My dad was a potter and I grew up with a potter’s wheel and an electric kiln in our garage. Tools were piled on the table, where also sat clay forms drying to the leather hard before he put them into the oven.
This is where he would go to work when he came home from work. For him, I think, putting his hands on the clay of earth and forming it into something beautiful or whimsical or functional was his joy, more fun than work.
I always have a special feeling for people who put their hands on clay. In San Marcos Tlapazola, just 8 kilometers behind Tlacolula, in the foothills, the Mateo Family women work with an organic low fire clay body that becomes unglazed, utilitarian and decorative pieces for hearth and home. It is lead-free and safe to eat from and cook with.
We work with our hands. We bring the mud from our fields. It takes a week to dry it. We wet it. Stir it, strain it and mix it with sand. Finally, we let it dry under the sun to make it. We are ready to work with it.
The vessels are made on a simple turning wheel as the women sit on the floor. They use pieces of wood, stone, coconut shell, gourds and corn cobs to shape and polish.
You might recognize them as they sit on their knees, on petate woven grass rugs at the Sunday Tlacolula market. You might notice them as they pass through the restaurants and food stalls calling out their wares for sale. Their dress is distinctive and colorful. They sell comals of various sizes, bowls and plates, platters and large vessels perfect for cooking soups and stews.
But, the best, largest and most impressive pieces are in their San Marcos Tlapazola home workshop studio. Here, tall jugs are decorated with chickens and roosters, pot lid handles might be dancing dolphins or turkey heads or pig snouts. You might even come across a national award-winning bowl sitting regal on its clay pedestal throne. The selection is enormous and often you can see the black fire flash in the red clay form, giving it an elemental connection to the earth, wind, fire.
When we got there, we came into the courtyard filled with smoke. It was firing day. The pots were hidden under corrugated metal sheeting, piled with tree branches, dried corn husks, discarded bamboo sticks, twigs, brush, and protected by a ring of broken pots to keep the heat in at ground level. We arrived just in time to add our bundle of brush and branches to the fire.
Here at Matamoros No. 18, in San Marcos Tlapazola, live the parents, sisters, cousins and nieces of the extended family of Alberta Mateo Sanchez and Macrina Mateo Martinez. The home phone number is 951-574-4201. The Cel is 951-245-8207.
Their mother Ascencion is ninety years old. Almost as old as my own mother who just turned ninety-nine.
Call to make an appointment to be sure they will be home. Maybe you will be lucky enough to come during a firing, as we did.
As we shopped, the rains came and the wind whipped. It wasn’t a heavy downpour but a light Lady Rain drizzle that causes the smoke to curl through the courtyard and burn our eyes. As we left, the rains made a mist and droplets coated the car window through which I took these ethereal photos below.
Thanks to Merry Foss, Oaxaca folk art collector and dealer, and Sara Garmon of Sweet Birds Mexican Folk Art, Santa Fe, NM, and Christopher Hodge for taking me on this adventure.
How to get there? Go toward the hills behind Tlacolula, following the road that goes through the center of town. There will be a crossroads at 4km. Turn right and continue another 4 km until you get to the village. You will see the traditional church in the distance as you wind to the right through high desert. The main street is Matamoros and the sisters’ house is on the left past a couple of blocks past the church. Look for the sign: Mujeres del Barro Roja.
Arte Walk Oaxaca: Graphic Arts + Painting Studios
Thursday nights are Arte Walk Oaxaca. There’s a nice little black and white map that pinpoints the independent art spaces and workshops. My favorites (plus one not listed on the map) are clustered in the neighborhood just a few blocks from the Zocalo, bounded by Hidalgo, Doblado, Xicotencatl and Colon. It’s becoming Oaxaca’s SOHO (south of Hidalgo) arts district.
