Sunday, May 28, 2023

Fill The Cup

At our home in San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, Mexico, good energy perceptibly rises during our Sunday art sessions. Our neighbors come at 3 PM, and when the group disperses to go home after a couple hours, it feel as if happiness has risen to fill the cup to overflowing. 

We have been offering free art workshops at our home in Mexico for 2 years now. The group is usually 7 children and one adult. The number goes up and down around that core.

Amy and I must prepare ahead so that when class begins everything is ready. That includes the project with materials, with refreshments to serve. It is our service to our immediate communityneighbors. 

Yesterday three girls showed up unexpectedly and asked if they could bake cookies with Amy. She agreed and they made peanut butter cookies. A real treat . . . considering the kids do not have an oven at home. 

The pictures here are from recent sessions.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Much Love

We both grew up in safe, clean, flourishing neighborhoods in major American cities. Amy in LaCrosse, Wisconsin and me in Northwest Washington DC. People had pride in their homes and surroundings. Elementary, secondary and high schools were all clean, well staffed and optimum environments for learning. Trash was regularly picked up, crime was low, police vigilant at all hours. Hospitals with ambulances ready 24/7 were close. Trees lined the boulevards, playgrounds were staffed except in winter. At night street lights were on. I had a paper delivery route, mowed lawns and shoveled snow; always feeling safe.  My father held important positions as a crusader for social justice, my mother kept the home with five children.

Perhaps our lives in the USA could be called “white privilege.” I knew of parts of Washington DCghettos, that were very unsafe. Same with Baltimore where I went to art college and lived downtown with prostitutes on corners and muggings at night. Amy too was safe, although she had a Spanish surname and ran into prejudice from within her white enclave. 

As an adult, Amy lived in Minneapolis where she was one of the more famous artists before moving to Taos, New Mexico and starting a gallery. I settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico and eventually established myself as a successful artist. Even during times I was poor, I felt hope and possibility. We both always were creative enough to find jobs until garnering artistic success.

In 2019, Amy and I, married less than two years, moved to Oaxaca, Mexico.  American society and tensions between human demographics were coming to a fever pitch, culminating in the attack on the US Capitol, and exasperated by the Covid pandemic. We had visited Oaxaca for Dia de Muertos, went back home and, almost as a lark, found a house for sale online on a real estate site. It was everything we wanted, designed by a Mexican architect, made of adobe with artistic flourish, plenty of space with gorgeous views . . . the architect´s German wife was an agronomist who lovingly planted the grounds. It is situated in a pueblo bordering Oaxaca. The cost was far less than listings in the Santa Fe. 

We traveled to look at it. The architect had died and the owner moved back to Germany. We made a low offer, stipulating to include the furniture. Immediately we received an affirmative response. 

We have been living in Mexico three years and have permanent resident status. We brought about half our belongings, sold most of the rest and have a storage unit in Santa Fe filled mostly with art. We go back each year for about a month.

There is much to like in Mexico and much not to like. People are generally good, and have strong family bonds. This prevents lost souls from falling between the cracks as so often happens in the USA. Our city of Oaxaca is a cultural Mecca full of art, fine cuisine, traditions and frequent celebrations. It has more than once been listed in travel magazines as the #1 tourist destination in the world. Yet, outside of the city, life begins to resemble third world conditions. Roads are of poor quality, homes are basic without adornment, thievery is a problem, animals often have it bad, poverty is obvious. Most people have only basic eduction.

Amy and I live in a pueblo that is both vibrant and also typical of Mexico lower class. Our home is sublime, especially compared to those around us. The structure is adobe, with plenty of light and more space than we need, tile roofs and property with mature trees and a variety of plants. Also, our gray water goes to a water plant filtrations system. Some flowers bloom year long. Two seasons; wet and dry.

We have a young dog; Mexican breed, named MaliNalli Copali.

