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Tribal Art and Georgia O’Keeffe: New Mexico Study Tour

Tuesday, September 1 – Wednesday, September 9, 2020 – 8 nights, 9 days

New Mexico was originally part of the Spanish land grant known as New Spain. It calls to me in a way that reminds me of Oaxaca: Vast vistas of mountains and desert punctuated by red and purple skies, stately organ-pipe cactus and gnarly mesquite, Rio Grande River oases lined with scrub oak, and unparalleled art and craft made by indigenous peoples.

Ubiquitious adobe bricks, New Mexico desert
Lapidary work by Kewa pueblo master

Colonized by the Spanish in 1598 and referred to as New Mexico by them after the Aztec Valley of Mexico, the territory was integrated into a new nation after 1821 Independence from Spain. Mexico was forced to cede its northern territories to the US in 1848 in a period of political vulnerability. Deeply rooted locals identify more with Spanish or indigenous ancestry.

Today, New Mexico has the largest percentage of Latino and Hispanic Americans in the USA. America’s First Peoples lived here for thousands of years before European occupation. Anglos, the trappers, merchants and adventurers, arrived much later. This sequence of settlement is important for showing respect and appreciation.

Sheri Brautigam, textile author and operator of Living Textiles of Mexico, and I join together again to bring you this program that starts in Santa Fe, the state capitol and heart of Colonial New Mexico.  Sheri lives in Santa Fe and I visit periodically. Our love of place is defined by the majestic natural world, exquisite art, textiles, jewelry and pottery created by Native American people, and a deep appreciation for cultural history.

Iconic skull, O’Keeffe house
Abiquiu, New Mexico landscape

On many levels, it seems only natural to add New Mexico to our travel repertoire. Here political borders give way to the shared cultural and aesthetic history of Mexico and the American Southwest.

We take you to Native American pueblos to meet favorite weavers and jewelry makers, and to galleries and public spaces where world-class examples are displayed.  We introduce you to collectors and purveyors of folk art and craft who will talk about quality, authenticity, craftsmanship and style. We go deep rather than wide to offer insight and perspective.

Georgia O’Keeffe treasure at the La Fonda Hotel

Any exploration of New Mexico must include a look into the life of artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Our study tour takes you to her summer residence at Ghost Ranch where we spend the night and enjoy a morning walking tour of her favorite painting sites. We visit her Abiquiu winter home where her minimalist style shaped future generations.

Kewa pueblo jewelry artist Mary L. Tafoya
Mezcal laced Smoky Rosa at the Secreto Lounge, Hotel San Francisco

We invite you to join us to explore and discover:

  • An O’Keeffe landscape of the White Place and the Pedernal
  • Westward migration and the lure of the Santa Fe Trail, Route 66
  • Ancient indigenous Native American Pueblos nestled along the Rio Grande River banks
  • Colonial Spanish and Mexican history, architecture and cultural influences
  • Sumptuous food spiked with rare New Mexico red Chimayo chile and green Hatch chile — try the Hatch flavored pozole or a green chile cheeseburger or buy a ristra to take home
  • Mezcal infused beverages that transcend Oaxaca origins
Inlay stone work, Thunderbirds: turquoise, mother-of-pearl, apple coral, gaspeite
Vintage tin mirror, La Fonda Hotel collection

Here is the Preliminary Itinerary: Arrive September 1 and depart September 9, including Labor Day Weekend.

Tues, 9//1: Arrive and check in to hotel, welcome cocktail reception (R)

Wed. 9/2:  Breakfast with art and cultural history talk, walking tour of Santa Fe galleries, the Governor’s Palace Portal and historic sites, welcome lunch.  Presentations by noted experts and collectors. Dinner OYO.  (B, L)

Finest heishi bead work, Santo Domingo Pueblo (Kewa)

Thurs. 9/3: After breakfast, depart for Rio Grande River Kewa/Santo Domingo pueblo to meet Native American craftspeople where we will have private demonstrations of stone inlay and metal smithing, and a home-style lunch. We visit award-winners who exhibit at prestigious galleries and participate in the International Folk Art Market. (B, L) Dinner OYO

Friday. 9/4: After breakfast, we will take a private La Fonda Hotel art history tour, with lunch at the historic Fred Harvey restaurant, followed by a visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (B, L) Dinner OYO

Vintage Navajo rug with churro sheep wool
Bumble bee painting at La Fonda Hotel

Sat, 9/5: After breakfast, we will return to the Kewa pueblo to attend the big Labor Day Weekend Artisan Fair, an all Native American traditional arts and craft event that includes artisans from throughout New Mexico. (B) Lunch and dinner OYO.

