the San Francisco Bay Area) teamed up to take this trip together. Yes, two women of some maturity and a modicum of wisdom traveling independently via bus, taxi, collectivo and sometimes, on foot!


We met up in Mexico City where we walked from our hotel to historic center destinations, often at night. Yes, it was dark. Did I feel threatened or at risk? No. I stayed on well-lit streets with good sidewalks and lots of pedestrians. Mexicans love to meander with their families at night, eating an ice cream cone or nibbling on a torta, pushing a stroller or walking arm-in-arm.

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We took a taxi, arranged by our hotel, to the regional bus station at Observatorio, and bought same day tickets on the Caminante bus line to Toluca. We were the only gringas on the bus. At the Toluca bus station, MA watched the bags and I bought a Taxi Seguro (secure taxi) ticket from the clearly marked stand inside the terminal to Tenancingo de Degollado. The worry was how we were going to get our five suitcases (three of them huge) into a small taxi rather than any safety issues.

Map of Estado de Mexico

Most of our trips in Tenancingo were via group van. But, when we/I (either together or separately) wanted to go to town, we went out to the front of our hotel and hailed a private taxi or jumped into a collectivo, sharing a ride with strangers.

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When we left Tenancingo, our next destination was Morelia, capital of Michoacan. So, we returned to the Toluca bus station and bought tickets on another bus line — Autovias — that serves that part of Mexico. Again, we were the only gringas on the bus (of either gender). It’s almost a four-hour bus ride to Morelia, whose tarnished reputation for being a drug cartel area has had a negative impact on tourism, even though it is safe by strict U.S. State Department standards.

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I don’t know if this is true or not. It didn’t seem like it. I did ask MA, when we were planning this trip, is it safe? Just once. She researched it and reported that the only possible dangerous areas were rural far from where we would be.

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I’ve never been to a cleaner, more pristine city than Morelia. It has an incredible Zocalo, classical music, great restaurants, 16th century colonial architecture, outstanding gardens, churches, universities, libraries, a comprehensive Casa de las Artesanias folk art gallery and is gateway to some of Mexico’s most amazing folk art. No one hassled us. In fact, everyone was warm and welcoming. Did I feel unsafe or threatened? Not for a minute. Neither does Guns N’ Roses!

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Nacho (Ignacio), our pre-arranged taxi driver, picked us up in Morelia and drove us to Patzcuaro, with a stop along the way to Capula, one of the craft villages.  I have friends from the USA who now live full-time in Patzcuaro. We hung out together during the time we weren’t going out to explore the Purepecha villages around the lake, and met the small, but mighty Patzcuaro ex-pat community, including photographer Flo Leyret (link to her photos below).

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Map of Michoacan

We spent the day poking around Santa Clara del Cobre — the copper mining village about thirty minutes beyond Patzcuaro where Purepecha people have been working the material with hand-forging and hammering since the 13th century.


Then, I got invited to go along to a concurso (juried folk art competition) in the village of Ahuiran, an hour-and-a-half north of Patzcuaro, where talented women weave rebozos on back-strap looms. Six of us, all women, drove in two cars over Michoacan countryside, through small villages, across rich farmland planted with corn and potatoes. At the entrance and exit to some villages there were guard posts and community-designated sentries asking us where we were going. It seems the villagers are protecting their territory and this is typical for rural Mexico where there can be land disputes or disagreements. Nothing to be afraid of.

Michoacan Artisans, Photographs by Florence Leyret Jeune

Patzcuaro 188-79 PatzLakeArtisans-16  [Above left is Purepecha ceramic artist Nicolas Fabian Fermin, from Santa Fe de Laguna, who I met this summer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, with his wife. Above right is Teofila Servin Barriga, another award-winning Purepecha artist whose embroidery has won many international awards. She will be at Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, for the annual folk art market. This rebozo she is wearing will sell for 15,000 pesos.]

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In Ahuiran, we were the only visitors and the best potential customers for these stunning hand-made shawls that started at 2,000 pesos. The elaborate feather fringed rebozos (photos are still in my camera) were commanding a 5,000 pesos price tag, more than most of the local women could afford. But, then, they could weave their own or buy from a relative!

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Why go to Michoacan? For the folk art, of course, and then, there’s the landscape, and the people, the history  ….

