Monthly Archives: November 2011

Clay Times Magazine Features Dolores Porras Video Review

Oaxaca is known for folk art and especially pottery.  Potter Dolores Porras was one of those exceptional self-taught people who took their traditions, skill and creativity to the next level.  The Atzompa pueblo, where she lived and worked, provided the cooking vessels and ornamental pottery for Monte Alban, one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica.

The autumn issue of Clay Times magazine reviewed the video about Dolores and her work.  Dolores Porras died in early November 2010.  She is missed by many.  When I visited her studio in February 2010 she was suffering from Parkinson’s and there were only a few pieces left on the shelves of her home gallery.  This video, created by potter Michael Peed, captures Dolores in the fullness of her creative expression. Today, in the Atzompa pueblo, about 30 minutes outside of Oaxaca city, there are many who produce beautiful pottery.  Some are adaptations of the style Dolores Porras developed, including the wonderful work of Teodora Blanco.

Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop: Connecting with Your Subject

Arrive Monday, April 2 and depart Monday, April 9, 2012 — Semana Santa, Holy Week in Oaxaca, Mexico — 8 Days, 7 Nights  

Creating a great portrait requires a combination of recognizing good light, applying technical skill and aesthetic judgment, and communicating with your subject. Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, we will gather on location with photographer/instructor Matt Nager to build upon the basics behind conceiving, developing, and creating powerful portraits.  We offer a particularly rich visual experience since our program is held during Holy Week or Semana Santa just before Easter.

Using an ethnographic approach, participants will photograph local subjects to create natural and expressive images.  This cultural immersion travel photography experience brings you in contact with indigenous people in their own communities who are celebrating centuries old traditions.

Portrait photography doesn’t need to be complicated and often will create lasting memories for both the photographer and the person being photographed. This workshop will teach you all the skills needed to simplify the portrait process and make it fun!

Who should attend?  The workshop is for amateurs as well as intermediate and advanced photographers who are new to portraiture and who want to know more about lighting.  Our approach demystifies the portrait by simplifying both natural and artificial lighting situations. We strip down often overly complicated conditions to bring the photographer face-to-face with the subject.

Workshop Topics:

  • Practicing your portraiture skills through daily assignments
  • Using natural light and responding to different lighting situations
  • Directing your subject through varying body positions
  • Orchestrating on-location lighting setups
  • Identifying your own photographic style
  • Finding and executing portraits “on the fly”
  • Marketing and developing your business to build a clientele
  • Coaching sessions one-on-one with the instructor

Each day we will discuss different techniques and review the images you have shot.  There will be plenty of time for discussion, feedback, and sharing of ideas and experiences.  We will address topics such as: How do you stay inspired?  What do you say and do to sustain authentic connection with your subject?  How do you prepare yourself to stay open, interested, and flexible?

We will devote one session to marketing and creating a successful portrait photography business. Matt will share his methods for reaching potential clients and marketing photography.  Business development strategies will include how to create effective websites, email campaigns, stock sales, and developing a marketing calendar.

At the end of our week together, we will select our best portraits and hold a group show and reception, inviting local guests.  It is an extraordinary gift and cultural exchange.

A complete itinerary and daily schedule will be provided after you register.

A word about equipment and experience:  We will offer a list of “what to bring” after you register! All levels are welcome, from beginner to advanced.  The techniques learned in this workshop can be applied to any camera and format.  However, for the best experience, we suggest that each participant bring a digital SLR camera and laptop computer or iPad for editing images, and an external flash.

Students should know how to use their cameras beyond the automatic setting (we are happy to send you resources on request) and be able to import photos onto a computer. Our class will focus on subject interaction and lighting and not on basic camera use. Of course, Matt will be available for any technical questions about camera use and lighting equipment. If you have any questions about your skill level, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss this with you, offering support to get you ready to participate with us.

