Tag Archives: workshop

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


Aye, My Aching Back! Keep the DSLR or Opt for Lighter Camera?

For the past three weeks I’ve been traveling in buses, airplanes, vans, taxis and collectivos in Mexico City, and the States of Mexico and Michoacan to discover more of Mexico. I’ve walked a fair piece over cobblestones and uneven pathways. I’ve climbed pre-Hispanic archeological pyramids with steps that are taller than me. All the while, hauling my wonderful Nikon D7000 (now getting a little beat up) and the big honker Nikkor 17-55mm photojournalist lens. I get great photos from this equipment, but I’m tired and can feel the weight in my back and shoulders. Is it time to give up this camera and lens?

I asked Italian photographer Alex (Alessio) Coghe, who lives in Mexico City, why he uses a lighter-weight mirrorless camera. Here is what he said. Perhaps this will interest you as you consider how much you want to schlepp around, too! All advice welcome.

My Choice by Alex Coghe

Many times people ask why I moved to mirrorless and compact cameras for my photography. As a commercial photographer, this has been my choice since 2010. In 2009, I spent two months in Mexico. It was my first visit and during it I never used my Nikon equipment, preferring to use an high-end compact camera: the Panasonic Lumix LX3.


When I returned to Italy with a plan to get back to Mexico, I decided to sell all my Nikon gear to buy an Olympus E-P1 with its 17mm pancake lens which is equivalent to a 34mm in full frame. I can remember many friends saying I was crazy.

Well, now I use one camera and one lens and became a converted professional photographer with no remorse. Today, I see many photographers who decide to switch from DSLRs to mirrorless. In particular, I have colleagues who are choosing Fujifilm X series cameras, mostly X100 and XPRO.

Now I need to clarify that I never particularly loved digital reflex. I come from analog photography and I always preferred point & shoot cameras. I never liked the design and the approach of a DSLR, hiding my face behind a black plastic piece simply doesn’t work for what I do in the street.

Moreover, I always preferred to see what my eyes are seeing and not a reflection of the mirror system through the lens. This is an important part of my choice: I prefer to frame through an optical viewfinder. I do not fear the parallax error: Is it not the way the masters have photographed for almost a century?

As of this moment, I work with a Leica X2, a Fujifilm X100S, a Fujifilm X30 and sometimes I still use film cameras.

I am a commercial photographer, mostly working with models.  I am into fashion and and street photography. Small compact cameras allow me to have visual contact with the subjects. This is very important for my kind of approach and way to work because the psychological aspect is very important.

As a street photographer, I need compact, light cameras that allow me to work all day in the street. I also need the discretion and the “invisibility” offered by a small camera. For this reason I think the new rangefinder cameras are perfect for my work. Most of the cameras like this have a fantastic pre-set focus system, so I usually use full manual and zone focus when it comes to street photography.

A camera should not be an obstacle but something that can be an extension of my arm, just to satisfy my approach and get close to my vision.  My choice with the cameras is perfect for me and my work.

Norma’s Note: Thanks so much, Alex for contributing to Oaxaca Cultural Navigator. Now, I have some direction about what I may choose next. So hard to give up what you are used to. But, that’s true in almost anything that requires change, verdad?

Check out Alex’s website for 2015 Day of the Dead photo workshop in Oaxaca!

 Faces & Festivals Photography Workshop in Chiapas, early January with Denver photographer Matt Nager. Discounts for 2 people. Budget options. 

Memoir Writing Workshop: Pilgrims, Immigrants, and Travelers

Memoir is a way to express where we are, where we have been and where we are going. Both women and men are welcome to participate. Everyone has an important story to tell.

Arrive Sunday March 13, 2016 and depart Saturday, March 19, 2016.

This six-day intensive writing workshop uses memoir to position the self and understand our worlds. We’ll focus on themes related to life’s journeys, starting with roots and family stories. Using inspiration drawn from food, art, nature, politics and more, we’ll tell our own tales of culture, identity, change, loss and transformation.

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As a literary nonfiction genre, memoir represents reminiscence — a story, an event or a turning point. Akin to autobiography, memoir can have more focus and is similar to narrative nonfiction. However you choose to approach it, each of us has a story to tell about the evolution of our life and how we came to this place called now. We open this door to you to bring your memoir to life – to start it, continue it or take it to its rightful conclusion.


Memoir writing raises the issue of truth—is what we remember accurate, and is that even important? Craft and focus allow truth to emerge within the container of writing. Ruth Benedict beautifully said: Experience, contrary to common belief, is mostly imagination. Combining both experience and imagination, we’ll tell our stories.

We will also learn and explore classic and traditional memoir forms, including the letter, the list, the diary, personal essay, and the haibun (poetry with prose). Expect examples from the ancient world, Japan, Mexico, and contemporary literature.