On my return to Oaxaca, I took a taxi from Morelia center to the regional bus terminal and bought my ticket the same day. It was a five-hour bus ride to Mexico City Norte terminal. I was the only foreigner on the bus. MA flew direct from Morelia to Oakland, CA on a non-stop Volaris flight. Lucky her. I, on the other hand, got into a secure taxi for the 30-minute ride to the airport to board the Interjet flight to Oaxaca ($116 USD round-trip).

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Okay, so that’s the story. Or at least skimming it. Mexico is a treasure trove of history, archeology, folk art, contemporary art, intellectual discourse and culture. Her cities are beautiful. Yes, some parts are not safe. Most parts are. Some have reputations for being unsafe that have never been true and/or might have been true two or three or four years ago, like Morelia. Morelia is safe now. It is gorgeous. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

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Oaxaca has always been safe.

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Join us February 3-11, 2016 for Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More. 4 Spaces Left!

Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More

I just returned to Oaxaca after exploring other parts of Mexico, including a week in Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico (Edomex), where ikat rebozos or shawls are hand-woven on back-strap and flying shuttle looms by master artisans. This experience was so inspiring, that I want to share it with you. I invite you to return with me for a memorable, curated Mexican textile and folk art study tour.

February 3-11, 2016 – 8 nights, 9 days

Group size limited to 11 people. We have 4 spaces left!

You will arrive and leave from Mexico City

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  • Meet together in Mexico City on February 3 with an overnight there at a historic center hotel
  • Travel to and stay in Tenancingo from February 4 to 10 at a bed and breakfast oasis
  • Enjoy the company of our bi-lingual guide who migrated from the U.S. to Tenancingo to marry a local thirteen years ago
  • Meet the master weavers of Tenancingo de Degollado in their home workshops
  • Learn about ikat warp thread preparation, the complexity of this at-risk textile art and how to differentiate quality
  • Participate in hands-on natural dye and weaving demonstrations
  • Understand the intricacy of a fine hand-knotted punta/repacejo (or fringe) and how it adds to the beauty of the lienza (cloth)

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  • Visit three of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos – magic villages where traditional life flourishes
  • Spend a day in Taxco de Alarcon,with the next generation of William Spratling Silversmiths. At famed Las Delicias, see jewelry making at its finest using Spratling’s original molds with his same excellent handcrafted quality
  • Travel to Metepec, a Pueblo Magico, and stay overnight on February 10 where you will meet outstanding ceramic artists who make Tree of Life sculptures and cazuelas cooking vessels
  • 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 museums and world-class restaurants

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Along the way, you will eat great food, climb ancient pyramids at important though remote archeological sites, visit three Pueblo Magicos – Malinalco, Taxco and Metepec — and immerse yourself in some of Mexico’s outstanding folk art.

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You will even have the option to schedule (at your own expense) an evening massage and/or facial given by aestheticians who will come to our B&B from the spa town of Ixtapan de la Sal.

But, primarily, we are here to learn about the art and craft of making a fine rebozo, meet the men who weave the cloth and the women who tie the elaborate fringe.

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Some of the weavers are innovators, like Jesus Zarate, who incorporates intricate floral, bird and animal motifs on the ikat cloth.

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Some, like Fito Garcia, use splashes of color that looks like confetti. Camila Ramos ikat designs employ ancient indigenous symbols and figures.

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The revered master, 82-year old Evaristo Borboa Casas, is a traditionalist. All have received top honors for their work worldwide.


Each technique requires mathematical and technical precision, extraordinary creativity and months of work to produce one rebozo.

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It can take weeks to prepare the ikat warp threads, dye them and dress the loom, with another month or two for the weaving. It can take two or three months to tie a punta, depending on length and elaboration.


After this study trip, I can guarantee that you will better appreciate this textile art form that is at risk of disappearing. Only three or four weavers in Tenancingo continue the back-strap weaving tradition. Sixty years ago there were over 200 weavers working on the back-strap loom.

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Itinerary Includes

  • 8 nights lodging
  • 8 Breakfasts
  • 2 Lunches
  • 3 Dinners
  • Transportation to/from Mexico City and Tenancingo
  • Transportation to all towns, villages and artisans noted in itinerary
  • Gratuities to artisans for demonstrations

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Wednesday, February 3: Arrive in Mexico City, overnight. Dinner on your own. We will stay at a historic luxury hotel on or near the Zocalo. As soon as you register, we will tell you where. You might also like to arrive a few days early to explore the city. It’s wonderful!