As have our neighbors, we have been robbed several times. Outdoor stuff but it is a nuisance. So I put up security cameras front and back. During the last incident we got pictures of the culprit.

We have good friends. An artist down the road builds our frames and he and his family are stalwart friends. Our closest neighbor too is a big help. Then the children who come to our house on Sundays for art lessons and refreshments. Much love.

Sunday, April 23, 2023


To be honest, the skeleton motif took me by surprise here in Mexico and then I stayed with itcreating about a dozen paintings so far. Certainly there are those who have followed and collected my artwork over the decades who are bewildered and perplexed by my departure from landscape painting. All I can say is this is Oaxaca, Mexico and I have been influenced and like it. People ask when I will go back to landscapes. I don’t know.

My latest is called Venice Vanitas. It shows that even in one of the most desirable places, Venice, Italy, amidst youth, luxury, pomp, élan, gaiety and romance, death is a commanding presence. 

Everyone is always aware of death on an unconscious level. It is omnipresent. We are born with our days numbered. A germ can take over the body and cause it to fail. Sudden accidents occur. People can even die of melancholy. In the 18th century, death certificates signed by the British clergy listed as many as 41 different causes of death, including 'suffocated by wet nurse or mother'. 

Not that we dwell on all this and live fearfully. That is perhaps why I am bringing death to the fore. As if to say, “I see you, and I am okay with you being always around.”

In the painting Venice Vanitas, a lovely young woman is enjoying a gondola ride on the grand canal. She holds red flowers, symbolizing life. A mask is nearby, symbolizing deceptionlife can be deceiving. The water is flowing life force; bringing us from birth to death and always onward. The bridge is passage from one world to the next. The skeleton gondoleer is death, determining when life will eventually end.

A story:

Once upon a time in Venice, there was a young woman named Venetia. She was known throughout the city for her beauty and her love of life. One sunny day, she decided to take a gondola ride on the grand canal, the main artery of Venice.

As she drifted along the canal, Venetia held in her hand a bouquet of red flowers, symbolizing the beauty and vitality of life. But nearby, a mask lay on the seat, a reminder that life can be deceiving, that appearances can be false.

The water flowed around her, a reminder of the life force that carries us all from birth through death. A bridge she passed often spanned the canal, a symbol of the progress from one world to the next, from the living to the dead.

Guiding the gondola stood the Grim Reaper, a reminder that death is always with us, determining when our time on earth will come to an end.

Despite the reminder of death, Venetia was not afraid. She knew that life was meant to be lived to the fullest, and she was determined to enjoy every moment of it. She smiled at the skeleton behind her, knowing that one day they would meet again, but for now, she was content to enjoy the beauty of Venice and the joy of being alive.

As the gondola glided along the canal, Venetia breathed in the salty sea air and felt the warmth of the sun on her face. She knew that life was fleeting, but she also knew that it was beautiful, and that she would always cherish the memories of this moment. And so she continued to smile, holding her bouquet of red flowers, enjoying the ride, and living her life to the fullest.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Touch of Light

 It is one thing to photograph people. It is another to make others care about them by revealing the core of their humanness. - Paul Strand

When I go to events in Oaxaca, Mexico, I go camera in hand, ready for surprise and hoping to get some pictures that are more than superficial. Over the years during many travels at home and abroad, the camera has become an extension of myself, a kind of third eye. What interests me most is humanity. After that, it is landscapes. 

The last two weeks in Oaxaca have been special for Oaxacans. This week has been Semana Santa, Holy Week, culminating in  Easter Sunday. Catholicism is by far the most practiced religion in Mexico. The celebrations bring people together in great reverence, worship and unity. 

Enjoy these images I took during the last two weekends.

