Tag Archives: photography

Chiapas Festivals and Faces: Photography Workshop

Arrive January 18 and depart January 25, 2016.

Two Options to Choose From:

  • Option 1: $2,395 per person (workshop and  7 nights lodging at boutique La Joya Hotel, all breakfasts, transportation to villages)
  • Option 2:  $1,295 per person (workshop only, includes transportation to villages. With this option, you make your own hotel reservations.)

The historic 16th Century colonial mountain town, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, is our base for making great photographs. Here in southern Mexico close to the Guatemala border, the Maya people hold on to a strong, proud and ancient past. Many on-going rituals and celebrations combine Spanish Catholicism with pre-conquest indigenous mysticism. Traditional hand-woven and embroidered Maya dress is still daily street wear. Before too long, you, too can name villages that people call home by the traje they wear.

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During the week we will take part in village festivals that happen only this time of year, meet indigenous Maya families who are back strap loom weavers and embroiderers, visit historic sites, markets, folk healers and mystics. We offer you an amazing ethnographic travel photography experience that is centered in this compact, magical town where wide avenues are for pedestrians only. Our out-of-town travels take us to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapa de Corso for the Parachicos Festival and San Juan Chamula.

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We are on location with photographer/instructor Matt Nager to create powerful photographs.  You are welcome to use any camera you are comfortable with: basic point-and-shoot to iPhone to DSLR. Our emphasis is on the photographer-subject relationship and good composition, finding the best subject and knowing how to interact with them, capturing a sense of place with interest and an innovative eye. We also cover DSLR camera basics, how to use manual settings, and offer optional coaching on photo editing using Lightroom.

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Who should attend?  The workshop is for all levels of photographers including beginners. We strip down often overly complicated conditions to bring the photographer face-to-face with the subject. We practice both impromptu street photography and classic pre-arranged portrait sessions. We will also cover landscape, architecture and general travel photography.

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The Workshop Covers:

  • Using natural light and responding to different lighting situations
  • Moving from automatic to manual settings (for DSLR cameras)
  • Directing your subject through varying body positions
  • Identifying your own photographic style
  • Finding and executing photographs “on the fly”
  • Night photography and using a tripod
  • Capturing a scene or historical site
  • Learning more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt

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Each day we will discuss different techniques and review best of day images. There will be plenty of time for discussion, feedback, and sharing.  We will address topics such as: How do you stay inspired?  How and when do you ask permission to take a stranger’s photograph? How do you get people to relax, be natural, and not be afraid of the camera? How do you transform the mundane into an interesting photo?

At the end of our week together, we will select our best photographs of the week and hold a group show followed by a celebratory supper, included in the fee.

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About Your Instructor Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

This is going to be a fantastic workshop and I encourage any level photographer to sign up.  I recently had a class with Matt Nager and he is an excellent teacher and a fun person. You will not get a class this good for twice the price!  -Barbara Szombatfalvy, Durham, NC

His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.

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In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal.

Matt speaks English and Spanish, and is learning Italian.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

Equipment:  Please bring your camera, your computer or tablet, a cable to connect your camera to your device to upload and edit your photos, a jump drive, extra batteries, battery charger, memory cards, optional tripod for night photography. If you use a DSLR camera, you may wish to bring a portrait lens (50mm) and a longer zoom lens. We will send a complete list of “what to bring” after you register!

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Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change)

Mon. Jan. 18 – Arrive and check-in to La Joya Hotel or wherever else you choose to stay. (D on your own)

Tues. Jan. 19 – Our workshop starts with a learning session, welcome and orientation. We’ll go on a town walkabout, market stroll, capture photos on the fly, and end with a portrait session with well-known humanitarian folk healer. We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

Wed. Jan. 20 – Learning session and photo review. Depart for Zinacantan for Dia de San Sebastian. This is the most important celebration for this community, with rituals, ceremonies, a horse race, masses, traditional native dances and processions. We have arranged a private portrait session with Zinacantan family. We will have lunch  together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

