Monthly Archives: November 2012

Out-Takes Part I: Day of the Dead Photography Workshop

First the disclosure: Everyone whose likeness appears here has agreed to have these sometimes embarrassing, revealing and funny photos published on OCN.  We think a good laugh at ourselves is healthy.  These are personal photos we took of each other during the Day of the Dead Photography Expedition in October-November 2012 that didn’t make it (not even close) into the Best of Week category.

First up is Helene Haviland who was caught tasting her first chapulines.


Followed by (above right) “Who is behind that screen door?”  It must be Connie Jo!  We are going to tattle on Erin Loughran. She arrived without her tripod. Had it all ready and forgot to pack it.  While we were on the streets photographing, Erin was searching for a tripod in Oaxaca to fit her camera (below, left).   We caught Debbie Mayfield (above right) hunkered down on the floor with the wool at the studio of the Chavez Santiago Family Weavers.  She was wrapped up in the blue wool for at least an hour. Liz Thomas had a thing for wool, too. Hiding under the skeins seemed to be her preference. Or perhaps the desire for a new hair-do. And our instructor, photographer Bill Bamberger had a little wool on his face after three days of being free of the razor. Okay, enough of that theme. On to the mezcal. Here we have Bella Jacque and Deby Thompson at a mezcal tasting, with Helene there, too, but behind the camera.  They had a great time.

Liz (left), it turns out, bought a $6 bottle of mezcal to share at the Xoxo cemetery.  It was cold and rainy.  Great excuse, huh?  You might guess what happened next. On our second night in Oaxaca, Debbie and Doug Mayfield high-tailed it to the Zocalo to learn how to use their cameras at night and practice with the tripod. This was in preparation for our Xoxocotlan cemetery photography shoot.

No sooner had we arrived at the cemetery than it started to rain. Umbrellas sold out in a matter of rain drops.   My only option was an XL  garbage bag that cost 5 pesos.  Snapped it right up and joined the Mayfields at the corner comedor.  Stylish, wouldn’t you say? Our neighbor at the next table invited us all to join in with a sip of mezcal.  They loved the outfit.  Thanks to Helene for getting this shot!

Helene hunkered under a shawl (she later found one of the last umbrellas) and bought an offering of marigolds to give as a gift to a family cleaning and decorating a grave.

Later in the week, a few of us went to Yagul for archeological exploration, a favorite pastime of Connie (below) who was trained in the field.

More to come with Second Set Out-Takes. Stay tuned.

Celebrating Five Years of Blog Writing: Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

On November 28, 2007, I started a free blog and posted my first essay there about visiting, traveling and intending to live in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Two years earlier, using iWeb on my Apple computer and the clunky URL [defunct, not searchable, remember those days], I started my original blog.  However no one could find me!  So, technically, I’ve been writing this blog for seven years!      

Writing regularly is an act of commitment, love of place, and desire to share the experience.  I want to mark this anniversary and share with you now what I published on November 28, 2007.  I didn’t take as many photos then and most weren’t of publishable quality.  Then, I was more interested in the narrative. The times they are a-changin’ — let’s celebrate!

Creative Commons Birthday Cake and Candles

5- Year Celebration Sale with Discount — Good Until December 25, 2012.   


Take 15% off any workshop offered through August 1, 2013 (except Felted Fashion Workshop).


Take 15% off any Shop Mexico-Artisan Sisters Items still available. 


Tell me you want the Celebration Discount!       



Reposted from November 28, 2007: Navigating with Norma

An explanation:  Navigating Oaxaca (pronounced Wah-Hah-Kah), Mexico, is a cultural arts and history experience that requires a certain sense of exploration, discovery and adventure.  For me, it is going without a roadmap down the back alleys of a small village to see what I will discover next:  a master weaver, an exceptional wood-carver, an accomplished potter or expressive painter.  I am open to the experience of creating relationship by appreciating artistic creativity, cultural history, shared values and vision, and the possibility for multicultural exchange.  After four visits of several weeks each over the past two years, and an invitation from Federico Chavez Sosa and his family to live with them in Teotitlan del Valle, I begin to call myself “cultural navigator.”