Sun. 9/6: After breakfast, depart for Ghost Ranch with a stop in Sanctuario de Chimayo a famous shrine of miracles and Hispanic faith. We will visit the Rio Grande style weavers of the Chimayo region and have lunch at Rancho de Chimayo, overnight at Ghost Ranch (B, L)

O’Keeffe wall, subject of numerous paintings
Rudy Coriz feather motif inlay stone work

Mon. 9/7: After breakfast, morning Art Walk at Ghost Ranch to see the locales where Georgia O’Keeffe painted. After lunch at the Inn at Abiquiu, we will tour O’Keeffe’s winter home in Abiquiu, then return to Santa Fe. (B, L) Dinner OYO.

Tues., 9/8: Breakfast and day on your own. Grand finale dinner. (D) Breakfast and lunch OYO.

Wed. 9/9: Depart

Painting, Native American festival dances
Colonial furniture, hand-carved wood

You may wish to arrive early or stay later to add a visit to Taos, Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs, or Santa Clara or San Ildefonso pottery villages.  So many places to visit, so much to see and do.

What Is Included

  • 8 nights lodging at a top-rated Santa Fe historic center property within walking distance to the Plaza
  • 6 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches
  • 1 dinner
  • 1 cocktail reception
  • a curated itinerary with introductions to some of the region’s finest artisans
  • museum and other entry fees, as specified in itinerary
  • private demonstrations, presentations and lectures
  • private coach and chauffeur to/from pueblos and O’Keeffe sites
  • outstanding and personal guide services with Norma Schafer and Sheri Brautigam
Inlay pin by Mary Tafoya
Exterior landscape, O’Keeffe in Abiquiu

The program does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation that is not specified in the itinerary.

You can fly in/out of either Albuquerque (ABQ) or Santa Fe (SAF), New Mexico. Check Skyscanner.com for best schedules and fares.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $3,845 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $4,435  single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Important Note: All rooms at Ghost Ranch for one night on Sunday, September 6, are shared accommodations. 

Native American Feast Day Mask

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $750 non-refundable deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in three equal payments – on January 22, April 22, July 22, 2020.  We accept payment using online e-commerce only.  If for any reason, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC cancels the tour, a full-refund will be made.

We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. If you cancel on or before July 22, 2020, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After July 22, 2020, there are no refunds.

If you register after January 22, you will owe $750 plus 1/3 of the balance due. If you register after April 22, you will owe $750 plus 2/3 of the balance due. If you register after July 22, you will owe 100% (if there are openings).

How to Register: Send an email to norma.schafer@icloud.com

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice for $750 by email that is due on receipt.

Who Should Attend: Artists, makers, educators, life-long learners, writers, photographers, jewelry and textile lovers, historians and those wanting to learn more about Native American art, culture and history.   If you love off-the-beaten path adventure, the great outdoors, and the inspiration of the great Southwest as seen by Georgia O’Keeffe, this trip is for you.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Work in progress, Warren Nieto

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.

In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy:  We may walk a lot on some days.  — up to 10,000 steps. We recommend you bring a walking stick if you need something to lean on!

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.

Warren Nieto with sacred corn pendant, inlay stones and sterling silver

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Old West hand-carved lamp base, La Fonda Hotel

Jeweler’s Studio: Kewa-Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico

Under the Palace of the Governors portal sit Native American artisans, displaying their craft. They may sit on small camp stools or cross-legged on a blanket waiting for us. Their hang tags tell their name, their pueblo, and authenticate what they sell. This is a juried system.

The portal at the Palace of the Governors calls to me because it is a place of discovery. I have spoken with gallery owners in Taos and Santa Fe who tell me they found artisans they represent here along this arcade. A keen eye can differentiate quality

This Warren Nieto pendant is for sale. $185.