Your Workshop Leader is Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Matt has over 10 years of photography experience. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with several newspapers including the Dallas Morning News and the Rocky Mountain News. In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (unhappy country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal.  His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Matt speaks English and Spanish, and is learning Italian.  His work is at:


Workshop Includes:

  • 7 nights lodging
  • 7 breakfasts
  • 4 group lunches
  • 3 group dinners
  • group transportation when part of itinerary
  • guided visits to local markets, artisan workshops
  • 18+ hours of instruction
  • one 45-minute personal coaching session

Lodging/Accommodations and Cost

We will spend the first three nights in Oaxaca City and the last four nights in the Zapotec rug weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle. To keep this program affordable, we have selected clean and basic accommodations in Oaxaca City and in Teotitlan del Valle.  In Teotitlan, you will stay at a bed and breakfast inn that is part of the family compound.  We offer you delicious local meals made from scratch.  If you desire upscale accommodations in Oaxaca City, let me know and we can arrange this for a premium.  No luxury lodging is available in the village.

Base Cost: $1395 per person double occupancy with shared bath facilities.  Single rooms are available with a single supplement. A limited number of double occupancy rooms with private bath, and single occupancy with private bath are available. Please indicate your preference below.

[  ]  Option 1: I will share a room, double occupancy with shared bath, $1395 per person.

[  ]  Option 2:  I prefer a single room with shared bath for a total of $1495 per person.

[  ]  Optional 3:  I will share a room, double occupancy, with private bath for a total of $1495.

[  ]  Option 4:  I prefer a single room with private bath for a total of $1695.

[  ]  Option A:  5-hour Zapotec cooking class, includes local market shopping tour and lunch, on April 9.  Add $110 (includes class, three meals, one night lodging on April 9, departing on Tuesday, April 10).

[   ] Option B:  Arrive Sunday, April 1 — add-on $150 (one extra night, includes breakfast), with meals on your own

[  ] Option C:  Arrive Saturday, March 30 — add-on $300 (two extra nights, includes 2 breakfasts), with meals on your own

Most travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

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

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit based on your preferred options is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any additional costs) shall be postmarked by January 1, 2012.  We prefer payment with PayPal.  We will be send you an itemized invoice upon receipt of your registration form.

We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact:

This retreat is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to make itinerary changes and substitutions as necessary.

A Gift of Wood Carving Tools for Oaxaca’s Puech Ikots Collective

I am posting this message below from Jenny Smith at the University of Chicago who works with a wood-carving collective in Oaxaca.  She is raising funds to help the group buy tools for their livelihood.  Perhaps you will consider a holiday gift in keeping with the season to sustain these talented carvers.


Saludos amigos,

I’m writing on behalf of the indigenous artists collective Puech Ikots, based in Oaxaca, Mexico.  I have your contact info because you and I have met in some context related to art and/or Oaxaca.

As you know, I work directly with the collective on a joint Mexican-American fair trade/cultural promotion initiative.  Carlos Orozco (an indigenous Oaxacan) organizes the collective in Oaxaca, and I represent the collective in the United States.  There are now six artists in the collective, including Carlos.  I’m also a board member of the Cuentos Foundation (, a registered 501(c)(3).  Cuentos Foundation is the fiscal sponsor of Puech Ikots.

The collective members have identified some areas where they could really use support.  Specifically, the artists don’t have decent artistic tools to work with.  They do all their carving with rough knives, which is extremely time-consuming. Woodworking tools, which are relatively inexpensive here, are very expensive in Mexico.

We’ve developed a holiday Wish List of artistic tools on for the Puech Ikots collective.  They are very simple, inexpensive tools that will make the lives of the artisans so much easier, and ease the creative process for them.  Some of the items include machetes for harvesting and cutting up the copal wood; knives and chisels to carve the wood; picks for adding small details to the carved art pieces; even finger guards to protect the artists’ fingers from being cut while carving. Some items on the list are as low as $1.50.  Sets of wood chisels, knives or machetes generally run between $9-20.

I’m writing to you to ask if you would consider purchasing a gift for the Puech Ikots collective this Christmas from their Wish List.  All items purchased will be considered gifts for the Cuentos Foundation (our fiscal sponsor).  The Cuentos is a registered 501(c)(3), so all purchases are tax-deductible.  If you do make a purchase, please include your contact information so that Cuentos can generate a letter of acknowledgment for you.