This blog is a way for me to share my experiences with you with the hope that it will excite your interest to visit this extraordinary place and  appreciate the rich artistic and cultural traditions of Mexican immigrants.  There are great artisans who live on the back alleyways, don’t show up in the tourist guide books, and aren’t willing to pay hefty commissions to have  tour guides and tour buses pulling up to their front door.  I am motivated to support fair trade so that 100% of tourist dollars go directly to the families who actually create the art.

In the next weeks, we will be preparing to return to Oaxaca through the winter holidays.  There will be Posadas and fireworks.  The ancient fife player will lead the village band in a Sousa march. Farmers will herd cattle and sheep through the streets.  The guacalotes will chortle and the donkey next door will bray at sunrise.  We will hike to the reservoir along the river through the bamboo and cactus forest, beyond us Picacho rises above the 6,000 foot plateau with a promise of a new archeological discovery.  We will eat handmade tamales con pollo y salsa Coloradito with fresh nopales, and the adventure will begin anew.

Then and Now

  • Then, blog posts were mostly prose and a few poorly executed photographs
  • There was no Wikipedia and little reference content to link to — I couldn’t make links happen with iWeb
  • I was really happy to get 30 or 40 page views a day and an occasional comment
  • Now, we get 500-600+ page views a day; our top day this year was over 1,800 page views.  That’s great for us!
  • Organizing workshops based in Oaxaca was the flicker of a dream
  • There was no financial way to support the blog writing
  • In 2010, I migrated over to a self-hosted website and finally figured out how to use Google ads [last year I netted a whopping $100USD using Google Adsense]
  • And, then, when we launched a diversified workshop schedule in 2010, I figured out how to use PayPal
  • Now as then, I’m still a one-person Oaxaca Cultural Navigator band, performing all instruments solo [oh, I should say, sola]
  • And, I speak much better Spanish, though it could be a whole lot better 🙂


Best of Week Day of the Dead Photographs: Bella Jacque

Formerly a high-tech manager who is now an artist, Bella came from Silicon Valley, California to attend the Day of the Dead Photography Expedition learn more about her camera and improve her aesthetics. “The biggest lesson for me photographically was “less is more” – having a talented photographer/teacher focus my efforts on the few features needed for my eye and my artistic goals was a gift.  It gave me the space and confidence to experiment rather than getting caught in the multitude of technical choices,” she says.


Photo 1 (left) is more about texture than message, since this poster has been up long enough to have obscured the words.  In Photo 2 (right), we see the familiar.  The young woman who is holding the yellow marigolds has been the focal point of others’ photos we have seen.  Yet, this photo is definitely unique and interesting.


Often, we pass something by and consider it mundane or don’t even notice it at all.  Bella saw this doorway with the yellow painted numeral, in Photo 3 (left).  Good eye.  In Photo 4 (right), there was a clothesline with underwear drying. Bella went right to the iconic image of Jesus with a bucket in front, as if it were a church font.

“I was struck by how many of the participants said this was their first group experience.  None of us had done tours – we were all individual travelers who saw something special and unique in this workshop and the focus on a beautiful culture,” says Bella.

Archeology is a big part of being in Oaxaca. Connie Jo, a workshop participant and trained as an archeologist, explained that the small stones in the mortar at Monte Alban signify that this part has been rebuilt. Bella was fascinated and got the detail in Photo 5.

“Without a doubt, I would recommend this and any of your programs.  The small group size, the special-ness of the participants, the creativity, and the focus on culture and personal connections combine to make a unique adventure,” Bella says.

And, then in Photo 6, she got this sweeping vista of Monte Alban, almost as if it were a painting.