Who is able to sell each day is based on a lottery. Just as I visit artisan studios throughout Mexico to understand the craftsmanship and to create connection, when I find someone who makes something extraordinary, I want to know more. To see how something is made is to understand the calculus of time and materials, passion, art and history. This is how we put value on something handmade.

Warren and his son in the studio

It’s more than that. To see how people live and work, to meet their families, to understand their culture and origins, hear who they learned from and appreciate the traditions of creativity, gives added meaning to the experience. It becomes more than shopping. It is the next level to an ancient practice of sharing, bartering, collaboration and respect.

The swirls are inlaid slices of shell
A pile turquoise, mother-of-pearl, apple coral, spiny oyster, river shell, jet (fossilized coal)

We got to the Plaza early that day, before 9:30 a.m. Leslie spotted Warren Nieto first, noticed his fine heishi beadwork and mosaic inlay. His thunderbird design earrings were perfectly executed. There were three pair, one for her, one for Kaola and one for me. We struck a bargain for the three and paid cash. I asked if we could visit his studio to see how he constructed his pieces and get a demonstration. We set a day and time.

Warren Nieto’s Thunderbird Earrings, NFS
Fossilized stone with shell impression

Eugene Sanchez was also at the Palace portal that day. I didn’t recognize him but I recognized the fine, tiny pieces of gemstone inlay work I bought from his wife Georgia two years ago. I asked him if we could visit, too.

Eugene and Georgia Sanchez earrings and Thunderbird necklace, NFS
Eugene Sanchez and granddaughter

Eugene’s story is not unique. He’s a military veteran. He worked construction in northern California, had a back injury and returned to his family roots to revive their Native American jewelry making. He learned from his grandmother and father. The work is extraordinary.

Warren’s unfinished work — in the rough

I had traveled the Rio Grande River Valley pueblos in the 1970’s, but had never visited the Kewa (Santo Domingo) village. I was more interested in pottery then. This would be an adventure. We drove south on I-25 for about 40 minutes and then turned off to head west. In the distance, beyond the vast sand-colored desert was a ribbon of green cottonwood where the river flowed fast. Summer rains and winter snow melts ensure an abundance of water.

Raw materials: spiny oyster and caracol shells

Warren Nieto lives with his family in a new modular home behind a vacant trading post, a vestige of the old west and tourism dream that didn’t materialize. He worked carpentry and framing before he returned to the craft he earned from his family. He’s 32 years old.

We were told to respect what your grandparents taught you, he says. Growing up, I learned to make heishi beads and tend the corn fields. We were taught that jewelry making was something to come back to. I do it to create something that others appreciate and value.

Warren speaks Keres to his son, who hovers nearby. This is an ancient language, he explains, and he’s not worried about losing it. The Kewa people adhere to tradition. He says its linguistic roots are Aztec (Nahuatl). I tell him common belief is that the Aztecs came from the north into what is now Mexico in search of a fertile land where the eagle would perch on a cactus, overcome the serpent and lead them to water. Is it likely they originated from this part of New Mexico?

I am organizing a 2020 folk art study tour into the tribal areas of New Mexico with Sheri Brautigam, who lives in Santa Fe. We will visit a curated group of jewelers, weavers and potters, and attend a Native American festival. If you are interested in joining us, please send me an email so I can add you to the announcement list: email norma.schafer@icloud.com

Oaxaca Discovery Study Tour: Textiles and Folk Art

January 31 to February 7, 2020, 8 days and 7 nights.

Templo Santo Domingo, the most iconic image of Oaxaca — in winter!

Come with us to explore the Oaxaca we know and love by going deep and personal. We offer you an unparalleled and eclectic cultural immersion travel experience by introducing you to the artisans we believe offer some of the finest examples of folk art and craft the Oaxaca City region has to offer. We know each of them personally and have cultivated their trust and friendship over the years. During our week together we take you into their homes and workshops to investigate and explore why they are makers, who they learned from, the value and importance of continuing their traditions, and the special techniques they have developed to become masters.