All items purchased will be shipped to me in Chicago, and I will transport them down to Mexico early next year.  Another option would be to make a tax-deductible cash contribution to Puech Ikots via the Cuentos Foundation, for the purchase of artistic tools.

Finally…even if you are not able to consider this request right now, I and the collective members would be so grateful if you would send this message to anyone you think is interested.

Thank you so much for your time!  Feliz Navidad y Prospero Año Nuevo a todos 🙂

Jenny Smith
on behalf of the Puech Ikots collective



Recipe: Oaxaca Chocolate Cheesecake

Oaxaca chocolate is spicy and incredible.  In addition to chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla and ground almonds, it can contain a hint of hot peppers.  I bought some recently at the Benito Juarez Market in the city from two little ladies who make it out of their Tlacolula de Matamoros kitchen.  My intention was  to bring it home and use it in my morning beverage we call “choco-cafe,” a mix of good strong coffee and Oaxaca chocolate that my husband Stephen and I love.

Today, I picked up my adult son at the airport for Thanksgiving.  (He came in from L.A.) Mom, he said, will you bake a chocolate cheesecake for Thanksgiving?  I had bought ingredients for a NY cheesecake, but with a swift adaptation of a trusted recipe that I used to make and sell from my gourmet cookware shop, cooking school, and catering business (some years ago), and that Oaxaca chocolate, I produced what he asked for. Something familiar from childhood that he adored. It’s in the oven now.  You still have time to make your Thanksgiving Oaxaca Chocolate Cheesecake!  Go for it.

Supplies: What you will need

10″ springform pan

small bowl for melting chocolate in microwave oven

small bowl for softening cream cheese in microwave oven

rubber spatula


Ingredients for crust:

3 packages (in the box of 4) of graham crackers, finely ground in food processor

6 T. butter, melted

1/4 c. sugar

Ingredients for filling:

4 packages of cream cheese, softened

4 eggs

1/2 t. vanilla

1-1/4 c. sugar

2 c. sour cream

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate

8 oz.  Oaxaca chocolate, broken into chunks

In food processor, process graham crackers until they are a fine crumb.  Add sugar and combine.  Add melted butter.  Combine.  Pour into buttered springform pan.  With fingers, press firmly on base and up sides to form a crust.  Set aside.

With mixer, beat the cream cheese and sugar together until soft.  With mixer going, add eggs one at a time.  Add vanilla.  Mix.  Add sour cream and briefly mix until blended in.  Pour half the plain vanilla mixture into a second bowl.

Melt all the chocolates.  I do this in a microwave oven on 30% power for about 3-5 minutes, checking to make sure that the chocolate doesn’t overheat.  Pour the melted chocolate into the remaining white cheesecake mixture and blend with mixer until the cheesecake is completely chocolate.

Pour the white mixture into the springform pan first.  Gently pour the chocolate mixture on top of the white mixture.  Use a spoon to create swirls.

In a preheated 350 degree oven, bake for one hour or until the center is dry and firm.  Turn the oven off.  Leave the cheesecake in the oven to settle and avoid cracking.  Cover and refrigerate.  You can make this up to three days in advance.

As soon as I remove this from the pan tomorrow, I’ll take a photo and post it before we eat it!

Buen provecho!



Reframing Mexico: Multimedia Documentary About Mexico City Life

Students from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communications teamed with journalism students at Tec de Monterrey in Mexico City to create a visual story of life in Mexico City through video and photographs. It is captivating, real, and human. It expresses the range of frustrations, challenges, misery, joy and hopefulness of life.

Experience ‘Reframing Mexico

One of the pleasures of working at an extraordinary university like UNC is the commitment that faculty and students have to social justice, innovation, and collaboration. This is manifested through volunteerism and active engagement that is designed to instill in people how important it is to make a difference in the world. Reframing Mexico heightens our awareness for and appreciation of what it takes to survive and thrive for our southern neighbor.

As I approach the national holiday of Thanksgiving in the United States, I am grateful for my family and friends, for the food I grow and eat and recycle, and for opportunities in my life. I am also grateful to the Mexican migrants in the U.S. who I don’t know, and my Mexican friends and family in Oaxaca, who all add to the quality of my life.