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Thurs. Jan. 21 – Learning session and photo review. Portrait session with women’s weaving cooperative who come from their village wearing traditional Maya dress. We’ll have an exposition of their textiles, too.  We will have lunch and together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Fri. Jan. 22 – Learning session and photo review. Today it’s all about food. We go to the local food market to meet and photograph vendors and see all the locally grown food. Then we meet one of San Cristobal’s great chefs for a photo shoot in the restaurant kitchen followed by lunch. We will have lunch together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Sat. Jan. 23 – Learning session and photo review. Parachicos of Chiapa de Corzo, The Great Feast celebration that honors the patron saints Our Lord of Esquipulas, Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Sebastian includes fabulous masked dancers, rattles, parades, a carnival, and opportunity for night photography.  We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

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Sun. Jan. 24 – On our last day, we will visit the church at San Juan Chamula, then prepare for the last presentation and Best of Week Show. We will have lunch and celebratory group dinner together.  Lunch will be at your own expense. Dinner is included in your workshop fee.

Jan. 25 – Depart

You are welcome to come early and stay later. You might want to go on to Tonina, Palenque, Bonampak or Yaxchilan to explore Maya archeology, or go further and cross the border into Guatemala or Villahermosa, Tabasco. We can recommend archeologist-led tour guides who can help facilitate customized travel plans at your own expense.  We can also recommend where you can enroll in a San Cristobal de Las Casas cooking class that features local indigenous meals.

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The workshop includes all instruction and personal coaching, transportation to three villages, cultural guide services and celebratory buffet supper at the end of our Best of Week Show. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the workshop begins.

The workshop does not include airfare, lodging, meals, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

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About Preferred Lodging: We will be based in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas at La Joya Hotel, our preferred lodging partner. La Joya is a small boutique hotel with five rooms.  We have reserved them all for this workshop! Previous workshop participants have described La Joya Hotel as “a sophisticated oasis” and a “fantasy home away from home.” If you wish to stay at La Joya Hotel, please register as soon as possible since space is limited.  All rooms have king size beds with private bath. 

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You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom or other online resources for best prices and levels of accommodations. All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the lodging provider.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel. We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before November 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 November 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 November 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

About Travel to San Cristobal de Las Casas: The Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) airport is the gateway city, about one-hour from San Cris. You can fly there from Mexico City on Aeromexico or Interjet. From the USA, Delta Airlines has a codeshare with Aeromexico. Both airlines are located in Mexico City Terminal 2. United Airlines flies between Houston and Oaxaca and does not serve TGZ. UA is located in Mexico City Terminal 1. There is taxi and shuttle van service from TGZ airport to San Cris starting at about 700 pesos. You can also take an ADO overnight bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobal. If you book your stay at La Joya Hotel, we will arrange taxi airport pick-up and delivery for you at your own expense.

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 documentation. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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2015 Day of the Dead Photography Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca, Mexico, is the place to be for Day of the Dead  and you will capture it with your camera: parades, cemeteries, family traditions, special food and decor, markets, fiestas and faces. Follow the copal incense and marigold trail. Starts Sunday morning, October 30 and ends Thursday night, November 3.

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Cost:  $995 per person. Price includes all instruction, feedback sessions, personal coaching and transportation to and from Xoxocotlan and Teotitlan del Valle cemeteries. Does not include food or lodging.  We will provide you with a list of hotels and B&B’s to choose the level of accommodation you prefer after you register. Then, make your own reservations directly. Come early or stay later, too.  We will recommend sightseeing and other activities!

  • Limited to 10 participants. Small Group. Personal Attention.
  • Beginners and more experienced photographers welcome.
  • Bring any camera: DSLR, iPhone or Point and Shoot!
  • Registration is now open!

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This is a hands-on photography workshop for learning and improving technique while you experience Oaxaca’s famed Day of the Dead rituals.  By the end of the week, you will better use your camera for visual storytelling, photojournalism, portraiture and cultural discovery.

Your Workshop Leader is Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Matt speaks English and Spanish.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

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His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Dallas Morning News and the Rocky Mountain News.

