Sunday, July 14, 2024

Vibrant Culture of Oaxaca

Living in our rural village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, my wife Amy and I are privileged to experience the vibrant culture of nearby Oaxaca in its most authentic form. Every July, we eagerly anticipate the Guelaguetza festivities, an annual festival celebrated in Oaxaca, Mexico, that showcases the rich cultural diversity of the region. Here are the key aspects of the Guelaguetza festivities:

1. Timing and Location: The festival takes place on the last two Mondays of July in Oaxaca City and surrounding areas. The main events are held at the Guelaguetza Auditorium on Cerro del Fortín, a hill overlooking the city.

2. Cultural Significance: "Guelaguetza" means "offering" or "reciprocal exchange of gifts" in Zapotec, reflecting the festival's emphasis on community sharing and mutual interdependence.

3. Historical Roots: The festival has origins dating back over 3,000 years, initially as a celebration of the Oaxacan corn goddess. It later incorporated Catholic elements after Spanish colonization.

4. Regional Representation: Delegations from Oaxaca's eight culturally diverse regions participate, showcasing their unique traditions.

5. Performances: The festival features traditional dances, music, and costumes specific to each region. Performers often distribute gifts to the audience, such as fruit, baskets, candy, or local goods.

6. Parades: Colorful parades called "calendas" are an integral part of the festivities, featuring dancers, singers, and musicians.

7. Food and Drink: The festival celebrates Oaxacan cuisine, including specialties like mole and mezcal.

8. Artisanal Crafts: A market (mercado) showcases handmade items from Oaxaca, including traditional apparel and crafts.

9. Additional Events: The celebration includes side events such as the performance of "Princess Donaji," an epic pre-Hispanic theatrical presentation.

10. Tourist Attraction: While the Guelaguetza has become a significant tourist draw, it remains deeply important for preserving and celebrating the indigenous cultures of Oaxaca.

Friday we went to watch some street festivities. Marching brass and percussion bands filled the air with lively rhythms, creating an infectious energy that reverberates through the streets. Costumed dancers marched and danced, carrying icons. The crowds are mostly Mexican natives with a good dose of tourists mixed in. 

We are both stimulated by cultural extravaganzas. I am a photographer as well as painter so try and angle for the best photos. Amy is an artist too, and quite good recording moments on her iPhone. 

The dancers are a sight to behold. Adorned in native costumes, they step and twirl with grace and precision, their movements telling stories passed down through generations. Each region of Oaxaca showcases its unique heritage through these performances, from the vibrant dresses of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to the feathered headdresses of the Mixtec dancers. The vivid colors and intricate designs of their costumes are mesmerizing, a testament to the rich cultural tapestry of our region. Often women dance and twirl with baskets of flowers or fruit on their head. 

As the sun sets, festivities take on a magical glow. Street vendors offer an array of delicious Oaxacan treats, from tlayudas to chapulines, and we indulge in these local delicacies while soaking in the festive atmosphere. A sense of community is overwhelming, as locals and visitors alike come together to celebrate and honor Oaxaca's heritage.

Driving back to San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, we felt a deep sense of satisfaction, joy and pride. Guelaguetza is more than just a festival; it is a celebration of life, culture, and unity. It reminds us of the beauty of our traditions and the importance of coming together as a community.

Every year, this journey reaffirms our love for Oaxaca and its vibrant culture. We return home with hearts full of memories, eagerly awaiting the next Guelaguetza and the joy it will undoubtedly bring.

I will be sharing more, as the main, big parades have not begun yet. 

Sunday, July 07, 2024

And So We Are Home.

My heart ached for the land in Oaxaca as we said our goodbyes to return to the USA for a month. The dry season seemed to be hanging on forever. I have a deep relationship with the plants and earth around our home. They seemed alive only by a miracle. I should have faith by now in the ancient cycles.

When we returned a few days ago, I saw everything turned green, and the neighbor plowed his corn field. Little green corn shoots are coming up. The rains are here for our wet season.

The trip to Santa Fe started a little rocky. When we went to the airport, protestors had closed the road into and out of the area, essentially shutting down operations. We had to go back home and try again the next day. After considerable doubtfulness, we embarked on the same flight we were supposed to take the previous day. Our neighbor Mayolo graciously was our driver. 

