Tag Archives: Mexico

Mexico Art Show Brings Oaxaca Artisans to Lake Chapala, Jalisco–Party Time

The 18th annual Feria Maestros del Arte happened last weekend at Lake Chapala, Jalisco, about 40-minutes from Guadalajara. I had never been before and I decided it was time! Plus, it gave me a chance to spend some time with friends Chris and Ben, who moved to Ajijic from North Carolina last year.

Estela Montaño with natural dyed wool pillow cover

I knew that Oaxaca would be well-represented among the 87 artisans participating. I was especially eager to see Teotitlan del Valle weaving friends Estella Montaño and Family, and mother-son team Maria de Lourdes Lazo Sosa and Isaac Armando Lazo.

Maria de Lourdes and son Isaac from Teotitlan del Valle

And, there was another good friend, flying shuttle loom weaver Alfredo Hernandez Orozco with his son Yaolt, who make extraordinary cotton cloth home goods and clothing. Their workshop is in El Tule.

Yaolt and his dad, Alfredo, accomplished fly shuttle loom weavers

There were other Oaxaca artisans whose work I know and respect: alebrijes makers, ceramic artists and sculptors, basket weavers, and some very fine clothing weavers from remote areas of the Oaxaca coast and Mixe regions. Many of these are included on our Oaxaca Discovery Tour coming up at the end of January 2020 (yes, a few spaces are available).

Fine, back-strap loomed cotton blusa, San Juan Cotzocon
Women who make red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola
Zeny Fuentes and Family, San Martin Tilcajete
Hand-woven palm necklace by Monica Diaz Martinez

An added bonus of going to the Fair was participating in events hosted by Los Amigos del Arte Popular. This is a non-profit group that supports Mexican folk art. They are appreciators and collectors, and do a lot to underwrite this Feria and provide scholarships for artisans to travel here.

Sally, Chris, Mariann, Norma, Ellen

I also had a chance to connect with friends Mariann who moved to Ajijic from Philadelphia, friend Ellen who comes to Oaxaca every winter, her sister Sally, and locals Elizabeth and Greg who live in Chapala. I also bumped into David and Barbara from San Diego, too.

Meat lovers’ paradise, ribs at Gosha’s, Ajijic, Jalisco
Lake Chapala from the Fair grounds

Unlike the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe that covers the world, this Fair reunites those of us with Mexico-LOVE. While I’m most happy living in Oaxaca, coming to the shores of Lake Chapala is a refreshing change of pace and a great party all the way around. I had to come home to rest!

A collector’s niche
Otomi embroidered wall hanging adds drama to bedroom
Papier-maché Virgin from developmentally challenged Chapala school for women
(R) Michoacan potter Guadalupe Garcia Rios in traditional Purepecha dress

Exquisite Corpse Poem: Day of the Dead — Nine Women Writing

What is an Exquisite Corpse Poem? The root of the exquisite corpse poem comes from the Parisian Surrealist Movement, and is a method by which a collection of words or phrases is assembled. Each collaborator adds to the composition. In our case; Professor Robin Greene, our writing instructor and coach, constructed this poem from lines that each of us contributed, taken from pieces we wrote during our five day Women’s Creative Writing Retreat.

Day of the Dead — Nine Women Writing

We are all made from mole

and the daily tortillas that hold us

to life. Hold us, that is until

mescal creates thunder

and all our clichés work.

But how much is a songbird worth?

And are birth and death only

an entrance and an exit,

or are they the constant cadence

of beginning, becoming, ending —

much like the stories we write?

We watch the shadowed Zapotec

mountains from the cemetery

tonight — Dia de los Muertos —

and want to understand

how the dead know where

their families live now? And what

will happen if everybody moves

to El Paso or Cincinnati? Will thunder

still roll across a purple sky,

or perhaps we’d have to take it

undercover until no one laughs

again, or we find ourselves

drinking Créme de Menthe

frappes, sickly green minty stuff,

poured over crushed ice

and diluted with vodka.

***

After Robin read this poem to open our last evening together, we each took turns reading a piece we had written which we chose to share. After the reading, we celebrated with dinner and a mescal toast!

Our next Women’s Creative Writing Retreat will be held December 15-21, 2021, again in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. During this winter holiday season, so magical here, we will delve into writing about holiday traditions, meaning, family gatherings, and anything else that celebrations conjure up. It’s a time to reflect and write about what was meaningful, disappointments, yearnings and relationships. Send me an email if you are interested in participating: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Day of the Dead Preparations in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Life in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, centers around life cycle events. Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead — brings us together at the village market to prepare our altars to welcome the difuntos — the spirits of our loved ones who return to earth to visit us each year.

Teotitlan del Valle church atop Zapotec archeological site
Done with shopping and walking home

This could be considered the most important observance in Oaxaca, especially in the villages, where customs and traditions that survived the Spanish conquest continue. The most money is spent on altar and gravesite decorations during Muertos than any other annual holiday, I’m told. It looks that way.

Madelyn with marigolds for our altar. Pungeant aroma guides the dead home.
Flowers are everywhere. The aroma of flowers in the air.