In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal. 6_Zapotecs-7

This cultural immersion workshop tour offers you a deeper appreciation for the food, religious symbols, rituals and family celebrations both in Oaxaca city and in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle.

You will learn to:

  • Use natural light and respond to different lighting situations
  • Include portraits in your travel photography
  • Direct your subject through varying body positions
  • Identify your own photographic style
  • Find and execute portraits “on the fly”
  • Practice street photography
  • Use skills you learn through daily assignments
  • Learn more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt
  • Contribute to a gift for subject families — included in your workshop fee

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During our week together, we will review each other’s work, give feedback, and offer supportive critiques.  The workshop includes a mix of class instruction and being out on the streets to capture the action.

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Technical topics covered include natural light, exposure, manual camera settings and night photography. We will offer optional editing sessions using Lightroom photo editing software.  13_Sunset@Xoxo1a Xoxocotlan2014-14

Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change) 

Day of the Dead Workshop Expedition 2015

Day 1, Saturday, October 30:  Meet after breakfast at a central location in Oaxaca City where we will have a welcome and learning session, with a review of camera settings, exposure and using natural light. Then, we’ll hit the streets and local markets! Option is to meet up for a group dinner at your own expense. 2014DOTDTeoti-28

Day 2, Sunday, October 31:  We meet after breakfast. After showing your best work of Day 1, with review and feedback, we will have a learning session on night photography.  At 3:30 p.m. we depart for the famed Xoxocotlan cemetery for an extraordinary Day of the Dead extravaganza.  Matt is with us every step of the way for coaching and technical support. This could be a late night, so be prepared!  We will stay until at least 10 p.m., maybe later! Includes transportation to/from Xoxocotlan.

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Day 3, Monday, November 1:  You will have the morning on your own to prepare your best of the Xoxocotlan cemetery. We will meet midday to share our work with a feedback and learning session, then get back on the streets to catch the calendas and other processions. Some may want to share an optional taxi to San Pablo Villa de Mitla for their Day of the Dead festivities that start mid-afternoon

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Day 4, Tuesday, November 2:  We leave for an afternoon and evening in Teotitlan del Valle after our morning learning and photo feedback session.  You are paired with another workshop participant to share a traditional meal with a local host family and go with them to the village cemetery. To be embedded with a local family is an amazing cultural immersion experience to learn more about indigenous customs and traditions.  We return to Oaxaca city mid-evening. Includes transportation and lunch.

Day 5, Wednesday, November 3:  We meet after breakfast to share experiences and photos of the day. You’ll have the rest of the day on your own to meander and prepare your Best of Week photo presentation.  We get together in early evening for a Best of Week photo presentation followed by goodbyes. Please feel free to invite guests! Then, we’ll meet for an optional group supper (expense on your own).

What You Should Bring

  1. Camera, either Digital SLR camera with lens(es) — wide angle, zoom, and/or fixed focal point 50mm, or iPhone or Point and Shoot
  2. Optional tripod for night photography
  3. Laptop computer for photo editing
  4. External hard drive
  5. External card reader
  6. Extra batteries (2) and battery charger
  7. Memory cards (at least 2) and jump drive
  8. Pen and notepad
  9. Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes, sun protection, sun hat

(Before the workshop starts, we will send you a complete packet and information guide with suggested packing list, and other useful information.)

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Cost:  $995 USD.  Deposit to reserve your space is $500. Workshop includes:

  • All instruction and coaching
  • 1 lunch as specified in the itinerary
  • Transportation to villages included in the itinerary
  • Gift to local Teotitlan del Valle host family
  • Comprehensive pre-trip planning packet (via email)

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Not Included:  The expedition does NOT include lodging, meals that are not specified in the itinerary, airfare, taxes, tips/gratuities, travel insurance, liquor/alcoholic beverages and optional transportation.

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About Recommended Accommodations: We will be based in Oaxaca city for this workshop. We will recommend several outstanding hotels and B&B’s where you may choose to stay, complete with contact information and estimated pricing. You can also check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom.  All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the hotel.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel.  We will send you a list of recommended hotels after you register and make your deposit.