To photo people, I have to be brave enough to enter their space. Yet, my heart goes before me and I go in peace. If I am in the “zone,” I am nothing . . . a gentle breeze or touch of light—for I am one with the person I see.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Good Samaritans


A colorful hand sewn blouse or dress, worn by a welcoming woman or young lady, offering traditional waters of chilacayota, horchata, jamaica and other flavors is a treat for the eyes and also the taste buds. "In Oaxaca, aguas frescas – essentially a mix of fresh fruit pulp, plain water, and some sugar if needed – are synonymous with freshness and excitement, given the selection of different flavors made from the myriad of fruits that grow locally." (See more) And because the offering is of good will and made as a gift to friend and strangers alike, it is salve to the soul. Día de la Samaritana, or Day of the Samaritan occurred last Friday. It is a celebrated time for offering life giving waters.

It seems there is always some kind of festival or event happening in Oaxaca. The most famous are Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, and also Guelaguetza, the gathering of indigenous peoples of Oaxaca state. The city is a very popular International destination for weddings which pour onto the streets. 

I had never experienced Día de la Samaritana until some friends invited Amy and I to stroll with them through downtown to experience the gatherings and hospitality. Folks bring cups from home to accept drinks, so as to diminish waste.

The story of the woman good Samaritan is told in the Bible, John 4:7-31. Jesus is alone at a well. His followers have all gone off somewhere. A woman with a jug comes to the well. Seeing that Jesus is a Jew, and being of the Samaritan tribe, she is not supposed to have much to do with him and tells him when he asks for water. A conversation ensues; “You don’t know what God can give you. And you don’t know who I am, the one who asked you for a drink. If you knew, you would have asked me, and I would have given you living water.” The woman said, “Sir, where will you get that living water? The well is very deep, and you have nothing to get water with. Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob? He is the one who gave us this well. He drank from it himself, and his sons and all his animals drank from it too.” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I give will never be thirsty again. The water I give people will be like a spring flowing inside them. It will bring them eternal life.”

Eventually, after Jesus reveals facts about the woman that He could not possibly known, she leaves him her jug and runs to tell people that she thinks she has met the messiah. 

Nowhere else but in Oaxaca is this biblical event officially celebrated.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

To Live Again

The last time I was in a sweat ceremony was in 1972 on the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, USA. Twenty years old, I had gone with a few friends to meet a famous yet humble medicine man named Patagah, who graciously welcomed us. One evening  our Native host and our little band of gypsies gathered together to pray and sweat, making offerings to Spirit. A hut, called an inipi had been constructed out of willow branches and covered with tarps."Inipi" means 'to live again’. A hole was in the middle of the ground inside. Nearby a fire blazed, making big rocks hot. We went inside and sat in underwear. The fire tender brought the rocks, placing them in the pit. Patagah made offerings to the Creator and mother Earth in the Indian way, splashing water on the rocks which then burst forth steammixing with fragrant smoke of sacred herbs such as sage. It got good and hot in there. When at last we were done and left the lodge drenched in sweat, the prairie night felt cool and fresh to the skin. 

Yesterday, after forty years I entered a sacred sweat lodge again. This time in southern Mexico where we live in a village on the outskirts of Oaxaca. We were invited by our “vecinos,” neighbors to come for a birthday in honor of their daughter, Kaoni, 39, a healer and health practitioner. They are making a healing center at their home and built a “temescal.”  It is a short dome made of adobe mud bricks with single entrance and fire pit in the middle to hold hot rocks. It holds about 12 people during ceremonies. 

When we were first invited, Amy was not sure she wanted to do the sweat because she has been taking medicine for high blood pressure. In her past she has done many sweat ceremonies with Native Americans, mostly Lakota and Dakota Sioux. But now she has more health concerns. Kaoni encouraged her to at least participate for fifteen minutes. It is not just a physical practice but spiritual as well. 