Cost

  • $2,795 per person for a shared room (2 rooms available)
  • $3,395 per person for private room (5 Queens and 2 Kings available).
Detail of embroidered apron — a fantasy of design and color

The city of Oaxaca is a travel destination that is on the map. Her artisan craft, fine and unique cuisine, delicious beverages (from fruit waters to mezcal) and UNESCO Colonial Historic Center receive wide acclaim – and justly so! You’ll sample some of this as we also focus on meeting the masters who weave rugs and clothing, make silver filigree jewelry, ceramics, woodcarvings, lead-free ceramics, and more. Many have not yet achieved worldwide fame but they are equally as talented as those who have, and offer what they make at affordable prices.

Agave piñas ready for roasting on the way to becoming mezcal
Intricate supplementary weft embroidery from the Amusgos group

Most importantly, we offer the opportunity to meet the makers and support them and their families directly. This is an important mission of ours as we travel into the backstreets of villages where not many have the opportunity to go.

A sampler of what Oaxaca Eats has in store for us

This program is for collectors, lovers of Mexican art and folk art, and anyone with curiosity and an open heart who wants to learn more about Oaxaca, Mexico, and her creative traditions. Even if you have been to Oaxaca before, there is still a lot more to discover and we take you on that path.

Oaxaca is famous for her hand made pottery

We will be a small group of travelers — no more than 12 to 14 people — to give you an intimate and in-depth experience. 

Hand-drawn floral pattern will become heavily embroidered blouse

Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC and Norma Schafer is pleased to tell you that Eric Chavez Santiago and his wife Elsa Sanchez Diaz have joined our organization and will co-lead this tour. They are native Oaxaquenos, possess a broad and deep knowledge of the region and have years of experience working with Oaxaca’s outstanding craftspeople. Both are bilingual. Elsa is an expert teacher and maker of natural dyes. Eric is a Zapotec weaver and dyer who was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle. Both have deep roots in Oaxaca’s artisan communities, are knowledgeable about artisan made textiles and folk art and know the best of the best.

A friend will bring huipiles and blusas to the expoventa

Elsa, Eric and I developed this itinerary together to present to you for our first Oaxaca Discovery Study Tour.

The wonders of Oaxaca textile art — weaving, embroidery, natural dyes, native cotton

Day 1, Friday, January 31: Travel day, arrive to Oaxaca City and check in to your hotel. Meet the group for a welcome supper. Please schedule your flights to arrive to our historic center hotel by 5 p.m. Welcome dinner included.

The Biswas Family find a naturally dyed rug at the workshop of Fe y Lola

Day 2, Saturday, February 1: We set out after breakfast for a Oaxaca city meander. This day is designed to give you an overview introduction to see the best available of Oaxaca’s textiles and folk art. We have curated visits to some of the finest shops and galleries to discuss, discern and differentiate quality, and understand pricing. You’ll learn about Oaxaca’s back-story – history, cultural appreciation, social and economic forces, craft development and evolution. We will have lunch at a highly rated comedor that serves authentic Oaxaca food. This is a big walking day. Please bring comfortable shoes and all your stamina! Breakfast and lunch included. Dinner on your own.

Natural dyes color cotton for hand woven clothing
True folk artist Don Jose and his wife Reyna

Day 3, Sunday, February 2:  After breakfast we travel along the Ocotlan artisan route to explore the Oaxaca State Museum of Folk Art in San Bartolo Coyotepec. We will talk about why this museum is important to Oaxaca craft development. We continue on to meet the maker of amazing carved wood and painted whimsical figures in San Martin Tilcajete. After lunch on the road, we see back strap loom weavers in Santo Tomas Jalieza, and a noted primitive folk art pottery family in San Antonino Castillo Velasco. Breakfast and lunch included.

Whimsical Oaxaca folk art plays front and center here
Enjoy delicious organic food — native corn, squash and beans

Day 4, Monday, February 3: After breakfast, we head out for an overnight excursion to Teotitlan del Valle, where you will enjoy a market tour and cooking class in a traditional Zapotec kitchen, see weaving and natural dyeing demonstrations with weavers of wool and cotton rugs and clothing. We think it’s important to introduce you to indigenous Zapotec history, so we will loop through their new cultural center. Zapotec civilization was the most sophisticated in Mesoamerica.  Bring your overnight bag. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.

This huipil is pure hand-spun native cotton with murex sea snail purple dye
Apron making takes talent, imagination and patience. No two are alike.