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Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit will reserve your space.   The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before August 1, 2014.  We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us you are ready to register.

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

We require that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, and at least $50,000 USD of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com  We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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This workshop is produced by Norma H-Shafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to alter the itinerary and substitute instructors without notice.

Don’t let this workshop pass you by!

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San Juan Chamula, Chiapas: No Photographs, Please

It’s impossible to take a photograph inside the once-Catholic church of San Juan Chamula.  It is a Sunday haven of pre-Hispanic mysticism, with folk practices that go way back in indigenous history.  Tourists are warned to tread lightly.

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My body aches to take a photograph of the family crouched on pine needles in front of a sainted altar surrounded by a pile of eggs, a live chicken, and dozens of burning candles affixed to the tiled floor where the pine needles have been swept aside.

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Taking photos in the church is verboten.  Forbidden.  In years past I have seen village officials who mind the church protocol confiscate the cameras and memory cards of those who sneak a pic.  Impossible to be sneaky here. Sometimes, if a tourist resists, s/he is put in the local jail.

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Our group from Penland School of Crafts is compliant.  We tuck camera’s away into shoulder bags and backpacks. We are not going to tempt the fates or the village fathers.

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A woman kneels in prayer singing in an ancient tongue, a melody pitched so that the gods will hear her.  Another keens.  Another weeps.  A shaman makes a blessing with an offering of coca-cola and mezcal.  Burping the fizzy drink is believed to cleanse the soul. Sunlight streams through the high side window and beneath the glow the people are bathed in shadow and light.  The space is illuminated.  Smells like piney forest, smokey candles, the burst of lilies and roses.

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Feet are bare and worn.  Feet are brown and calloused. Women’s furry black sheep wool skirts are tied at the waist with glittery cummerbunds.  Their blouses, silky polyester, are embroidered with intricate diamonds, birds, flowers, zig-zags and snap at the throat. It’s cold at 7,000 feet elevation.

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This is sacred space, like being in a cave.  Here the human and divine spirit are one and belief is powerful. I guess no photographs are necessary to remember.

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Beyond the church courtyard is a lively market place to buy hand spun and embroidered wool from the town, strange fruit, clothing from surrounding villages, meat, poultry, vegetables tortillas and bread. Amber and jade vendors hawk their wares. Little old ladies whose garments are beyond wearing, peddle purses, bracelets and keychains.

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Today, the plaza is lined with indigenous women and children from outlying hamlets, hundreds of them.  They sit on the edge waiting.  What are you waiting for? I ask one of them. She replies, we wait to receive an every-two-month stipend of 850 pesos. Soon, they form a line and hurry to the back of the government building. Their support is equivalent to $45USD per month.  Of course, she doesn’t want her picture taken.

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We organize arts workshop study tours with an educational focus. Contact us to bring a group!

Zinacantan Textile Flowers, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas

They speak Tzotzil here in the Maya highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.  San Lorenzo Zinacantan is a village nestled in a beautiful valley about thirty minutes from San San Cristobal de Las Casas.  It is a popular Sunday tourist destination combined with a visit to the mystical church at San Juan Chamula (which I will write about in another post), just ten minutes apart.

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Zinacantan people yielded to the Spanish during the conquest.  They enjoyed more favors and received fertile land in exchange for their loyalty. Today, the Zinacantan hillside is dotted with greenhouses where flowers grow in abundance to decorate church and home altars, and are a key part of festivals.

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The village replicates these flowers in their embroidery that embellish cloth created on back strap looms.  Over the years we have seen the patterns change from simple red and white striped cloth to sparkly textiles that incorporate synthetic glitzy threads of gold and silver.  Much of the embroidery is now machine stitched, though the designs are guided by expert hands.

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I’ve been coming to San Cristobal de Las Casas for years searching for a chal embroidered by hand to no avail. This time, Patrick, our guide took us to the home of Antonia, one of Zinacantan’s most accomplished weavers and embroiderers.  Among the hundred chals (shawl or tzute) available for purchase, I found a blue one all hand embroidered. Technology is winning out over the made by hand ethos.