For days, the streets surrounding the market are closed to vehicular traffic. It is packed with people and vendors from the countryside. Backs of trucks and stalls are overloaded with oranges and apples, pineapple, sugar cane fronds, pecans and peanuts, skeleton beeswax candles adorned with handmade wax flowers, tapers, incense burners and copal incense.

Massive flower displays will adorn grave-sites in coming days
Cane fronds signify the door through which the difuntos pass for their visit
Our retreat participants create our group altar

At the molino (neighborhood mill) down the street from where I live, women wait in line with their baskets of ingredients to get their turn at the grinder. Their men — husbands, fathers, sons — wait out front by the truck, catching up on village business. The women will make and serve mole negro, mole amarillo, toasted garbanzo bean soup, or atole — the pre-Hispanic corn drink flavored with homemade chocolate and vanilla. All these need ingredients to be ground. The women bring their unique family recipes, generations in the making.

Atole ingredients, waiting to be ground at the molino
Chicken enchilada with mole amarillo, market breakfast simply prepared

Ten of us are here for the Day of the Dead Women’s Creative Writing Retreat. We come to express ourselves through the written and spoken word. We write about memory and loss, mourning and grief, forgiveness of self and others. In our writing we honor our dead, we cherish what we have lost and in the process we give life to those who have left us.

Claudia with cockscomb flowers for the altar

The culture that celebrates death, celebrates life, says Octavio Paz. Here in Teotitlan del Valle, we are privileged to participate in a sacred ritual of celebration, memory and renewal of spirit.

Pan de Muertos, Day of the Dead bread

We buy the ingredients to create our own altar, including those listed above. To this we add chocolate, mounds of marigold flowers, Pan de Muertos, mezcal and beer. We use a special quilted cloth made by Gretchen Ellinger who could not be with us. We bring photos of our dead to remember them. We remember them. We cherish their memories. We write about them, our feelings of loss, survival, making do without their day-to-day presence. We bring the practice of another culture closer to us to understand that there are different ways to approach life and death, as a continuum, as a process, as we examine and accept our own mortality, too.

There’s my mom and dad, United Teachers–AFT strike, 1960’s
Beeswax altar candles

I write about my father. It is my blessing to his memory, that his life informed mine and gave me meaning. I write about his love of coffee and cigarettes, how he quit, where he failed and endured, how he died. I write the vignettes of memory as a child turned adult. It is my portrait of him, my love for him, his quirks and idiosyncracies. This is my time to go beyond Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, into the depths of my family and my heart.

Claudia, Robin and Poppy buying tamales
Our tamale vendor, queso con rajas — stuffed with cheese with chiles

I savor Dia de los Muertos because of this. I think the women who are with me this week share in this sense of honoring our loved ones, discovering our voices, and giving words to feelings. As we said, we grieve many things: the loss of people in our lives, the loss of self as we age and change, the loss of circumstances that alter us, the loss of who we wish we had become and embracing who we are.

Turkeys and chickens waiting for dressing

I’ll be writing more about this in days to come. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these photos of preparations. We were at the market today at 7:30 a.m. It was packed with people!

Sweet oranges for altars and gravesites
Siphoning Tobala wild agave mezcal, unlabeled deliciousness

To the Villages with Shuko–Backroads Oaxaca

Shuko Clouse is here. She opened Mano del Sur recently, a beautiful online shop that combines her Japanese aesthetic — simplicity and quality — with Mexican handcraft excellence. Shuko came to Oaxaca to restock the shop.

Shopping with Shuko, our Oaxaca backroads adventure into craft villages

She takes her time. She curates each item. She meets the makers and engages with them. She holds an article in her hands and savors its creation. She kneels down to touch a wool rug whose life is created on the loom. She traces the pattern with her fingertips, asking about ancient design origin.

The women who make clay mural
Each handmade, hand-formed, imperfect, burnished, beautiful

It is a marvel to go shopping with Shuko. She chooses carefully. Selects one or two items that are the same. She is not a volume shopper. I learn from her. Take your time. Each moment with a handmade article is a blessing for the maker and eventually, the buyer.

Shuko with cochineal dyed cotton warp and ikat wool throw/shawl
Arnulfo, Jr. finishes his first rug. So proud. Vendido. Sold!

Don’t rush. When I was in Japan, I saw that a large room with one extraordinary vase containing one exquisite flower was enough. This is antithetical to my own collecting sensibilities. It is a struggle to keep my living environment spare, and I confess I am unsuccessful. But I aspire to this — one object, beautifully crafted, as focal point.

Perfect naturally-dyed beeswax candles suspend from rebar rods
Beeswax candlemaker Viviana Alavez, Grand Master of Oaxaca folk art

Meanwhile, Shuko and I travel the villages; to San Marcos Tlapazola to visit the women makers of red clay pottery; to Mitla to see the weaver of natural dyed wool and cotton; deep into a Mitla neighborhood to visit the antique dealer whose eclectic collection tempts all; to old adobe houses of Teotitlan del Valle where humble weavers work magic.