For ten days Amy visited Minneapolis where her sister, two sons and her grandchildren live. Here in Mexico, she sometimes is sad that she is so far away from them. I saw my beloved daughter, Sarah, twice: for a hike in the mountains in Santa Fe, and visiting her in Albuquerque where she lives and works.

Home in Santa Fe I built 28 years ago. My ex-wife still lives there. 

We accomplished a main objective of our trip⏤to downsize our storage unit and somehow condense our already concentrated possessions to a smaller, less expensive holding unit. We wish we could keep historical and highly sentimental belongings and keep our loved books in a second home. But real estate prices in Santa Fe were one of the reasons we left in the first place. If anything, they are more inflated now.

Santa Fe Cathedral in the heart of the city.

Our trip home went smoothly. The route is Santa Fe to Dallas, a few hour layover, and directly on to Oaxaca. Just before boarding in Dallas, I heard somebody call Amy’s name over the loudspeaker. She did not hear it. I told her, yes, you are being called. I hoped the full flight was not an issue . . . but we were being bumped up to 1st class. And that is how we returned.

View from our roof, after a recent rain.

Mayolo, Marta and their granddaughter Frida picked us up in our car and brought us home. Our house sitter had taken excellent care of our property and two dogs. I had expected a rush of gladness and excitement when our Xolo dog Malli greeted us. But she actually barked and ran away afraid. Within minutes all was well and tails wagged furiously and with plenty of kisses.

And so we are home.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Inspiration is Key

Oaxacan Woman

It's been about six months since I delved headfirst into the realm of creating images using artificial intelligence, and I must say, the journey has been nothing short of captivating. From the very beginning, I was spellbound by the incredible abilities and swiftness with which AI can bring imagery to life.

William-Adolphe Bouguereau Girl
What initially drew me in was the sheer potential AI holds for generating ideas and sparking creativity. As an artist, inspiration is key, and AI has proven to be a tool in this regard. It effortlessly churns out suggestions and concepts, acting as a muse that never sleeps. But what truly excites me is that the journey doesn't end there; it's only the beginning.

With each creation, I find myself immersed in a collaborative dance between human intuition and machine precision. The process is a delicate balance of guiding the AI while allowing its algorithms to surprise and delight me with unexpected twists and turns. What emerges from this partnership is not just a mere digital rendering but a piece of art imbued with a unique blend of human emotion and technological ingenuity.

But let's address the elephant in the room: Will AI ever replace the age-old tradition of painting by hand? As someone who cherishes the tactile experience of wielding a brush and feeling the texture of canvas beneath my fingertips, I can confidently say no. Painting by hand is a deeply personal journey, an intimate expression of one's innermost thoughts and emotions. It's a process that transcends mere pixels on a screen, drawing upon centuries of tradition and craftsmanship.

Sun and Moon


Klimt Girl

However, this doesn't diminish the significance of AI in the realm of art. Rather, it expands the possibilities, opening doors to new techniques and approaches that were once unimaginable. AI-generated art is not a threat to traditional methods; it's a complement, a catalyst for pushing the boundaries of creativity ever further.

As I reflect on the past six months, I'm filled with gratitude for the opportunity to explore this fascinating intersection of art and technology. With every brushstroke, whether by hand to canvas or digital, I'm reminded that the true essence of art lies not only in the tools we use but in the stories we tell and the emotions we evoke. And in that sense, AI is not just a tool; it's a partner in the endless pursuit of artistic expression.

Mujer en Oaxaca
Oaxaca Passages, oil on canvas, 40 x 70 cm,    April 2024

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Rekindled Friendship


Amy and I occasionally have the pleasure of meeting friends from the United States when they come to Oaxaca on vacation. This past week one of Amy’s dearest friends from her former life in Taos, New Mexico came with her daughter and daughters fiancé to visit. They booked a hotel in Centro. We arranged a tour guide for them, and spent precious moments going places together and visiting in our home.

A highlight of our time together was El Museo del Tallador de Sueños; A haven of whimsy and wonder, it is small museum of magical woodcarvings called Alebrije´s. Located in Arrazola, the village neighbors ours. 

The museum is a testament to the artistry and imagination of Oaxacan woodcarvers. What made this visit even more special is Amy's connection to the famous family of artists who own the museum. We are friends with the Jimenez family who own the museum. In fact, Amy made the illustrations for a book called Dream Carver published in the USA and made into a muppets play.

Now, a huge mural adorns the wall at the museum replicating her illustration from the book.

