Monthly Archives: October 2008

Winter in Oaxaca — What To Pack?

This is high desert country.  The Oaxaca valley is 6,000 feet elevation surrounded by 9-12,000 foot mountains.  Winter days are high 60’s to mid-70’s, and can sometimes inch up to the 80’s, especially in a sunny, protected corner of a bougainville draped patio.  I recommend dressing in layers, especially if you’re out for the day and will continue on into the evening after the sun goes down without benefit of a stop back at your place of lodging.  Nights can get down to the low 50’s or high 40’s.  Brrr, chilly.  I always wear cushy wool or polypropylene socks because they allow my feet to breathe and stay warm, even if they get a little damp from too much hiking around.  My Keene low-rider hiking boots can keep me going on the cobblestone streets or dirt trails for a good 12 hours with reasonable comfort.  These are the basics that I take for the winter visits:

wool socks, long-sleeve wool or polypro T-shirts, a fleece vest, wool sweater, wool or chenille scarf, synthetic quick-dry hiking pants with secret hiding place pockets for money and passport, a long-sleeve cotton dress, outer jacket, sun hat for days, knit cap for evening, sunglasses, extra reading glasses, sunscreen, moleskin. You may even want to pack a pair of shorts and bathing suit — it’s tropical hot at the coast.

The daytime sun is strong enough to dry your clothes on a line the same day, even within hours, so there’s no benefit to packing more than you need.  The shopping is GREAT in Oaxaca and the surrounding villages and prices are VERY reasonable, so what you don’t bring you can easily buy.  Don’t forget, there’s Sam’s Club in Oaxaca and Fabrica de Francia that even carries Liz Claiborne!  It’s not the end of the earth.


Stephen and I are breathing a little easier now that the Chavez Family North Carolina artist residency is behind us.  For two weeks, we juggled cars, trucks and schedules so that Eric and Janet could be in Asheville, Pittsboro, Chapel Hill and Siler City for weaving and dyeing demonstrations, exhibitions, lectures, and gallery openings.  The residency was a resounding success.  They left on Saturday to go NYC, where Elsa joined them, to visit friends.  Eric is also introducing himself to NYC museums to make a connection and possible exchange of collections/exhibitions and educational programs for the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.

This Sunday, Oct. 26, I’m participating in a Retro Fashion Show to benefit the Chatham Artists Guild and Studio Tour, dancing down the runway in a 1960’s gold brocade dress with a boat collar.  I sprayed glue on my sandals and sprinkled glitter to match the dress, so I could be comfortable (no high heels for me).  I’m wearing a goofy gold hat that looks like a flying saucer with a huge gold bow that covers one ear. The show covers fashion from the 1920’s through to the 1980’s, complete with period music and social commentary-narration.  I’ll be sure to take photos.  The fashion show starts at 3 p.m. at the Fearrington Barn in Fearrington Village.  As an artist on the Chatham Studio Tour, #19 this year (, I’ve been invited to bring a jewelry piece to show and offer for sale at the event.  I’ve got a new collection which people are raving about.

I’ve completed my Facebook page and have bought Facebook ad (this is an experiment) to promote the Documentary Filmmaking Workshop in Oaxaca from January 31-February 6, 2009.  We have four people enrolled and are capping off at eight.  I’m looking at the cost and effectiveness of Google ads, too.  The Internet technology that encourages communication is fascinating, and I’m playing with posting workshop events on Facebook, too.  I’m also offering a weaving and natural dyeing workshop with the Chavez Santiago family during the same dates, so it’s going to be a busy January.

Coming up is a trip to Tucson to visit Carolina nursing school alumni, November 5-8.  I’ve invited my sister Barbara to meet me there, and we’ll go and visit the cemetary where our dad is buried.

What’s up for the future?  I’ve been talking with artist friends about teaching photography and painting workshops in Teotitlan in late 2009 or 2010, and scheduling another weaving workshop for July 2009 when teachers could take an arts residency for a week during summer vacation!

Pan Comida! Piece of Cake!

After hours of preparation, Eric and Janet hosted a free 3-hour after school workshop yesterday afternoon for Chatham County, NC teachers, for which they received in-service training credits from the school district.  There were seven teachers.  “The right people always show up,” I reassured them after a few expressed the wish that more would have participated. The workshop was included in the Grassroots Grant awarded to the NC Arts Incubator through Chatham Arts and the NC Arts Council.

We “set the table” with samples of hand carved fanciful wood animal figures, called alebrijes, that are brightly painted; a Francisco Toledo kite crafted from handmade paper; and miniature woven tapestries made with a hand-held cardboard loom.   Another table spilled over with supplies teachers are familiar with:  scissors, rulers, non-toxic paint, brushes, egg cartons, popsicle sticks, buttons, empty plastic bottles and metal cans, stencils of Zapotec rug patterns pre-cut from foam core board, strands of brightly colored and naturally dyed yarn, Elmer’s glue, plain brown wrapping paper, bamboo sticks, and string.

Several taught K-8 and covered art classes at every grade level.  One mentioned that kindergarten art classes go for 25 minutes, and we marveled at what could be taught or experienced in a 25 minute class period.  They were from all over the county, east to west, and said that Latino students 25% to 70% of the student population in their classrooms.  One told the story about a student who spoke no English, but who created extraordinary art and inspired his classmates.

