Tag Archives: travel

Oaxaca, Mexico: Source for Natural Dye Textiles

It’s an ongoing discovery. Finding the weavers who work with natural dyes. They live and work in humble homes or grander casas, on back alleys, dirt streets, cobbled avenues, main highways, hillsides and flat-lands. Their studios are filled with the aroma and sights of natural materials — stinky indigo dye vats, wood burning fires, prickly pear nopal cactus studded with insects that yield intense red.

All photos © Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

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In this photo, above left, dyer/weaver Juana prepares ground cochineal on the traditional metate, grinding the dried insect by hand until it is a fine powder, ready to make a dye bath for wool that will be used for rugs. Above right, tree moss waits for the dye pot.

That’s why I’ve organized one-day natural dye textile study tours to explore this artisanal process.

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Above left, ikat rebozo with natural dyes of wild marigold, cochineal and indigo from San Pablo Villa de Mitla. Right, wool on the loom.

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

You know how committed I am to the artisans who work with natural dyes. It is a laborious and vertical process — winding the yarn, preparing the dye baths, dyeing the yarn, then weaving it. To create textiles using natural dyes takes time and is a many-step process. I believe the people who work this way deserve special attention and support.

Nopal Cactus and Indigo, copyright 2016 Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC

Nopal Cactus and Indigo, copyright 2016 Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

They start with the natural wool that comes from the mountains surrounding the Oaxaca valley. The best wool is hand-spun for strength and has no additives, like nylon or polyester, to lower cost.

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Then, indigo and cochineal is bought from local Oaxaca sources. Both are expensive, now about 1,800 MXN pesos per kilo. Synthetic dyes are a fraction of this cost and only requires one-step to produce colored yarn.

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Other dye sources are wild marigold, pecan leaves and shells, pomegranate fruit, tree moss, eucalyptus bark, black zapote fruit and much more.  The wool needs to be washed of lanolin and mordanted to absorb and fix the natural dye so it will not fade. To get a full range of color, local weavers and dyers use over dyes, too.

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When the yarns are colored they are then ready to weave. Depending on size and material density, a piece can take from one week to several months.

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It takes a special person who understands quality of materials and finished product to work this way. The process is organic, sustainable and environmentally sound.

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2016 Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera: Mexico City Art History Study Tour

Come to Mexico City to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art. This is in-depth art history education at its best! We offer you a narrated cultural immersion that you can miss if you visit on your own. Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Schafer participates in all programs. Small group size limited to 8 people for quality experience.

 

2016 Schedule

  • February 11-15, 2016
  • March 31-April 4, 2016

Arrive and meet for a group dinner on Thursday at 7 p.m. We will have a long weekend — three full days —  to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

Man Controller of the Universe 1934 replicates mural destroyed at Rockefeller Center

Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history, and their personal lives together. Theirs is a story of Mexico’s development as a post-revolutionary modern nation. You will also meet their contemporaries, muralists Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Sequieros, as you compare and contrast their collective work.

If you want to register, send me an email. Tell me the dates you prefer!

A few little nips

A few little nips — Frida painted this after Rivera’s affair with her sister

This is an incredible experience! The Rivera murals at the Secretary of Public Education building were like nothing I expected. The scale, the intensity, the variation of themes, the continual flow of connecting  vignettes – just mind blowing! It isn’t just an art tour. It is an intense immersion into the beginning of an art movement, a cultural movement, and a culmination of historic events that come alive. — Christine Bouton, North Carolina

 

Our expert guide is a noted art historian who holds a master’s degree in art history who is about to embark on a doctoral program. She shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists, narrates the expedition, and leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School
  • Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

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Yes, you can visit these places independently. But it’s not likely you will get the same in-depth knowledge, insights, and perspectives if you do.

 

She called him toad. He was 20 years older. They were passionate about life, politics, each other. They shaped the world of modern art and she became an icon in her own right, creating an independent identity that serves as a role model for women. They were twice married and unfaithful, the subjects of books and film, and art retrospectives around the world.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park mural covers 500 years of Mexican history

Rivera’s Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park survived 1985 earthquake

Casa Azul  — Museo Frida Kahlo is a tribute to the life of both artists. Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño holds the largest private collection of Frida and Diego paintings in the world. Lola Olmedo was a benefactor and life-long personal friend of Rivera who became executor of his estate that included Casa Azul.