As our Taos friends marveled at the intricate carvings and vibrant hues of the Alebrijes, they couldn't help but be swept away by the enchantment of it all.

With carvings in hand, tangible mementos of their time together and the artistry of Oaxaca, they bid farewell to the museum, hearts brimming with newfound admiration for this corner of the world. The journey had not only rekindled old friendships but also deepened appreciation for the beauty that thrives in spaces between cultures and across borders.

For more about the magic . . .

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Intimacy and Camaraderie

Teotitlán del Valle
Teotitlán del Valle. Memorial procession.

Living in a small village nestled within the vibrant landscapes of Oaxaca, Mexico, often comes with a sense of isolation. However, there's an undeniable joy that fills our hearts when we have the privilege of welcoming visitors into our home. Recently, my brother Brent and his Mexican-born wife Marabella graced us with their presence for a week-long visit, and it was an experience that reminded us of the beauty of connection. They had never been to our home before or seen our our art collection. 

As they settled into our home and also spent time in a nearby hotel in the city, we relished every moment of togetherness. It had been many years since we last saw each other, and this reunion was long overdue.

One of the most cherished aspects of their visit was the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations in our native tongue, English.

Despite the geographical distance and time apart, our familial bond and shared experiences transcended barriers. We found solace and comfort in being able to express ourselves freely, sharing stories, memories, and laughter⏤as well as some groans remembering inevitable family mishaps growing up. 
The Tulé Tree. Largest circumference of any tree on earth. Tulé, Mexico, near Oaxaca.
The Tulé Tree. Largest circumference of any tree on earth. Tulé, Mexico, near Oaxaca.

Exploring the multitude of Oaxacan cultural landmarks together was a joy. From the ancient ruins of Monte Albán to the vibrant markets of nearby artisan villages such as Teotitlan del Valle, brimming with colorful textiles and crafts, and Tulé, with the grand tree standing for millennia; every moment was an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the rich tapestry of Mexican heritage. As we navigated the bustling streets, we marveled at the fusion of history and modernity that defines this enchanting region.
However, it was not just the tourist attractions that made their visit special; it was the simple moments of intimacy and camaraderie that truly enriched our time together. Whether it was sharing meals prepared with love, taking leisurely strolls through streets, or showing our home full of art and that they had never seen, every interaction was a celebration of our connection.

As they bid farewell and embarked on their journey back home, our hearts felt full, knowing that the bonds we forged during their visit would endure.

In a world that often feels fragmented and divided, moments like these remind us of the importance of opening our hearts and homes to others. Whether they come from near or far, every visitor brings with them the opportunity to learn, grow, and create lasting memories. And here in our small village in Oaxaca, Mexico, we welcome each guest with open arms, knowing that their presence enriches our lives.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

In Life´s Tapestry


I like artwork that defies predictability and traverses emotional landscapes. Two recent paintings from our studio Dos Venados in Oaxaca, exemplify this art. 

Amy Córdova Boone has continued her fantastic storytelling through art in her latest piece, called El Peregrino Sagrado; “The Sacred Pilgrim,” (acrylic on canvas, 60 x 80 cm.) Her paintings emerge from deep within her psyche. This painting was inspired by a book she wrote and illustrated several years ago, entitled Talking Eagle and the Lady of Roses, published by Steiner Books, NY. 

The story of Guadalupe and Juan Diego is one of the most revered and iconic tomes in Mexican Catholic tradition. It dates back to December 9-12, 1531, when according to tradition, Juan Diego, a devout indigenous man, experienced a series of miraculous encounters with the Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill near present-day Mexico City.

During the encounters, the Virgin Mary, appearing as a young indigenous woman, instructed Juan Diego to go to the Bishop and request the construction of a church in her honor on Tepeyac Hill. Initially, the Bishop was skeptical of Juan Diego's claims, but after a series of miraculous occurrences, including the blooming of Castilian roses in the middle of winter and the imprint of the Virgin's image on Juan Diego's tilma (cloak), the Bishop was convinced of the authenticity of Juan Diego's visions.

The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe imprinted on Juan Diego's tilma became a symbol of faith and unity for the Mexican people. It is said to contain layers of symbolism that spoke directly to the indigenous population, bridging the gap between their traditional beliefs and Catholicism.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe was eventually built on Tepeyac Hill, becoming one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the Americas. The tilma of Juan Diego, with the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, remains on display in the basilica to this day, attracting millions of visitors each year.

