Tag Archives: Francisco Toledo

Oaxaca Art Glass Studio Tour: Recycled Beauty Makeover

It’s definitely ugly out there at the industrial park in Magdalena Apasco Etla, Oaxaca, where the experimental glass studio Xaquixe is located. A mound of empty bottles — clear, brown and green — sits at the far end of the property, waiting to be broken up, melted and shaped.

Xaquixe art glass goblets in various sizes, colors

Xaquixe art glass drinking vessels in various sizes, colors, imperfect beauty

There’s a two-story metal silo where organic waste cooks in an experimental process to produce gases that can be used to fuel the furnaces. Rusted metal parts sit to the side waiting for repurposing.

Experiments in glass and creating fuel from organic waste

Experiments in glass and creating fuel from organic waste

This is also a place of beauty, literally and metaphorically. There is always a new project under construction to develop better fuel-efficient ways to produce gorgeous art glass in a socially and environmentally conscious way. Many call this sustainable development.


Making recycled glass with discarded cooking oil that is converted to heat is how experiment takes on new meaning.  Xaquixe founders Christopher Thornton and Salime Harp Cruces are dedicated to continuing process improvement and finding a more efficient, cheaper fuel source.

Solar might be the answer, but they don’t want to use photovoltaic panels since these can’t easily be recycled at the end of their useful life, says our tour guide Salvador Pulido Arroyo as he points to a shiny metal rotating array planted close-by.

Salvador, who is from Michoacan and has a degree in industrial design from IBERO, explains (in perfect English) that Xaquixe is experimenting with concave panels of aluminum that can absorb the sun’s energy and convert it differently. Sometimes experiments like this succeed. Often they fail. They always take an investment of money, time and creativity.


What keeps Xaquixe going strong is its commitment to innovation and design. It is the only glass studio in southern Mexico and serves as a role model for start-ups world-wide who want to adopt similar production strategies.

Christian Thornton explains Francisco Toledo art glass project to visitors

I signed up, along with nine other people, for this tour with Mariana Rivera, the delightful manager of the Xaquixe-Christian Thornton Gallery on 5 de Mayo (in the first block next to Santo Domingo Church), between Constitucion and Abasolo.  Mariana organizes these visits to the factory periodically as a way to educate people.


Animal skull with glass eye sits atop furnace

Xaquixe is devoted to education. As part of their factory remodeling they are creating an educational center where business and conservation practices can be learned as part of a visiting artists residency program.

In addition to making beautiful mouth blown and molded glass vessels for drinking and containing our favorite local liquid (mezcal), Christian works with Mexican painter, sculptor and graphic artist Francisco Toledo to build major one-of-a-kind installations.


Today, Christian was making wax molds to form a Toledo commission for a private client. He explained that he will spoon the molten glass into the mold and use the lost wax casting technique. See the wax chicken feet, below?


One benefit of going on the tour this week was to enjoy a big discount on seconds. There were lots to choose from. If you go out to the factory independently, from time to time you might also find seconds to buy. (Stop by and ask Mariana when the next tour is scheduled. It’s 300 pesos per person.)


Of course, it’s much easier to get to the gallery in the city where you will find drinking and mezcal glasses, big beautiful blown glass jars, pitchers, vases, dishes and sculpture in an array of magical colors — all made from broken glass shards melted and reformed.

Mariana Rivera leads the tour from gallery to factory

Mariana Rivera leads the tour from gallery to factory








Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden: Rooted in Cultural History

Rather than give you another review of Oaxaca’s Ethnobotanical Garden, I thought I would share this excellent article recently published in Garden Design Magazine. It has lots of photos of this remarkable space.  Thanks to Mary Ann Walsh who follows this blog and shared the link with me.

Check the Garden for availability of guided tours in English, usually available Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11 a.m.  You can only enter the garden as part of a guided visit which lasts two hours.

You can see some of the same design elements in this garden that recur in some of the more recent renovations — the Museo Textil de Oaxaca and the Centro Academico y Cultural San Pablo funded by the Alfredo Harp Helu Foundation.

When Alejandro de Avila B. returned to Oaxaca after completing his PhD at University of California at Berkeley, he became the director of the Ethnobotanical Garden and then later, curator at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.  He continues to have an important impact on the development of arts and culture in the city and is an extraordinarily knowledgeable resource.

Oaxaca and Family Travel

A reader just wrote to me with the following questions: Is Oaxaca safe for families? and What do we do once we get there?

I think you will find Oaxaca a very welcoming place for families.  A friend, her husband and two pre-teens lived in Oaxaca for a year “on sabbatical” to have a different cultural experience and learn the language.  A colleague of mine at UNC Chapel Hill who is a cancer researcher returned from Oaxaca over the winter holidays where she went for two weeks with her husband and high school-aged daughter.  Another reader just spent several weeks in Mexico with his family, starting in Mexico City, visiting Puebla and Oaxaca, and staying in Teotitlan del Valle.  We see families in Oaxaca all the time.  Of course, the caveat is that it is important to be mindful of your surroundings where ever one travels; the same precautions you take for Europe apply to Oaxaca.