 

Rivera’s mural at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) covers detailed Mexican history, from pre-Hispanic America to the Spanish Conquest through industrialization, including the French and U.S. invasions, from 1521 to 1930.

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival, painted this mural at Palacio Bellas Artes

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival, painted this mural at Palacio Bellas Artes

Plus, you will have lots of options for independent exploration: shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants!

Lunch at the gourmet Mercado San Juan

Lunch at the gourmet Mercado San Juan

See our reviews on Trip Advisor!

Base Trip Includes:

  • welcome dinner at renown restaurant Azul Historico
  • guided discussions by an expert art historian educated at UNAM and Southern Methodist University
  • introduction to Norma’s favorite restaurants (meals not included) and folk art galleries
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum
  • complete travel packet and readings sent in advance via email

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Also consider Evoking Frida Kahlo: Making Altars + Shrines Mixed Media Art Workshop — honor a loved one or create a self-portrait visual memoir

Preliminary Itinerary

  • Day 1, Thursday:  Meet for group dinner at 7 p.m. at Restaurant Azul Historico near the Zocalo. Dinner included in your tour cost. Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Day 2, Friday: guided visit to SEP, Colegio de San Idlefonso, where Diego met Frida, and the Abelardo Rodriguez market where Rivera’s students, including Pablo O’Higgins, painted. Lunch and dinner on your own. Overnight in Mexico City.
One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28, this one mocking the bourgeoisie

  • Day 3, Saturday: guided visit to Palacio Bellas Artes and Museo Mural de Diego Rivera. Optional folk art shopping or visit to Anthropology Museum. Lunch and dinner on your own. Overnight in Mexico City.
Palacio Bellas Artes built during Porfirio Diaz presidency

Palacio Bellas Artes built during the 30-year Porfirio Diaz presidency

  • Day 4, Sunday:  guided visit to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño. Includes transportation. Lunch on your own. Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Depart on Monday for home.
The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional looks like Europe

Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more!  Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack treasures you pick up along the way.

  • Base Cost:  $595 USD per person without lodging.
  • Upgrade: $895 USD per person double occupancy, includes 4 nights lodging.
  • Single Supplement offered: $1,195 USD

Choose the upgrade and stay with us at a comfortable bed and breakfast inn located in the historic center of Mexico City with breakfast included.

Tiffany glass ceiling at El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

Tiffany glass ceiling at El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico — an optional stop on our tour

What the base cost does not  include:

  • lodging — we can recommend wonderful hotels in the historic center of Mexico City where you can make and pay for your own lodging arrangements directly, such as Chill Out Flat B&B, Hotel Catedral or Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico.
  • meals except noted in itinerary, alcoholic beverages
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • museum admission fees
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services

Base Cost:  $595. USD per person. Small group experience. Maximum: 8 people.

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Upgrade: $895. USD per person double occupancy, includes B&B lodging with breakfast, private bath for four nights, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Otherwise, all exceptions noted above apply.

Single Supplement: $1,195. USD for private room and bath.

Optional: Arrive early and/or stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will give you a list  of recommendations to explore on your own.

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Reservations and Cancellations.  A 50% deposit will guarantee your spot.  The last payment for the balance is due 45 days before the program start date. Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will send you an itemized PayPal invoice.

Please understand that we make arrangements months in advance of the program. Deposits or payments in full are often required.  If cancellation is necessary, please tell us in writing by email. After 45 days before the program starts, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel on or before the 45 day date, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Frida died July 12, 1954 not long after she painted these watermelons

Frida died July 13, 1954, at age 47, not long after she painted these watermelons

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a signed and witnessed waiver of liability, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

 

To register, email us at norma.schafer@icloud.com. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

Frida’s sketchbook and journal. Notice the one deformed leg from childhood polio.

This workshop is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.

A note to Frida from Diego two years after her death … “you live in my heart.”

Paint brushes in Frida’s studio at Casa Azul, exactly as she left them

 

Diego Rivera Murals at Secretariat of Public Education (SEP), Mexico City

Diego Rivera, Mexico’s famed muralist, returned there from Europe in 1921 at the invitation of Jose Vasconcelos, Mexico’s Secretary of Public Education, to paint three floors of murals in the national headquarters that was once a Franciscan convent.