After a brief presentation about the history and art of Oaxaca, the teachers constructed their own hand-held cardboard looms, warped them with string, and proceeded to weave miniature tapestries with yarn connected to a popsicle stick with masking tape, that they could then demonstrate to students.  Eric explained that this was a process he had taught to over 250 school children in Oaxaca with great success to understand the Zapotec culture and weaving techniques.  Some finished quickly and created their own alebrije, cutting, painting and glueing pieces of cardboard, plastic, drinking straws, and foam packing materials together.  Look, it’s an owl.  See the bat flying through the dark sky.  Another wanted to make a kite from brown wrapping paper and dowels, decorated with designs duplicated from the patterns of rugs hanging nearby.  We talked about whether kites need tails in order to fly.

When it was all over, the teachers left satisfied and with instructions about how to construct the loom and kite, and Eric exclaimed, “pan comida.”

The Art of the Woven Rug and the Dow-Jones

I read the NY Times online during multiple intervals daily, watch the stock market numbers slide and climb, and though I’m not even close to being an economist, I can understand a good part of what’s happening in our global economy thanks to the opinion moguls like Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, Bob Herbert, Maureen Dowd, and Frank Rich.  Good interpretation matters.  I live in North Carolina, the “other” land of banking, and was proud, a few months ago, that the residential real estate decline hadn’t hit Charlotte.  But, now — life is topsy turvy and not at all predictable.  Wachovia will be owned by Wells Fargo and my retirement fund is tanked.  I’ve heard the rhetoric change from “bailout” to “rescue” and a bunch of plans put forward to stimulate the economy.

Eric Chavez Santiago has been here in an artists residency for the past two weeks with his sister Janet.  They are weavers who work with natural dyes from the village of Teotitlan del Valle in Oaxaca, Mexico.  This week, the peso was valued at 13 to the dollar, the strongest the dollar has been against the peso in quite some time.  We have no idea WHY?  During the workshops, exhibitions and lectures that Eric and Janet have been giving, people are coming and definitely showing interest in the weaving and natural dyeing process.  The fact that a small Zapotec village is using sustainable environmental practices is an important point to share. Some of the people attending are even buying rugs, although their choices for the most part are for smaller, under $200 pieces, rather than the larger, more complex and costlier pieces on exhibit.  Few are using credit cards.  As we get ready to wrap up this visit with Eric and Janet, we’ve have longer discussions about what the future will bring.

This is Eric’s fifth trip to North Carolina in the last two years.  Now, he is employed full-time at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca, and his interests are evolving.  He is becoming more immersed in the use of natural dyes, wants to do more experimentation, and is focusing on teaching rather than on selling rugs.  As the stock market climbs, plummets, responds to our position in the global marketplace as an interdependent nation linked to European and Asian monetary systems, I see the effects.   Eric may not be able to depend upon the retail marketplace to sustain his family — but he can rely on his intelligence and knowledge to earn a steady income working in a great museum doing something he loves.

Eric and Janet talk about the unpredictability of being able to sell a rug here and there to put food on the family table in their village.  But, they can depend on what they know, have learned and will continue to learn.   Their knowledge will have marketability, perhaps more so than the art they make that is so time consuming to create and dependent on taste whims, trends, and tourism.   They will be able to lecture and teach to impart knowledge far into the future.  This will have lasting value.  But what will happen to the textiles if sales slow?  Will the art be abandoned?  Will we only be able to see these textiles in museums in 20 or 50 years?

So, Eric does not know when he may return to North Carolina or the U.S.  Perhaps he will return but not as frequently and for different purposes.  If his sister becomes a teacher of linguistics and his brother becomes an engineer or doctor, and he becomes an international expert on textile art, who will be the creators of the art?

So, as We The People invest in rescuing the banks to increase liquidity, who will invest in rescuing the art and the culture that creates the art?

It’s a Wrap: Last 2008 NC Event–Fri., Oct. 17 Siler City Art Walk

This Friday, Oct. 17, 6-9 pm, marks the last event for the Chatham artist residency of weavers Eric and Janet Chavez Santiago. They will be at the NC Arts Incubator, 223 N. Chatham Ave., Historic Siler City, for an exhibition and discussion of their work during the town’s Third Friday Artwalk. At 8:30 pm, a raffle will be held for the handwoven and cochineal dyed 100% wool rug created by Janet Chavez Santiago.  Tickets are still available, and at most, only 100 will be sold at $10 each.  For information, contact Sue Szary, director, NC Arts Incubator, 663-1335.

The Chavez Santiago family are from the Zapotec village of Teotitlan del Valle, renown throughout the world for its rug weaving.  The family is only one of a handful in the village who dye their own wool using only natural plant materials and insects native to the region.  Rugs are woven from the churro sheep, whose wool is carded, handspun, washed and dyed before weaving.  Intricate and ancient traditional rug designs represent carvings found on area archeological sites and in the pre-Hispanic codices recreated by anthropologists.  Colors of blue come from the indigo plant, tan and green from pomegranate, red, pink, orange and purple from the cochineal insect, and yellow from wild marigolds.  Eric is the coordinator of education at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca.

Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to see how this beautiful art form contributes to sustainable indigenous culture.  It may be some time before they return.