The story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe is not only a cornerstone of Mexican Catholicism but also a testament to the power of faith, miracles, and the enduring presence of the divine in everyday life.

Oil painting by Steven Boone

Within my own oil paintings, I hope to surprise an audience, and do this by occasionally shifting artistic direction. The last few years my work has been somber and introspective. I made a series of "Memento Mori" paintings, where skeletal figures grapple symbolically with mortality. Recently, after I felt closure, my art has taken a dramatic turn towards vibrancy and celebration⏤exemplified by my most recent large piece, Two Dancers at a Fiesta, (oil on canvas, 80 x 100 cm.)  It is in a world bursting with color and life. The canvas pulsates with the energy of the dance floor, as two figures whirl and twirl amidst a jubilant fiesta atmosphere. The subjects dance along with the brilliant colors and bold twirling designs. Even the floor is bursting with vibrancy. Gone are the solemn reminders of mortality; instead, we revel in the joyous rhythms of corporeal existence.

This shift is not only in artistic evolution but also the embrace of multifaceted human experience. Through my paintings, I embrace both the darkness and the light, finding beauty and meaning in every aspect of life's tapestry.

To see Amy and Steven´s Mexico inspired work, go to Dos Venados Studio

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Timeless Faces

We see masks often here in Oaxaca. There are many celebrations throughout the year when masks are worn along with a traditional costume.

Mexican masks have a rich history deeply intertwined with cultural and religious practices. These masks have been used since ancient times, dating back to 3000 B.C., initially by priests for summoning gods and during sacrifices. When the Spanish arrived, they introduced the devil to Mexico. Soon after, horns were added to the masks of native gods, transforming them into "devils" to promote Christianity. Devils often appeared alongside death at festive occasions. Yet, the Aztec underworld was not a place of punishment, thus, people were less fearful of death. The devil became a benign figure. 

Recently a new friend we made on the coast insisted we simply must see an exhibit of masks in Oaxaca. Called Timeless Faces, at a museum founded by artist/philanthropist Fernando Toledo in the village of San Agustin Etla the exhibition of 700 pieces is from the anthropologist René Bustamante's collection.

Amy and I made the 50 minute drive from our village to see the exhibit. For a Saturday, it was remarkably quiet. The building is grand and the grounds too. Climbing the grand, broad stairway in front, we entered the cavernous space full of masks. What a delight for two artists that love culture. Immediately we became engrossed, wandering off separately then recombining to marvel and discuss.

Most traditional masks are made of wood, while some are made from leather, wax, cardboard, papier-mâché, or other materials. They commonly depict old men and women, animals, the fantastic or supernatural.  

Masks, including devil masks, have been an integral part of Mexican cultural and religious life, with mask makers being revered members of society. Today, devil masks in Mexico retain features of ancient gods, showcasing a blend of pre-Hispanic history and Spanish influence. These masks are used in various dances and rituals, symbolizing a fusion of the two cultures and serving as a link between Mexico's past and present traditions.

Wearing masks during mystical, religious or communal celebrations is practiced across the globe.

Personally, I have always enjoyed masks and own a small collection of African, Asian and Venetian masks. 

My brother from Santa Barbara, California is coming in a couple weeks to visit us. His wife is originally from Mexico. Amy and I will return with them and see the exhibit again.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Getaway to the Coast


The Pacific Ocean is not far away from us here in Oaxaca, Mexico. About 125 miles. Yet we have not visited often since arriving four years ago. The reason has been that the old highway to the coast led us around the city and then over the Sierra Madre Mountains on a harrowing two lane road that could make a person sick from the twists and turns. About a seven hour trek. 

Everything is different now that the long anticipated and awaited highway 175, a sleek asphalt “autopista” is newly opened. 

With a desire for adventure and a celebration on the horizon, my beloved wife Amy and I embarked on our journey to Puerto Escondido, a coastal gem on the Pacific shores. However, this time, the route took an exciting twist as we drove the new highway, cutting our travel time in half. Gone were the days of perilous journeys over the Sierra Madre Mountains, with their treacherously winding paths. Instead, we found ourselves cruising along the smooth asphalt of the new highway, marveling at the picturesque landscapes unfolding before us. The reduced travel time not only ensured a safer passage but also allowed us to immerse ourselves in the beauty of our surroundings without the constant worry of hazardous roads.