David, Carol and Gabo in the textured courtyard wall glow
While you can find the artists, a coterie of Oaxaca local art lovers spilling out onto the sidewalk outside postage stamp galleries, along with shots of mezcal, beers and bowls of spicy peanuts, Thursdays aren’t the only time to enjoy what Oaxaca is known for: GREAT GRAPHIC ART.
Black and white print at La Chicharra Taller de Grafica
Most galleries are open Monday through Sunday, though often it’s catch as catch can. As is the case with many small, locally owned and/or operated shops here. Many of the galleries are cooperatives, so they are staffed by rotating volunteer artists who need a venue to show and sell their work directly. THERE IS A LOT OF TALENT HERE.
A subtle wall mural of overlapping faces, faces in the crowd? Gabo Mendoza studio.
Last night, Friday, Gabriel Gabo Mendoza (tel: 951-142-7508) held an open studio where he lives and works at Xicotencatl #303. He isn’t on the map. Carol, David and I meandered in around 7 p.m. just as night was falling and the promise of a new moon hung in the sky.
Gabo’s courtyard was lit with purple twinkle lights. There were new murals on the wall. The large space will become a studio workshop for many. A table-top display held recycled Ixtlan wood mezcal boxes hand-painted with agave varieties of 750 liter bottles contained within. The mezcal is sourced locally by some of the best mezcaleros in Oaxaca and private labeled. Organic and artisanal. A great gift!
Agave painted mezcal boxes, containing artisanal juice — for sale at Gabo Mendoza
We looked through Gabo’s newest work. Talked about how artists develop and evolve over time, and how this reflects in their work along with life experiences, tragedies and joy. It was interesting to talk about the transitions from then to now, sharing life stories, sipping Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus water) and feeling the glow of the space.
Moon coming up over purple twinkle lights at festive art opening
Then, we moved on to Taller de Grafica La Chicharra at Xicotencatl #317. This is a cooperative workshop studio where you can also take classes. Tonight, Saturday, March 19, there is a new show opening and they were readying for it. Spectacular work here, too, by MK Kabrito (Alan Altamirano) plus many others, much of it affordable! Check out the T-Shirts.
Great graphic T-shirts at La Chicarra graphic workshop
After a stop into Proyecto 30-30, Hidalgo #1208, where a graphic arts show of humorous political images hang. By now, it was close to 8 p.m. and I knew Cooperativa Grafica Oaxaca at Manuel Doblado #210 closed at 7 p.m. I had stopped in there earlier in the afternoon to get some great prints on fabric buttons that I will give as gifts. Agave, calavera skulls and animal images make great hat adornment.
Wall murals highlight artist work space at Gabo Mendoza studios
We decided it was time to get a bite to eat, so walked a few blocks north on Xicotencatl that changes name to Pino Suarez when it crosses Independencia. El Sol y La Luna Restaurante Bar, Pino Suarez #304 was our destination. Open 7 p.m. t0 midnight. Artisanal beer on tap, mezcal and sueros are featured beverages. I watched as thin crusted pizzas a la the best of Italy came out of the kitchen. We ordered cheese stuffed calzones — each crusty deliciousness. Next time, maybe a hamburger. They looked good, too.
Some tools of the artist craft
Evenings this time of year are delightful. A wind comes up. Chills the hot air. Takes the edge off the beginning of the hot, spring rainy season (the rains haven’t come yet, though). Everything is in bloom. Purple Jacaranda line the avenues. A perfect time for an evening stroll to enjoy this city’s art scene and support the young artists who have so much to say through their work.
Contact: email@example.com or Facebook: artewalkoaxaca
At La Chicharra graphic arts studio and gallery
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Travel & Tourism
Tagged art, art walk, cooperatives, design, eat, El Sol y La Luna, food, Gabo, Gabriel Mendoza, galleries, graphic arts, La Chicharra graphic arts, Mexico, MK Kabrito, murals, Oaxaca, painting, printmaking, Proyecto 3030, restaurant, studio, t-shirts, taller, workshop