Day 5, Tuesday, February 4: After breakfast we travel along the Pan-American Highway to the apron-making village of San Miguel del Valle, meet families who design and sew, and take a tour of the historic 16th century, fresco-walled church. We continue on to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to visit a dealer in regional antiquities – jewelry and historic artifacts, detour for a mezcal tasting in Santiago Matalan, and finish off by meeting a flying shuttle loom weaver who works in natural dyes. We return to Oaxaca in time for dinner on your own. Breakfast and lunch included.

Along with mezcal, you might want to try some pulque, too.
Taking a stroll on the Andador Turistica, aka Macedonio Alcala

Day 6, Wednesday, February 5: After breakfast, we travel first to visit the workshop of one of the finest ceramic artists in the region. They are among the last workshops crafting high temperature, lead-free ceramics of unusual and fine-art quality, perfect for gifting, adding to home décor, and serving and preparing some of Oaxaca’s finest recipes after you return home.  We then meet up with Oaxaca Eats for a concentrated foodie walking tour designed just for us. Your late afternoon is free to explore. Dinner is on your own.

An example of finest Oaxaca silver filigree jewelry
Perhaps you’ll try tacos with organic corn tortillas

Day 7, Thursday, February 6: After breakfast, we treat you to a curated expoventa (show and sale) at our hotel with some of our favorite artisans who are from outlying areas. Invited artisans include a Mixe grower, spinner, and weaver of silk garments who works in natural dyes, a noted embroiderer from the Papaloapan region that is 12 hours from the city, a tin-maker, and a weaver from San Juan Cotzocon in the Sierra Mixe. Our favorite filigree silversmith will join us, too, to show and tell about the intricacy of traditional Oaxaca jewelry making – a technique brought to Mexico shortly after the conquest by artisans who learned from the Moors of southern Spain. After the expoventa, you’ll have lunch and the afternoon on your own. We meet together for our grand finale gala dinner. Breakfast and dinner included. Lunch on your own.

It doesn’t get much better than a fresh Mango Mezcalini

Day 8, Friday, February 7: This is your departure day. Breakfast is included. We will help you make transportation arrangements to the Oaxaca airport or you may extend your trip (on your own) to explore other parts of Mexico.

We reserve the right to alter the itinerary based on artisan availability and other unexpected circumstances.

Molten Oaxaca chocolate cake with house made raspberry sauce, vanilla ice cream

What is Included

  • 7 nights lodging at top-rated accommodations
  • 7 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches
  • One lunch includes custom Oaxaca Eats food walking tour
  • 3 dinners
  • museum entry fees
  • artisan honoraria for demonstrations
  • van transportation as outlined in itinerary
  • complete guide services including cultural and language expertise

The program does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation as specified in the itinerary. It does not include taxi or shuttle service to/from airport and to/from hotel.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Learned from the Moors of Southern Spain, artisans brought the craft to Mexico

Cost to Participate — We offer three options.

  • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2). Two rooms available in this category.
  • $3,395 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1). We offer a luxury King or Queen option in this category on first come-first served basis. Eight rooms available in this category.

We are staying in a tranquil small boutique hotel in the historic center of Oaxaca City within walking distance of the Zocalo and other attractions.

Send us an email when you are ready to register: email norma.schafer@icloud.com

Flying shuttle loom weaver makes beautiful home goods and clothes

Who Should Attend

  • Explorers of indigenous cloth, native fibers, artisan craft
  • Collectors, curators and cultural appreciators
  • Textile and fashion designers
  • Weavers, embroiderers, spinners and dyers
  • Photographers and artists who want inspiration
  • Anyone who loves folk art, culture and collaboration

Full Registration Policies, Procedures and Cancellations– Please READ

A parade of the canastas (baskets) might form down the Alacala

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your reservation. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 30% of the total is due on or before September 1, 2019. The third 30% payment is due on or before November 25, 2019. We accept payment using online e-commerce that can be paid with a credit card. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After November 25, 2019, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before November 25, 2019, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.

Notes. When you tell us you are ready to register, we will: Send you a Health Questionnaire to complete and return. We will then send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. 