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Identity is defined externally by the indigenous garment.  Some say the Spanish imposed this upon local people in order to know where they came from and to keep them in their place. Others say the design of the garment endures because of cultural pride.  The young woman above is from the village of Chenalho.  I can tell because of the design of her beautiful huipil.

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She is the tortilla maker at Antonia’s home, who keeps the fire going, makes us a fresh quesadilla of local cheese, cured chorizo, avocado and homemade salsa to remember the visit. Food is memory, too.

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Nothing is wasted, not even the smoke. It curls up from the comal to cure the meats that hang above it. The corn is criollo, locally grown and ground by hand, pure and wholesome. Here in the shadowy adobe kitchen there is magic.

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It is impossible to take photographs inside the church at Zinacantan. It is forbidden and cameras can be confiscated if you are found to violate this. Can you imagine a church altar spilling over with flowers from ceiling to floor, fresh, with an aroma of lilies, roses, gardenias and lilacs. The swirl of scent is like an infusion of incense, designed perhaps to bring one closer to god.

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I organized this art and archeology study tour for Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina.  If you have a small group interested in coming to Oaxaca or Chiapas, please contact me.  I have over 35 years experience organizing award-winning educational programs for some of America’s most respected universities.

Oaxaca Mardi Gras with Jacobo and Maria Angeles

It’s Fat Tuesday, otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent. Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, we have our own version of Mardi Gras or Carnaval in the Zapotec village of San Martin Tilcajete.  The people know how to put on a good party.

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A group of artists, collectors and supporters of Penland School of Crafts from North Carolina are with me and certified tour guide Rene Cabrera for a week. Our time is almost over but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to write a blog post.

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Our days have been packed visiting artist and textile studios, attending workshops, rising early to get to markets, and staying out much too late dining in Oaxaca’s exquisite restaurants.

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Today we arrived in San Martin Tilcajete early to get a jump start on the comparsa that we were told would start at eleven in the morning. But, life in Oaxaca is on Zapotec time.  The Zapotecs know that whoever controls time controls the world.  In reality, the formal festivities didn’t begin until four in the afternoon.

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So we shifted plans, went to the workshop home and studio of famed alebrijes carvers and painters Jacobo and Maria Angeles. What was planned to be an hour demonstration of alebrije-making techniques became a full day of watching the carvers and painters become transformed into revelers and merrymakers.

PenlandMardiGrasBest20-10 PenlandMardiGrasBest20-9 Jacobo and Maria welcomed us and invited us to stay.  They are warm and hospitable people, the largest employer of talented painters and carvers in their village and do so much to promote the artisans of the village and Oaxaca.

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After lunch — anyone for a tlayuda? — several of our more courageous Penland participants were invited to join in the face and body painting to become part of Jacobo and Maria’s comparsa entourage.

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We then followed them down village streets, costumes with cow bells clanging, voices ringing in shouts, cheers and grunts, breaths panting, dust kicking up under our feet.

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It was ninety degrees fahrenheit in Oaxaca today and this was no easy task, keeping up with young men painted to the nines and ready to party.  We sucked a lot of water to stay hydrated and pulled sun hats down over our faces in protection.

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The smarter villagers huddled in the shade of their doorways to watch the revelers shout and clang up and down the streets.

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I’ve got a lot of catching up to do to keep you up to date. This week we did an indigo dye workshop and made shibori scarves, took a cooking class and made mole amarillo, visited San Pablo Villa de Mitla archeological site and entered the inner sanctum of Oaxaca artist Rudolfo Morales’ bedroom and studio.  We met painters and lithographers, learned about Oaxaca’s contemporary art scene, and tried our hand at making a woodcut. With a mezcal tasting, we learned about this Oaxaca art form and how this artisanal beverage is crafted.

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On Thursday, seven of us will be continuing on to San Cristobal de Las Casas to explore the art and archeology of that wonderful region.  More to come!