Photo 7 (left), Gravesite at Xoxocotlan. “Without a doubt, getting stuck in the pouring rain in Xoxocotlan, as crazy as that sounds, was the highlight of the workshop.  Initially, I thought… oh no, our chance to photograph in the cemetery is ruined… as we huddled with village residents under the tents and watched streams of water run down the street.  With just a little bit of Spanish and an impulse to help someone who was cold, I gave my shawl to an older woman and asked (as best as I could) about her family and the cemetery.  Her warm eyes told me that she understood.  After the rain stopped, we said our goodbyes.  Awhile later, I felt this tap on my arm and turned to see the woman offering me a bag – in it were pan de muerto (the beautiful sweet bread with the small carved confectionary faces) and chocolate.  She was thanking me for the shawl and lovely connection in a hug.”

“We were halfway through the week and I could have stopped taking photographs that minute and would have had been happy.  Personal connections and experience, however fleeting, are why I travel.  I never worry about changes in itinerary because I’ve learned that wonderful adventures happen when we least expect them,” Bella says.


Photo 8 (left) is Bella’s portrait of the Calavera Catrina mime with her son on the Zocalo on October 30 renders the monochromatic palette with the pop of magenta.  To the right in Photo 9, a wood-carved portrait of Jesus hangs on a stucco wall.

The abuelas (grandmothers) in Teotitlan del Valle shy away from the camera. In Photo 10, Bella gets the detail from behind of their long braids hanging or wrapped around their heads, interwoven with ribbon.  Traditional women never cut their hair!

Photo 11 (left).  These are Luvia Lazo’s hand-painted shoes that she created herself.  Luvia and her family hosted Bella and Erin Loughran during Teotitlan del Valle’s Day of the Dead ceremonies on All Souls’ Day.

Bella concludes by saying,  “Bill [Bamberger] is a wonderful teacher and artist – it’s rare to have someone who is gifted in both departments.  He is generous with his time and attention; present with it as well, meaning he dials into individual student needs, worries, strengths, and aspirations and finds the right words at the right time.”

Tidbits: Calvin Trillin Loves Oaxaca, Too!

I think of Calvin Trillin as a contemporary Walt Whitman, humorous, politically savvy, and egalitarian. It just so happens that Trillin’s daughter Abigail moved to Oaxaca with her family.  This became a perfect excuse for him to re-visit,  eat grasshoppers, learn to cook with maguey worms and write about it.  His take on Oaxaca food (and other musings) is in The New Yorker ‘s upcoming December 3, 2012 issue.

Titled Land of the Seven Moles: Adapting to Life’s Changes, at the Table, Trillin takes us on a brief culinary tour of Oaxaca and tells us about the cooking class he took with his son-in-law Brian.  (I’m certain it was at the home of cooking teacher Pilar Cabrera, although no names are mentioned.  The experience he describes reminds me of the class I took with Pilar where we made a salsa out of hormigas AKA ants!)

Rather than go on and on, paraphrasing the article, click on the link above and read for yourself.  You’ll have a good chuckle, just as I did!

Order Dolores Porras Video on New Website: Ceramics Education

Dolores Porras: Artista Artesana de Barro is a 31-minute documentary video made by Michael Peed, a university ceramics professor.  This link takes you to a new website where you can buy the DVD.  When the DVD was released in 2010, I reviewed it here on my blog because it offers an outstanding discussion of the traditional clay making process in Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca, by one of the grand masters of Oaxaca folk art, Dolores Porras, who died in November 2010.

Michael is the perfect person to have made this video.  He is a potter and taught ceramics at the University of Montana.  He knew Dolores intimately and followed her career, interviewing her and capturing her during various stages of the clay making process for twelve years.  The video is a treat to watch, is ideal for educational purposes at the middle, high school and university level, and documents one of the most important folk artists in Oaxaca.  I was fortunate enough to visit Dolores just a few months before she died and took this photo below.

I encourage you to buy a copy and watch it.  It is a treasure to have and to gift to anyone interested in ceramics, pottery and folk art.

The new website where you can order the DVD was created by Shannon Sheppard who lives in Oaxaca.