Thursday, February 4: Travel as group to Tenancingo, overnight (B, D) Light group supper at our B&B hotel in Tenancingo.

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Friday, February 5: Meet the Best of the Best, Tenancingo’s master rebozeros (rebozo weavers) Fermin Escobar, Evaristo Borboa Casas, Jesus Zarate, Fito Garcia Diaz. Take a ride on the flying shuttle peddle loom. Optional evening massage and/or facial. (B, L)

Saturday, February 6: Malinalco Pueblo Magico. Climb the ancient archeological site (if you wish), the only one in Mesoamerican carved out of the rock face. Visit the workshop of Camila Ramos Zamora and award-winning son Juan Rodrigo Mancio Ramos. See how they work the back strap loom and make natural dyes. Take your turn at the back strap loom. See how the ikat is prepared and dyed. Take time to visit the 16th century Augustinian church with the amazing Paradise Garden Murals. Optional evening massage and/or facial. (B)

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Sunday, February 7: Tenancingo Market Walk, including the weekly Sunday rebozo market where you can find good quality textiles at affordable prices. Late afternoon fiber arts weaving demonstration and mini-workshop. (B, D) Light group supper at our B&B hotel.

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 Monday, February 8: A day in Taxco de Alarcon, Pueblo Magico, with the next generation owner of the William Spratling silver jewelry workshop, with lunch at famed Las Delicias, Spratling’s home and a silversmith demonstration. The beautiful original Spratling necklace you see on the right, below, is for sale at $7,000 USD to raise restoration money for the ranch. Interested? (B, L)

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Tuesday, February 9: Meet one of Tenancingo’s greatest puntadoras, These are the women who make the elegant rebozo fringes. See if you can tie these intricate knots in a mini-workshop. Afternoon on your own to return to your favorite rebozero, do last minute market shopping or begin packing. (B)

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Wednesday, February 10: Travel to Metepec Pueblo Magico , where we will spend the night. Climb the Mesoamerican Teotenango pyramids (if you wish) or visit the museum. Meet master ceramic artists who create outstanding tree of life sculptures and make sturdy cooking cazuelas. Try your hand in a mini-workshop to make one of the clay figures that adorn Mexico’s famed Tree of Life sculptures. Overnight in Metepec with grand finale dinner. (B, D)

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Thursday, February 11: Leave Metepec in early morning for Mexico City airport to catch mid-afternoon flights home. If you decide to extend your stay in Mexico over President’s Day Weekend you can easily catch a secure taxi from the airport to downtown Mexico City or travel on to another great spot like Oaxaca! (B)

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Study Tour Cost as of October 1, 2015

  • Double Occupancy– Shared Room and Private Bath, $1,695 per person
  • Single Room with Private Bath, $1,995 per person

The study tour includes all transportation between Mexico City and Tenancingo de Degollado, lodging in Mexico City, Tenancingo and Metepec, meals as noted in the itinerary, travel to all artisans and destinations noted on the itinerary, cultural bi-lingual guide services, and grand finale Metepec dinner. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the study tour begins.

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The study tour does not include airfare, taxi from Mexico City airport to Mexico City hotel, some meals as noted in the itinerary, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before December 1, 2015. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After December 1, 2015, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before December 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.


About Travel to Mexico City: The Mexico City Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) is our gateway city and a Mexico City historic center hotel is our meeting point. You can fly to Mexico City from many United States locations on most major USA airlines. Mexico’s excellent new discount airlines Interjet and Volaris service some U.S. cities, as does Aeromexico.

International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for insurance documentation as well as a witnessed waiver of liability form that holds Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC harmless. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, please email us at norma.schafer@icloud.com

We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.


Norma w/Tenancingo hosts Peter & Circe

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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.


Street Life, Veracruz, Mexico

We are walking down a Veracruz street with guide Martin and I had this sudden feeling that I could be in Havana, Cuba. I’ve never been to Havana. But it’s a port town like this one, facing an unrelenting ocean and assaulted with the same kind of weather that beats up beautiful buildings so that overtime they become like dowagers who have lost their glamour and their inheritances, become shabby and unkempt if attention passes them by.