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From 1923 to 1928, Rivera worked in the building with assistants to create 125 panels that would help define a new nation after the 1910 revolution. Over a million people died in the 10 year conflict that most historians now call a civil war.

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The idea for the murals was to coalesce the various post-war factions and shape a national identity that would recognize its indigenous roots, valuing the work of the peasant, the common man. At the heart of the message was that better education and health care would lift up the nation.

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On the first floor, mural topics focus on Mexican festivals and labor. The second floor concentrates on science and technology. On the third floor, Rivera translated the populist approach to government to reflect his own ideology as a communist.

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The themes of the worker, the enlisted soldier and the peasant are repeated throughout. Here we see Frida Kahlo depicted as a revolutionary heroine.  Ribbons with heroic revolutionary messages connect the frescoes.

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The last of the murals, painted in 1928 are a portend to the 1929 stock market crash. They depict the greed of industrialists and the church, the debauchery and waste, and the widening distance between the wealthy and poor, the cynical and the hopeful.

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The murals undergo constant restoration. A group of full-time art restorer-fresco painters are employed to prevent deterioration. There is usually always a team of two or more people, paint brush in hand, high up on scaffolding.

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They told us that they paint in exactly the same brush strokes as Rivera, but like any building restoration of antiquities, there is always a telltale mark that indicates it is not the original.

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Our group of six, plus our art historian Valeria, immersed ourselves into this intensive study tour day that started at 9:30 a.m. and ended after lunch. I counted almost 13,000 steps as we walked around the historic center of Mexico City, visiting SEP and two other mural locations.

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If you are interested in joining us for a comprehensive, intensive four-day art history tour in Mexico City this winter or spring, please contact me.

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These photos were all taken with my Nikon D7000 camera and the Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8G lens. This is a prime lens (no zoom), so I got lots of close ups and had to move my feet to get perspective. I prefer total control over my photos so I use the manual setting with autofocus, choosing aperture and shutter speed.

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I’m having trouble learning the new Olympus mirrorless, so set it aside for a while. It works really well in automatic. I can’t seem to get it to work with manual setting.

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Travel Day: Santa Cruz, California to Mexico City

This was an experiment. It seemed easy enough and the cost was far less: take a Southwest Airlines (WNA) flight from San Jose (SJC), California. Connect in Orange County (SNA) and fly directly from there to Mexico City. Arrive in time for an afternoon nap and settle in. Easy.

Santa Cruz Pier & Amusement ParkExcept that even by arriving at the airport by 5 a.m., the hour-and-a-half line to get through security meant that I missed my flight by two minutes. Along with about 40 other people. We stood in another line for an hour to get rebooked. And, with few options, I have a six-hour delay plus the hop-hop-hop flight plan that Southwest is famous for, going first to Las Vegas, then Houston, then Mexico City.  Ah, the vagaries of travel during peak season (after Thanksgiving) wtih a high security alert on top of that.

 

So, here’s the good news. I’m in the SJC airport editing photographs that I took on my new mirrorless Olympus OMD M5 Mark II camera in Santa Cruz. It weighs a fraction of my Nikon D7000 when I use the 17-55mm Nikkor lens, which is a big plus! I did a lot of research before I bought this one, so here is hoping.

 

The verdict is still out on whether the photo quality matches up. But, I’m inclined to consider that the convenience could outweigh any negatives.  I’m still learning the settings, so we shall see.

 

This post includes experimental photos I took with my sister and son in Santa Cruz on West Cliff Drive overlooking the famous area where surfers, runners and strollers convene. The perfect beach life, even at the end of November.

This was a great last day in California, perfect for focusing out onto the horizon.

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View of Monterey Bay from West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz, California

 

Rebozos, Guitars and Masks in Michoacan, Mexico

I’ve been back in Oaxaca for almost two weeks, and my mind is still on Michoacan, the last leg of my September journey, and the rebozos woven there. When I came to Oaxaca years ago, I thought it would be the perfect place from which to explore other parts of Mexico, north and south. And so it is.

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Sharing the Journey to Ahuiran, Paracho, Michoacan

Ahuiran is a small Purepecha village about an hour and a half from Patzcuaro in the Mexican state of Michoacan, high on the Maseta Purepecha (plateau) near Uruapan. It’s a beautiful drive through fertile farmland, green hills, pastures and tree-lined roads. And, it’s safe. For a complete discussion of Purepecha culture and history, click here.