Spaces Open: Oaxaca Discovery Tour–Textiles and Folk Art 2020

Elaborate, handmade beeswax flowers decorate church candlesticks, made here
Shuko with Viviana, a joyful moment

As always, thank you for reading and following. Can we take you on the backroads? On the Ocotlan Highway? Through the Tlacolula Valley? On a Textile Study Tour adventure?

A collection of dolls on Epifanio’s altar in Mitla
Rare, 17th century Quiatoni necklace with blown glass, coral. Anyone want it?
I’ll buy it for you. $1,200 USD includes mailing.
Shuko with Macrina and family in San Marcos
Ernestina shows us rugs she just finished weaving
Perched on a dead tree branch, Virgin of Guadalupe vintage icon

Mexican Muralists Envision New Nation Post-Revolution

Art history is a fascinating way to learn more about Mexico and the figures who shaped the nation — political, social, cultural. Through their interpretation of characters and events, the famed muralists — Diego Rivera, David Alfara Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco — gave definition to a new nation seeking to redefine itself post-1920 Revolution. We call this Mexican Muralism.

Mexico City skyline with active volcano Popocatepetl in distance
Marion Greenwood mural, circa 1934, Abelardo Rodriguez Market

While I’m now in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, I’m reflecting back to last weekend in Mexico City, where, in collaboration with my art historian friend Valeria, we led a group of nine participants from the USA through the historic center. Here is where a turbulent history is interpreted through art. We started on Thursday evening and ended on Sunday afternoon, packing it in, walking miles each day, absorbing a fascinating evolution.

Rivera mural at SEP, circa 1923-1928
Orozco’s bleak worldview, Colegio San Ildefonso

Mexico is defined by many internal and external forces, mostly her on-going desire to reconcile the Spanish conquest with her indigenous origins. Embracing Mestizaje — blending indigenous roots with conquerors, occupiers and immigrants, is what makes Mexico unique among nations, and very different from her northern neighbors.

At Colegio San Ildefonso, Orozco mural Cortes and La Malinche
Rivera’s idyllic Aztec landscape, another worldview

Rivera, who sat out the 1910-1920 Revolution, painting and making a name for himself in Europe, returned to Mexico City in 1921. Jose Vasconcelos, the first minister of education, recruited Rivera to paint the murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publica (SEP), his first commission.

Unfinished Siquieros mural, SEP — newest building near Plaza Santa Domingo

The murals of Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros are commentaries on national identity, statehood, oppression and power. The Rivera murals at SEP in particular were part of a national communication plan (aka propaganda) to embrace native culture and arts. Critics say Rivera’s murals are romantic and idealistic. His contemporaries, survivors of the Revolution, painted a more hopeless, violent vision, expressing their belief that the past must be destroyed in order to create a new order.

Mazahua vendor at Casa Azul
Orozco’s interpretation of death of the old order

By Sunday, we move more deeply into the life and times of Frida Kahlo with a visit to Casa Azul, a stark contrast to the muralists.

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, the year Rivera went to Europe as a young man. During her lifetime she was dwarfed literally and figuratively by her imposing husband. It wasn’t until after her death in 1954 at age 47, that she became the iconic figure she is today — representing women’s strength, pain, fortitude, perseverance, endurance.

1953 self-portrait, injured areas in 1925 accident, 22 lifetime operations

We revere her because her art is self-expression. She painted emotion and the internal life. She was a participant, not an observer. She hid her deformities under extraordinary handmade Mexican clothing — popularizing the style, corseted beneath to hold her injured spine erect. Andre Breton called her surrealist. We call her survivor.

Who needs feet when I have wings to fly
Juan O’Gorman designed Frida’s Casa Azul studio, a window on the garden

Our art history tour weaves the relationship between Diego and Frida with the times in which they lived and worked. We also examine the politics of Socialism and Communism in Mexico, how the Rivera’s gave sanctuary to Leon Trotsky, the idealism of young American artists like Pablo O’Higgins, Isamu Noguchi, and the Greenwood sisters — Marion and Grace, who were drawn to the movement. We see their deteriorating murals in an obscure market blocks from the city center.

Murals behind the chicharrones, Abelardo Rodriguez Market
Water-damaged, deteriorating Pablo O’Higgins mural, Mexico City
Frida’s last signed painting before she died, 1954

We understand Mexico more now, how the creative stream of artistic energy here continues to express social and political inequalities, injustices, and discontent.

Manuel Rodriguez Lozano 1945 mural, The Holocaust, at Downtown
Lunch break at Restaurant El Mayor, poached salmon with fresh corn salsa

Here in Oaxaca, our beloved Maestro Francisco Toledo, carried the mantle of social justice art until he died in September 2019. Young graphic artists follow in the footsteps of the masters, use wood, linoleum block and metal plates to carve out images of truth to power. Mexico offers creative opportunity to any and all who choose to express themselves.

Our October 2019 group at Casa Azul
Beneath Metropolitan Cathedral lies unexcavated Aztec city

Note: If you put together a group of 5-6 people, I am happy to organize this experience over a long weekend in Mexico City.

Diego Rivera’s experiment with Cubism, 1910-1920
Sculptor/muralist Isamu Naguchi is ardent anti-Fascist, installation
at Abelardo Rodriguez Market