After a seamless journey, we arrived at our coastal haven in Mazunte: Casa Ofelia. The small but famous town attracts a diverse crowd that includes hippies, yogis, spiritual seekers, and those interested in animal conservation. It's laid-back atmosphere, eco-friendly practices, and focus on yoga, turtle conservation, and spiritual activities make it a popular destination for alternative travelers. Bohemian vibes abound, which is fine for Amy and I⏤both former hippies. We enjoyed people watching: men with tanned, muscular builds, beards and “man Buns”; that is long hair tied up in a bun atop the head. Women sauntered scantily dressed. Many go topless on the beach.

Greeted by the salty breeze and the rhythmic sounds of the ocean waves just outside our bedroom door, our accommodation in Mazunte provided perfect sanctuary, offering a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We stayed three days then headed back to Puerto Escondido for two nights.

In Puerto Escondido we lodged at Hotel Santa Fe, namesake of our former hometown. It offers a mix of colonial elegance and modern amenities. Furthermore, it is set directly opposite Zicatela beach, providing guests with sweeping beach views and stunning sunsets. 

As the sun dipped below the horizon on the final night of our retreat, we gathered to commemorate a special occasion—the 71st birthday of my beloved Amy. With laughter, love, and gratitude in our hearts, we raised a toast to our togetherness and the adventures yet to come.

Our getaway to the coast was more than just a journey—it was a testament to the joy of exploration, the importance of cherished moments, and the power of love. As we bid farewell to the coastal paradise, we carried home to Oaxaca with us memories for our lifetime, forever etched in the sands of time.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete

Devil at carnaval San Martín Tilcajete

We drove in the morning an hour from our village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, to experience Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete, a town located about 20 miles from Oaxaca City. The annual event is a vibrant celebration that combines pre-Hispanic Zapotec traditions with Catholic rituals. Festivities, known as the "Dance of the Devils," take place in the lead-up to Shrove Tuesday (Fat Tuesday) and feature revelers running through the town in costume, with their bodies covered in oil or paint, wearing devilish and otherworldly handmade masks. The colors used in the body paint have symbolic meanings: black represents the underworld, yellow represents the earthly world, and red represents infinity.

Street at carnaval San Martín Tilcajete

The tradition of Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete has been passed down through generations and includes parades, dances, and a satirical wedding. The dancers, known as Aceitados, or "the oiled ones," traditionally only included men, but since the mid-1990s, women have also participated. The celebration is deeply rooted in the local culture, where each person is believed to have a spirit animal assigned at birth, which is represented in the costumes during Carnaval.

The Bride, Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete

Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete

Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete

We had been warned not to wear nice clothes because revelers have been known to dirty the onlookers, many of whom are tourists. I was wary of even slight damage to my expensive camera, especially since I get in close for my best shots.

Carnaval in San Martín Tilcajete

In the end, we had a fabulous time and although the celebrations were raucous, they were constrained and mostly courteous.


Amy bought a couple alebrije she could not resist . . . though we had our eye on some that were way more expensive.  

Definitely we will go again next year.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Pitchforks, Pagans and Ogres


We strolled into the heart of Oaxaca City, engulfed by the vibrant chaos of pre-lent Carnaval. Brass and percussion bands filled the air with lively rhythms, setting the stage for the extravagant procession of revelers. Everywhere we turned, people adorned in elaborate costumes, some as devils with horns and pitchforks, others as pagan beings and ogres, paraded through the streets with infectious jubilation. Oaxaca always has surprises up its sleeve. 

The energy was palpable, a whirlwind of laughter, music, and colorful spectacle. We couldn't help but be swept away by the festivities, our hearts swelling with excitement. Hand in hand, we wove through the throngs of merry-makers, capturing the magic of the moment with our cameras, preserving memories of the enchanting experience. Of course, I felt entirely in my element as a street photographer and hurled myself into the midst of mayhem. Amy stayed on the perimeter . . . we always stayed close enough not to lose one another.

Amidst the chaos, we found ourselves immersed in a world where tradition and revelry collided in a glorious celebration of life. It was pure joy shared between us as we danced through the streets, embracing the spirit of Carnaval and the warmth of our Oaxacan community. 

In fleeting moments, surrounded by devils and ogres, we found ourselves utterly captivated by the magic of Oaxacan carnival, grateful for the opportunity to revel in its splendor together.