In addition, there will be an emphasis on revision and completion, and on writing for an audience. We include an overview of markets for memoir, including short pieces, personal blogs, and independent publishers. Each participant will also meet with Miriam privately for a personal review and coaching session.

About Workshop Leader Miriam Sagan

Miriam Sagan, associate professor in creative writing at Santa Fe (NM) Community College, where she created and directs the creative writing program, is our memoir writing workshop leader. Miriam has over twenty-five award-winning books of memoir, poetry and fiction published with academic presses, independent publishers, and well-known literary presses. Honors include a New Mexico Book Award, Best Memoir of the Year from Independent Publishers Association, Pushcart Prize nominations, and a finalist from New Mexico PEN women, and Mountains and Plains Booksellers.


She has taught workshops at the Aspen Writer’s Conference, Taos Institute of Arts, Wheaton College, Antioch College, Colorado College, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and the Border Book Festival.

A versatile author, Miriam Sagan’s published books include poetry, fiction, memoir as well as writing techniques. In the past several years, she has participated in mixed-media installations that include writing, poetry and art.

Miriam’s work has appeared in over 200 magazines in the United States, Canada, England, Japan, and France, including: Agni Review, American Poetry Review, Blue Mesa Review, Boston Phoenix, Christian Science Monitor, Exquisite Corpse, Family Circle, Fish Drum, Frank, Hollis Critic, Indiana Review, Luna, Mademoiselle Magazine, Maenad, Mothering Magazine, Ms. Magazine, New Mexico Humanities Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Paragraph, Permafrost, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Now, Poets On, The Sun, Yellow Silk, and West Branch.

She is editor of Another Desert: Jewish Poetry of New Mexico, Sherman Asher Publishing 1998, with Joan Logghe; and New Mexico Poetry Renaissance: 41 Poets, a Community on Paper, Red Crane, 1994, with Sharon Niederman. Benjamin Franklin Award.

Miriam Sagan holds degrees in writing and English from Harvard University and Boston University.

Her blog, Miriam’s Well, has a thousand daily readers. The blog has published and promoted the work of hundreds of writers and artists, with a special emphasis on Santa Fe’s West Side and Railyard neighborhoods

About Norma Schafer

Norma Schafer has produced arts and educational programs in Oaxaca, Mexico, through Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC since 2006. She is a published writer and photographer. The workshops she organizes are attended by participants from throughout the U.S., Canada and from as far as Australia. During her twenty-five year career in higher education, Norma has produced national award-winning programs for Indiana University, University of Virginia, George Washington University, and The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She holds the B.A. from California State University at Northridge and the M.S. from the University of Notre Dame.


The Workshop Schedule

Our location is inspiring and tranquil. You are immersed in an indigenous village with 8,000 years of language, history and culture.

Sunday, March 13:  Arrive and check-in to our Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, B&B inn. Informal supper included for those who arrive by 8 p.m. (D)

Monday, March 14 to Friday, March 18: After breakfast, meet for learning session and workshop. The workshop is time to give and take feedback about works in progress. Take a lunch break and then use the afternoon for independent writing and/or to explore this ancient Zapotec village. Dinner is daily at 7:30 p.m. You may want to gather on the rooftop terrace to watch the sunset, sip a refreshment and talk with instructor and participants, or spend your time in evening writing and reflection.

Friday, March 18: End-of-Workshop Evening Celebration and Reading – an opportunity to select your best of week work to read before the group.

Saturday, March 19: After breakfast, leave for home or continue your travels independently.

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What Is Included

For participants in residence, daily 8:30 a.m. breakfast and 7:20 p.m. dinner are included in your workshop fee. Daily lunch is on your own. The workshop includes all instruction, a private coaching session with Miriam, and the gala celebration dinner. For non-resident participants, lodging and meals are not included except noted below.

Optional Activities

During the week, we will schedule optional outings that are sure to inspire your creativity: cooking class, temescal sweat lodge, Zapotec massage, weaving and natural dye demonstrations, local hikes, visits to nearby archeological sites and more. We will send more details and costs of these activities to you before the workshop starts.

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About Lodging and Accommodations

Our workshop is in the rural Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle. Yes, there is Internet connection and coffee shops that prepare good cappuccino and chai latte! The bed and breakfast inn where we stay is a family home within a large patio. Accommodations are clean and basic. We offer a few rooms with private bath. Other rooms share a guest bath across the courtyard.

Workshop Cost

Non-Resident Participant:  $695 per person, does not include lodging or meals. It includes all instruction, one private one-hour coaching session, one gala dinner.

Resident Participant: A limited number of double occupancy rooms with private bath, and single occupancy rooms with private bath are available. Please indicate your preference below.  Requests are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.

[  ]  $795 per person, shared room, double occupancy with shared bath.