Off the top of my head, there are many things for children to do and enjoy in Oaxaca:

  1. The Ethnobotanical Gardens
  2. The archeological sites of Monte Alban and Mitla — climbing the pyramids
  3. The Museo Textil de Oaxaca (the textile museum)
  4. A stay in the family-friendly village of Teotitlan del Valle to hike, learn about weaving and take a cooking class with Reyna Mendoza Ruiz
  5. The hubbub of market days; nothing beats popping a crispy chapuline in your mouth!  Fried, spicy grasshoppers never tasted so good.
  6. Cooking classes for kids with Pilar Cabrera at Casa de los Sabores Cooking School and Bed & Breakfast
  7. Francisco Toledo kites at IAGO and a visit to the paper-making studio in San Augustin Etla
  8. The sights and sounds of street vendors and musicians
  9. A steaming, frothy cup of Oaxacan hot chocolate at a sidewalk cafe on the Zocalo

Plus lots more.  A feature was written in the last year or two about the most family-friend places to visit and Oaxaca came to the top of the list.  I don’t have the link but you could research that.  I wrote about it on my website.

The textile museum offers regular workshops for children and for parents and children together.  You could take a weaving workshop together in Teotitlan del Valle and learn about natural dyes.  There is also an English speaking Spanish tutor in Teotitlan that I can refer you to, if you wanted to spent a few days out there at Las Granadas in the tranquility of the Oaxaca countryside.  Las Granadas is a family owned and operated bed and breakfast, with two pre-teen boys!

All in all, I think you and your family would love it.


Readers:  Do you have any other suggestions for family travel and fun in Oaxaca?


Francisco Toledo’s Kites

Francisco Toledo Kite Toledo's Kite Bamboo Cross Bars Eric's Kite with Zapotec Pattern Eric's Kite Back norma-w_-kites

Kites, left to right: Francisco Toledo’s handmade paper kite; kite back; Eric Chavez Santiago’s Zapotec greca kite; kite back; Norma with kites.

Up in the hills in San Augustin Etla, about 30 minutes north of Oaxaca city, is the paper making workshop of Francisco Toledo.  Artists and apprentices first make the handmade paper, decorate the paper with Toledo designs using airbrush painting techniques, the fashion the art into fanciful kites that are sold there in the studio gallery or at IAGO on Macedonio Alcala in the historic center of Oaxaca near the Santo Domingo church.

The kites are decorated with figures that Toledo is famous for:  monkeys, fish, lizards, scorpions, devils, rabbits, dia de los muertos skeletal figures, bulls, cats, demons and denizens.  Art historian Teresa del Conde writes that Juchitan born artist Toledo dazzles us with his inventiveness and interpretation of divine creation, the primigenital force described in Genesis, the magical qualities of composition, the sagas of old Prehispanic codices and the iconographical aspects of his work.  Toledo is an artistic, social and political force in Oaxaca and works to create collaborations and brings people together to solve often difficult issues.

When Eric Chavez was in North Carolina in October he taught a workshop for teachers and one project was to make kites in the Toledo style and tradition.  Yesterday, on Thanksgiving morning, I held a workshop for the children who were coming to dinner.  I want to share this adventure with you.

normas-kite-design-1Painting brown paper bags Sierra's kite Kristin and Sierra painting kites

Left to right: Norma’s painted brown paper bag before it is made into a kite; Kristin, Sierra, Soren and Cassidy making kites on Thanksgiving day.

Norma's Thanksgiving Kite 2Norma's Swirl KiteNorma's Zapotec Greca Kite

Left to right:  Norma’s kite series, Thanksgiving Day Kite, Swirl Kite, Zapotec Greca Kite

How to make a kite:


1.  Brown paper grocery bag opened along the seams and laid flat (you can also use wrapping paper, old newspaper, plastic trash bags, Tyvek)

2.  Flying line:  cotton twine for flying

3.  Bamboo for the frames and structure.  You can cut apart bamboo window blinds or use bamboo stakes from a garden center.  Or, use think dowel.  You will need 1 piece 24″ long for the vertical bar and one piece 18″ long for the horizontal bar.

4.  Kite decoration: acrylic paints, brushes, stenciles, sponges.

It takes us about an hour to paint and decorate the brown side of the grocery shopping bag.  Let the paint dry (about 30 minutes).  Turn the paper over and lay the sticks in a cross over the area you want for your kite (you need to check the opposite painted side to be sure the design shows where you want it to and you choose the top and the bottom).

With masking tape pieces, tape the shorter 18″ stick a distance of 10″ down from the top of the 24″ stick.  Tape the intersection where they meet liberally!  Tape down the 4 ends of the 2 pieces.

Fold the diagonal sections one at a time, making a sharp crease, so that the paper meets the cross bars.  Cut 1/2″ to 1″ away from the crease, leaving an edge to overlap on the back of the kite.  Do this for all four sides.  Use Elmer’s glue to paste the edges of the kite.  This will take about an hour to dry.  You can then tie your cotton line.  A long tail is needed to fly this kite.  You can make the tail out of the bag handles!