When I asked him, Martin said Yes, this area near the Zocalo is very much like Havana, and I had a sense of being in an exotic place filled with the wonder of a five hundred year old history, a blend of Afro-Caribbean music and steamy heat.

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Restoration is underway. Buildings are undergoing renovation in preparation for the city’s five-hundred year anniversary in 2019. As we looked closer, we could see that many of the ancient walls were constructed with coral.


The morning started with mega-doses of lecheros at El Gran Cafe de La Perroquia on the Malecon. Now, there are two of these restaurants with the same name located next door to each other because years ago there was a split in the family. The real authentic, original with the silver coffee service imported from Italy is the first one you will come to.

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We didn’t know that until we found ourselves at the other one, which was truly enjoyable nevertheless. While we ate huevos Mexicanos and huevos Moltuleños, and slurped rich, hot and milky coffee, we were entertained by dancers and musicians. This was easily an almost two-hour breakfast, filled with reverence for coffee preparation.

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Then, we took one of those city tours in a double-decker vehicle, followed by a walk out to the pier to see the transport ship that carries two thousand Volkswagens made in Puebla, Mexico, to other parts of the world.


By three in the afternoon, Sheri and I are ready for a rest. Mary Anne is the energizer bunny and keeps on going. Looking forward to eating more seafood before we leave here on Sunday.

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But, before we got back to the hotel, we made a stop at Galerias PopulArte Tlacihualli, Calle Mario Moline No. 23, Planta Alta, Centro, Tel (229) 931 9640.  They are not always open, so we considered ourselves fortunate that we found it, and there was extraoardinary Veracruziana folk art to be found there. artepopular@secturveracruz.gob.mx

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In addition to ceramics and jewelry, there is a good selection of finely embroidered textiles, including table cloths, runners and clothing.

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Along the wharf there is a bas relief cement sculpture representing scenes of agricultural life in Veracruz and the importance of Africans as part of the region’s development. There, too, are classical Baroque-style Spanish buildings that served as the customs house, post office and telegraph office.

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Oaxaca Folk Art: Jose Garcia Antonio Ceramic Figures

Jose Garcia Antonio, one of Oaxaca’s best clay sculptors, participated in the 2014 International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this July. This is no small accomplishment. This juried exhibition invites only the most accomplished artisans from all over the world to show and demonstrate their craft.

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Last Friday, we drove out to San Antonino Castillo Velasco as part of an all-day excursion to celebrate my friend Carol’s birthday. She wanted our first stop to be with Don Jose.

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It’s dark inside the studio, atmospheric. Don Jose works intuitively, feels the clay, feels his wife’s face, the faces of his children and grandchildren. He inspires creativity for those with physical limitations.


While we were there, he received a call from TV Azteca in Oaxaca. They wanted to come out to interview and film him that afternoon. He is becoming very famous.


I remember going to his studio years ago when not many knew about him and he was far off the beaten path, long before tour guides had him on their radar to bring clients there.

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I remember when we drove into the entrance of San Antonino and inquired from a moto-taxi driver if he knew where Don Jose lived. We paid the driver 10 pesos to lead us there.


I remember when I bought a life-size figure of a Juchitan woman carrying a basket on her head, hips swaying, braids hanging, skirt flowing, knowing she was too heavy to ever bring back to the USA, and putting her in the home of friends until the Oaxaca home I was to live in was completed — years later.

Each time I visit Don Jose Garcia Antonio, I am amazed how his magic hands inspire and create work his eyes cannot see. Each time, I am tempted to add something to my collection. This time, it was a pig planter, which my travel mates called Wilbur.


His daughter, Sara, makes expressive clay face-mask planters to hang on a wall. All the children work the clay. The grandchildren are growing up in this clay culture, shaping simple figures of butterflies, mermaids, and winged angels. Small treasures to pack into suitcases to remember the artist, his family and the experience of being in the arts and artisans mecca of Oaxaca.

How to Find Jose Garcia Antonio: Turn into the village of San Antonino Castillo Velasco.  Turn right on Calle Independencia. Turn left at the first street. Go several blocks. Look on the left side of the street for the clay lion on the roof. There you are!