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Ahuiran rebozo concurso: And the winners are …

Ahuiran women are famous for their hand-woven rebozos made on the back strap loom. They wear what they weave. Not many in other parts of Mexico still adorn themselves in traditional traje. Rebozo-making and wearing is a dying art.

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This winner has rayon fringe that looks like peacock feathers.

I joined a group of Patzcuaro women friends to go to a rebozo fair, which was really a concurso, or regional competition to select the best of the best. I could not pass up another chance to see great rebozos. I vowed not to buy another. Hah!

Travel with me to Tenancingo, Estado de Mexico, February 3-11, 2016, for the Mexico Textile and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos & More

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We discovered this competition was more than rebozos. It included wood carving and string instrument making, art forms that are translated to furniture, masks, violins, cellos and guitars.

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The judges came from Morelia and they took their time to make their selections. Patience is the keyword for being in Mexico.

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We arrived around 1:00 p.m. and waited. Milled around. Fingered hand-embroidered blouses. Ogled the rebozos that were brought in by the weavers to display for the competition.

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Watched the passing fashion parade of glittery pleated skirts and flashy fringe. I saw a mask I liked and negotiated a price and bought it long before the judging started. A lovely young man carved it and asked me if I needed a gardner.

I was assured by the lady who embroidered the animal on this blouse (below right) that it was not a dog but a personal spirit protector. Many women were wearing similar blouses that were finely embroidered. Just not my style.

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We looked for lunch. I had my eye on the fish sizzling in oil. (I knew it would be well-cooked.) I walked around the mask table a few more times and did the same to take a closer look at the Paracho instruments. Had an ice cream, and waited some more. In Mexico one learns the virtue of patience quickly.

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The Ahuiran rebozos are different from the ikat technique found in Tenancingo de Degollado in the State of Mexico. Here, they are heavier cotton. The traditional rebozos are black with blue and white pin stripes. Now, the color palette is extensive and can include lots of shiny rayon.

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The viewing stands filled up with villagers and I noticed a very regal, elegant woman with an extraordinary embroidered blue and yellow skirt. This turned out to be Cecilia Bautista, a Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art.

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Cecilia is proud that she was the first weaver to experiment with incorporating real feathers on the fringes. The idea came to her 22 years ago when she learned about feather work done in pre-Hispanic times by her people, the Purepecha (or Tarascans, as the Spanish called them).

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Cecilia’s family of musicians came to entertain the crowd by playing traditional songs on their string instruments, all hand-made. Women came forward to dance, including Cecilia. These are worthy of a major symphony orchestra performance.

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At 4:00 p.m. the judges were ready to announce the rebozo winners. How did they choose? Density and intricacy of the textile weave. How it draped when they put it on. The soft, silkiness of the fabric. Whether it had a straight edge. The length and technical elaboration of the punta (fringe).  There was a special category for puntas that included feathers, too!

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And the mask I bought got the first place prize in the category!

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There were six gringas who came from Patzcuaro for this event. Three of us left with a rebozo, priced between 1,500 and 3,000 pesos.

Best61_AhuiranMorelia-45Best61_AhuiranMorelia-48This was a festival day in Ahuiran. There were carnival rides, a special market, lots of vendors, cotton candy and barbecue. All the women came out in their best rebozos. The wives of the village leaders were totally decked out, complete with jumbo hair ribbons and the sparkliest skirts. The more confetti the merrier.

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We returned along the same route we arrived on, with volcano peaks on the horizon, men stooping over fields planted with potatoes, Purepecha villages with still a few of the original pre-Hispanic style wood homes called trojes (built without nails) still standing. It was a glorious day. Along the roadside, a spray of wildflowers, mostly cosmos, were coming into their color, necks stretching to the sun, heads waving in the breeze.

Here in Oaxaca, nights have turned chilly. Days are mild and sunny with a light breeze. We celebrate the Virgin of Rosario with bands, parades and dances. At this moment the firecrackers are booming. Soon, it will be time for loved ones to return during Dia de los Muertos. The cempazuchitl is in bloom. All is well in my world and I hope the same for yours.