[  ] $995 per person, shared room, double occupancy, with private bath.

[  ]  $1,095 per person, single room with private bath.

Residency Program cost includes 6 nights lodging, 6 breakfasts, 6 dinners, all instruction, one private coaching session for one-hour.

The program does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.


Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit guarantees your reservation. The last payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be made by January 15, 2016.  We use PayPal for all deposits and final payments.  Tell us you are ready to register and we will send you an invoice for the deposit.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After January 15, 2016, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every possible effort to fill your reserved space.  If you cancel before January 15, 2016, we will refund 50% of your deposit.


Required Travel and Medical Insurance

We require that you take out an international travel insurance policy that includes $500,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for proof of purchase. Thank you for understanding since unforeseen circumstances are possible and that’s what “accidents” are.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact:  norma.schafer@icloud.com

Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC, produces this workshop.

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Antiques in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, Tlacolula, Oaxaca

There is a tall, inconspicuous door on a San Pablo Villa de Mitla side street. Open it and discover a home gallery filled with antique treasures. The inventory is small and includes ancient stone metates, glass vases hand-painted with flowers and edged in gold, reliquaries and ex votos. Señor Epifanio knows his stuff.

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Scott Roth holding an old Mitla hand-woven textile

Upstairs via a narrow, concrete passageway painted in brilliant blue is a gallery filled with blown glass mezcal bottles, remnants of the time when this was how the agave liquor was stored. They are hard to find and very expensive.

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Dolls, old photos, books, chachkeh from Mitla, Oaxaca

Occasionally, there is a jewelry find, like the Mexican silver coin earrings from the early part of the 20th century. I returned a month later to buy them and they were gone. Rule for Shopping in Mexico: buy it when you see it. Usually, these things are one-of-a-kind.

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Hand-blown mezcal and water bottles, most from Oaxaca, 1950’s-1960’s

I’m reluctant to share the address and contact information. Only because I haven’t asked permission to cite the location, plus these things are getting scarce, and with scarcity comes higher prices. As demand rises, prices do, too. So, why am I publishing this?

So you can see the photos, of course.

Faces and Festivals Chiapas Photography Workshop

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Portrait of Scott Roth with old Zapotec textile from Teotitlan del Valle


Teotitlan del Valle Young Photographers Show at Oaxaca Photography Center

The work of young photographers, ages seven to twelve, from Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, were featured at a festive gallery exhibition that opened last Saturday at the Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo.

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They participated in a year-and-a-half photography education project called Nuevas Visiones. Narrando historias visuales en Teotitlán del Valle —  New visions: Narrating Visual Histories in Teotitlan del Valle, sponsored by the photography center and various donors.

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The students met monthly in their village learning camera techniques, lighting and composition, and were given assignments, mostly just to wander and capture what interested them most.

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Juan Enrique Mendoza Sanchez, age 12, Teotitlan del Valle, in front of his photo


  • Uriel Bazán
  • Adriana Vicente Gutierrez
  • Montserrat Vicente Gutierrez
  • Juan Enrique Mendoza Sánchez
  • Beatriz Ruíz Lazo
  • Antonio Ruiz Lazo
  • Juan Diego Gutierrez Martínez
  • Uziel Montaño Ruiz
  • Javier Lazo Gutiérrez 

The instructor is Eva Alicia Lépiz. Thanks to Javier Lazo Gutierrez, age 25, course teaching assistant, for sending me this list and to Daniel Brena, director of Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and Ixchel Castellon, independent cultural manager, for producing this important program

Subjects ranged from brothers, sisters, a bedroom still life, and burros with the sacred mountain Picacho as backdrop.

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What amazed me in looking at the work through the eyes of young people was what they chose to focus on. Subjects we might consider mundane became, in their eyes, beautiful, dramatic and meaningful. A lesson for adults to learn.

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Family members and friends mostly gathered in the courtyard of the Centro Fotografico Manuel Alvarez Bravo to celebrate the accomplishments.

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The center helped with cameras and instruction. The village provided meeting space and local people gave support.

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Above left: instructor Eva Alicia Lepiz.

This is an excellent way to bring young people in closer touch with the visual senses around them and give emphasis to a creative form of personal expression.

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Other communities whose young people participate in this innovative outreach program include San Bartolo Coyotepec, Rancho Tejas and El Rosario Temextitlan.

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Above left is Javier Lazo Gutierrez, age 25, who was the teaching assistant for the course. He is a very accomplished photographer!

Funding is made possible through a generous grant from Homeruns Banamex 2014 and the Fundacion Alfredo Harp Helu de Oaxaca.

[Chiapas Faces and Festivals: Photography Workshop produced by Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, set for end of January 2016]

Don’t miss this exhibition. It’s a fresh view of the world.