Indigo blue hands, a sign that they work in natural dyes

Health Questionnaire: Oaxaca is at almost 6,000 feet altitude and we will be walking a lot, especially on our first full day together. If you have a heart condition, have trouble breathing, have difficulty walking, or have other conditions that would have a mobility impact, please do not register for this program. The health questionnaire requires that you disclose any issues.

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.

A fine example of Oaxaca embroidery

In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it from the date you enter Mexico before it expires!

Carved wood and painted folk art figures come in many forms

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 45 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time to our destination.

All documentation for plane reservations and required travel insurance must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Demonstrating the two-harness tapestry loom for rug weaving

Health Questionnaire and Your Well-Being: Oaxaca is at almost 6,000 feet altitude and we will be walking a lot, some on cobblestone streets, especially on our first full day together. Plus, we will be getting in and out of vans. If you have a heart condition, have trouble breathing, have difficulty walking, or have any other condition that would have a mobility impact, please do not register for this program. The health questionnaire requires that you disclose any issues.

A fiesta in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: We will do some walking and getting in/out of vans. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let us know before you register. This may not be the study tour for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Who you might see around town …


Chiapas Boundaries, Borders and Cloth: Cultural Tourism

Long before the Spanish conquest of the Americas beginning with Mexico in 1521, Maya land was contiguous. Maya peoples spanned what we now know as Chiapas, the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

Can you identify the Eye of God, the Plumed Serpent Quetzalcoatl, lightening and rain?

While spoken dialects differ, the language of cloth tells a similar and familiar story of the universe and creation: corn, stars, moon and sun, animals, fertility, and rain, the underworld and the heavens. The plumed serpent god Quetzalcoatl is a predominant figure.

Ribbons are a contemporary adaptation of Aztec headdresses with feathers

The Aztecs, seeing the blond and bearded Hernan Cortes, confused him for the reincarnation of Quetzalcoatl and welcomed him. Before that, their empire reached as far south as Nicaragua, where they hunted for the feathers to adorn royal headdresses. Their historical outposts are evident throughout Chiapas, mostly through Nahuatl place names.

Spanish territories in Mesoamerica were divided and governed from Mexico City (the Viceroyalty of New Spain). For more than 200 years, Antigua, Guatemala, served as the seat of the military governor of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, a large region that included almost all of present-day Central America and the southernmost State of Mexico: Chiapas.

Intricately woven daily huipil from Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas Highlands

Maya communities were contiguous until the Mexican Revolution, when geo-political boundaries were drawn separating Guatemala from Mexico. The Usamincinta River was the demarcation line.

All cotton huipil in new colors, an innovation, San Andres Larrainzar

Along this river are two very important archeological sites: Yaxchilan and Bonampak. Symbols from fresco paintings here are depicted in the cloth woven by Maya women across the borders. It is also the region of the Lancandon jungle, home to the Lancandon tribal group that speak an ancient form of Maya. They were able to escape Spanish conquest by staying hidden deep in the jungle.

Corn hangs to dry, Tenejapa

I write about this to better understand the context of the cloth, which has limited boundaries.

Traditional Tenejapa wool huipil with natural dyes

On our recent Chiapas Textile Study Tour, one of our travelers, Rosemary, told me she makes frequent visits to Guatemala to collect Maya huipiles. She said she always wondered why she had a hard time finding the huipiles from Colotenango and Huehuetenango in Antigua, until she came to San Cristobal.

French knots hand-embroidered, Aguacatenango, Chiapas

These Guatemala villages are much closer to Chiapas than they are to Antigua. She surmised that it was easier to export them here. We found many superb examples of Guatemala textiles mingled among those from Chiapas for this reason.

Pillow cover, San Andres Larrainzar

We asked the weavers we met on this journey what they dreamed of for themselves and their families. What do they want/need? What are their hopes for their children?

Sewing basket, Tenejapa, Chiapas

I ask our travelers to think of themselves as amateur cultural anthropologists: to ask questions and to understand what is most important for women, children, families, and their economic well-being.

On the loom, Tenejapa weaving, suspended from the ceiling at Na Bolom

Every artisan we talked with had a similar answer: they need markets to sell what they make. They want their children to have an education beyond sixth grade. They want them to keep the traditions alive, too. They want autonomy and independence from neo-colonialism and government control. They want to be respected for their creativity and traditions.

