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Norma writes for Selvedge Magazine Issue #109 -- Rise Up, November 2022
Norma Writes for Selvedge Latin Issue #89
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are designed as learning experiences, and as such we talk with weavers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them in their designs, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. Our interest is in creating connection and artisan economic development.
Why We Left, Expat Anthology: Norma’s Personal Essay
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
- Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Toursd are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop weaving relationships, customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Select Clients *Selvedge Magazine-London, UK *Esprit Travel and Tours *Penland School of Crafts *North Carolina State University *WARP Weave a Real Peace *Methodist University *MINNA-Goods *Smockingbird Kids
Tell us how we can put a program together for you! Send an email email@example.com
- WEAVE Podcast: Oaxaca Coast Textiles & Tour
- NY Times, Weavers Embrace Natural Dye Alternatives
- NY Times, Open Thread–Style News
- NY Times, 36-Hours: Oaxaca, Mexico
- Cooking Classes–El Sabor Zapoteco
- Currency Converter
- Fe y Lola Rugs by Chavez Santiago Family
- Friends of Oaxaca Folk Art
- Hoofing It In Oaxaca Hikes
- Living Textiles of Mexico
- Mexican Indigenous Textiles Project
- Museo Textil de Oaxaca
- Oaxaca Lending Library
- Oaxaca Weather
- Taller Teñido a Mano Natural Dyes
Red Pottery of San Marcos Tlapazola, Tlacolula, Oaxaca
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.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Oaxaca Mexico art and culture, Pottery
Tagged barro rojo, ceramics, collecting, folk art, galleries, lead free, Mateo sisters, Merry Foss, Mexico, Oaxaca, organic, pottery, red clay, San Marcos Tlapazola, Sara Garmon, shopping, Tlacolula market