Seen on the street: Can I take a photo, please? I promise I won’t photo your face.

In other words, they want what we want for ourselves and our children — a life of safety, security and economic well-being, with health care and a just, living wage.

Exquisite machine-embroidered chal (shawl), San Lorenzo Zinacantan

Cultural Tourism: Why are we here?

Why are we here? Is the answer as simple as Cultural Tourism? Is our motivation to experience a world different from our own? We are lovers of the handmade and appreciators of the people who are the makers. We want to meet the makers directly and support them.

In the Academia.edu article What is Cultural Tourism? Greg Richards says, Another major cultural trend that has been important in the growth of the heritage industry has been the growth of nostalgia. The increasing pace of life and the feeling of disorientation and loss associated with modernity has ensured that the preservation of the past has become big business.

I am aware of this as we bring small groups into remote villages. I hope our footprint will be as small as possible. I hope we become observers with heart and empathy. I also want to talk about our tendency to romanticize what many visitors perceive as a simpler lifestyle.

We seem to yearn for a simpler lifestyle.

So, I ask the question of you: Is cooking over a smoky wood fire simpler if it means you or your children will develop emphysema? Is it simpler if you have to travel 20 miles to the nearest health care clinic? What if the school in your village doesn’t have a regular teacher and only goes to fourth grade? Is it a simpler lifestyle when your husband is an alcoholic and family violence is a reality, not a poster? Is it simpler when you find an hour or two a day to weave, after cooking, cleaning, tending children, husking corn, washing clothes?

Can we really know about people and their lives by interacting with them for a few hours and buying what they make? With this purchase, are we practicing cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation? By just being here, what is our impact on how people live and work? Will change happen? What is authentic, anyway?

These are our questions and our discoveries on the Chiapas Textile Study Tour. Would you like to come exploring with us?

Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour 2020

Arrive on Saturday, January 18 and depart on Monday, January 27, 2020 — 9 nights, 10 days in textile heaven!

Trip is limited to 11 participants. 7 spaces open.

Cost is $2,795 per person shared room or $3,295 per person for private room. See details and itinerary below.

This entire study tour is focused on exploring the textiles of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. You arrive to and leave from Puerto Escondido, connecting through Mexico City or Oaxaca.

Cotton dyed with the endangered purple snail, embroidered dress collar

We go deep, and not wide. We give you an intimate, connecting experience. We spend time to know the culture. You will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy local cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, and travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This study tour focuses on revival of ancient textile techniques and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture that encompasses the use of natural dyes, back-strap loom weaving, drop spindle hand spinning, and glorious, pre-Hispanic native cotton.

Gretchen shows extraordinary huipil she chose — indigo, caracol purpura, coyuchi cotton

Villages along the coast and neighboring mountains were able to preserve their traditional weaving culture because of their isolation. Stunning cotton is spun and woven into lengths of cloth connected with intricate needlework to form amazing garments.

We have invited a noted cultural anthropologist to travel with us. She has worked in the region for the past fifteen years and knows the textile culture and people intimately. We learn about and discuss motifs, lifestyle, endangered species, quality and value of direct support.

Rafael explains purple snail dye in Pinotepa de Don Luis

What we do:

  • We visit 7 weaving villages
  • We meet back-strap loom weavers, natural dyers, spinners
  • We see, touch, smell native Oaxaca cotton — brown, green, natural
  • We participate in a sea turtle release
  • We swim in a rare bioluminescence lagoon
  • We visit four local markets to experience daily life
  • We travel to remote regions to discover amazing cloth
  • We support indigenous artisans directly
  • We attend Dreamweavers annual sale at Hotel Santa Fe
  • We escape WINTER in El Norte

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • the culture, history and identity of cloth
  • beating and spinning cotton, and weaving with natural dyes
  • native seed preservation and cultivation
  • clothing design and construction, fashion adaptations
  • symbols and meaning of regional textile designs
  • choice of colors and fibers that show each woman’s aesthetic while keeping with a particular village traje or costume
  • the work of women in pre-Hispanic Mexico and today
Joining wefts of loomed cloth with needle stitch

2020 Itinerary — Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour

  • Saturday, January 18: Fly to Puerto Escondido—overnight in Puerto Escondido, Group Welcome Dinner at 7 p.m. (D)
  • Sunday, January 19: Puerto Escondido market meander, lunch and afternoon on your own. Late afternoon departure for turtle release and Manialtepec bioluminescence lagoon.  (B)
  • Monday, January 20: Depart after breakfast for Tututepec to visit a young weaver who is reviving his village’s textile traditions, visit local museum and murals — overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
  • Tuesday, January 21: After breakfast, we go on to the weaving village of San Juan Colorado to visit two women’s cooperatives working in natural dyes, hand-spinning, and back strap loom weaving. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
  • Wednesday, January 22: After breakfast, we return to the mountain with a first stop at the Pinotepa de Don Luis market. Then, we visit the Converse shoe project where talented artists hand-paint footwear, carve gourds and make amazing graphic art prints. We have lunch with Dreamweavers cooperative members and caracol purpura purple snail dyers in their home, complete with show and sale, and cultural talk.  Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional. (B, L)
  • Thursday, January 23: After breakfast, we travel up the coast highway into the state of Guerrero, where we visit two outstanding Amusgo weaving cooperatives in Xochistlahuaca and Zacoalpan. They are working to revive ancient designs and incorporate locally grown native, wild cotton. Overnight in Ometepec. (B, L)
  • Friday, January 25: After breakfast, we begin our journey back to Puerto Escondido, with a stop at the Afro-Mexican Museum to understand Mexico’s black history. We stop in Jamiltepec to meet back-strap loom weavers and embroiderers.  Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, L)
  • Saturday, January 25: This is a day on your own to explore the area, return to the Puerto Escondido market, take a rest from the road trip, enjoy the beach and pools, and begin packing for your trip home.  Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B)
  • Sunday, January 26: Attend the annual Dreamweavers Expoventa featuring the Tixinda Weaving Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis. Other regional artisans are also invited, making this a grand finale folk art extravaganza — a fitting ending to our time together on Oaxaca’s coast. Grand Finale Dinner. Overnight in Puerto Escondido. (B, D)
  • Monday, January 27: Depart for home.

Note: You can add days on to the tour — arrive early or stay later — at your own expense.

Mural at Afro-Mexican Museum

What is Included

  • 9 nights lodging at top-rated accommodations
  • 9 breakfasts
  • 5 lunches
  • 2 dinners
  • museum entry fees
  • turtle release and Manialtepec lagoon excursion
  • van transportation as outlined in itinerary
  • complete guide services including cultural anthropologist expertise

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation as specified in the itinerary. It does not include taxi or shuttle service to/from airport to/from hotel.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Woodcut art depicting Afro-Mexican Devil Dance

Cost to Participate

  • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
  • $3,295 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)

Some Vocabulary and Terms

Who Should Attend

  • Explorers of indigenous cloth, native fibers
  • Collectors, curators and cultural appreciators
  • Textile and fashion designers
  • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors
  • Photographers and artists who want inspiration
  • Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration

Full Registration Policies, Procedures and Cancellations– Please READ

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of  30% of the total is due on or before October 1, 2019. The third 30% payment is due on or before December 1, 2019. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2019, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 1, 2019, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.

We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2019, there are no refunds.

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance: We require that you carry international accident/health insurance that includes $50,000+ of emergency medical evacuation insurance. Proof of insurance must be sent at least 45 days before departure.

In addition, we will send you by email a PDF of a witnessed waiver of responsibility, holding harmless Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We ask that you return this to us by email 45 days before departure. Unforeseen circumstances happen! Be certain your passport has at least six months on it before it expires from the date you enter Mexico!

Plane Tickets, Arrivals/Departures: Please send us your plane schedule at least 45 days before the trip. This includes name of carrier, flight numbers, arrival and departure time to our destination.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: We will do some walking and getting in/out of vans. If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please let us know before you register. This may not be the study tour for you.

Well-Being: If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let us know. Our travel to remote villages will be by van on secondary roads with curves, usually not for more than an hour or so. When you tell us you are ready to register, we will send you a health questionnaire to complete. If you have walking or car dizziness issues, this may not be the trip for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Note: Itinerary subject to schedule change and modification.