We walked down at 3:30 in the afternoon. A small group was gathering, all younger than us. Cordial introductions were made. After changing into light attire for the sweat, (I wore swim trunks,) Kaoni asked each person to enter the temescal, kneeling in prayer at the threshold. I could not stand up in the space, but the girl next to me could. Soon we were all seated and given bottles of water, along with sprigs of rosemary and basil. Hot rocks were brought in, the opening shut with cloth, and  in the dark, prayers began. Water splashed against the rocks creating steam. Immediately there was some coughing. Amy was among those who coughed. I don’t understand much Spanish  but got the gist of the prayers to Mother Earth and the Creator. At one point each person spoke something from the heart and the whole group accepted it. In Spanish I said, “Thank You God for earth and sky. Thank you for heart.” 

Within 20 minutes several people left, including Amy. As the heat and steam increased, I sweated. Overcoming some discomforts from sitting on the hard earth in a cramped space, I gave in to the process. I thought of the journey I had been on a week earlier going into the mountains to fast and commune with Spirit. The exact same feeling came; to let go and surrender. I felt the hard places inside melting away. In the womb of darkness, amid other soul travelers facing hardships determined to sacrifice for renewal, I felt calm. In fact I participated in my own rebirth, acknowledging that even if I was seven decades into this life, my paths forward were open. 

Sunday, March 05, 2023

More than Can Be Read In Books


I more clearly see an ending to this journey, with each day bringing me closer to a final scene. I want whatever time is left to be meaningful for myself and others. After seven decades on earth with myriad experiences, all inscribed in God´s cosmic records and my memory, I yearn for more wisdom, understanding and insight into life.

At times in the last few months I have had the feeling, What am I doing with my life? What am I to do with my time?  I have been an artist, writer, photographer, traveler, husband, father and friend. All has helped define me. Now, what more? Of course moving with Amy to a little village in Mexico flipped our lives. My art changed and I ask , Where am I? Who am I?

An excerpt from the writings of Bahaú´llah has been as a lantern in the darkness for me for many years: “O My friend, listen with heart and soul to the songs of the spirit, and treasure them as thine own eyes.” – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys.

An urge recently  took hold to go alone on a vision quest, forsaking food and routine in order to get spiritual clarity. There is a a nature reserve called Cuatro Venados, or Four Deer, about 45 minutes from our house and the road there is paved, with little traffic.

We drove and Amy left me alone, agreeing to return on the third day. An old man took my 500 pesos ( about 25.00 USD) for two nights, then showed me uphill to a cabin made of adobe mud bricks and timber. It could sleep 6 people and had a fireplace. Basically a big room with bathroom attached. Windows with curtains on three sides. Other cabins were nearby on the hillside but I was the only one staying there. Very quiet and I soon felt alone. 

Nearby, a short walk down a dusty road and into the woods is a waterfall that is fabulous. It is part of the attraction of the eco-resort. Also on the property are little trails I explored. A creek runs through on its way to the waterfall. Especially I thrilled at the pine trees and greenery all around. At home, everything is dusty and brown from four months of dry season and no rain. 

Curiously, I had no hunger, and if a small craving came I enjoyed quashing it. My energy stayed good, but eventually I tired more easily during walks. The last night I woke and felt very strange including my heart. If I spiraled into something dangerous I was stuck without help. So I ate a bowl of granola and coconut water.

Everything around was speaking to me: the pine trees, birds, temperatures that went from hot to cold, stars in the night sky, silence and nature. I wrote in my journal: Just being, no agenda—The sound of a gurgling brook. Inhaling pine sap that has been warmed by sunlight. Water flowing over land and through the woods, meandering serpentine until a cliff interrupts its course, causing it to cascade through air, splashing on rock, falling more in spray and thunder until collecting in pools⏤only to resume an inexorable journey. I sit on a hillside that is covered deep in pine needles, under pine trees, while listening to the waterfall. The forest is dappled in light. Air is cool and balmy with gentle breezes wafting all around.  

“Nothing do I perceive, but I perceive God within it, God before it and God after it.” – Baha’u’llah

“Sometimes a tree can tell you more than can be read in books.”  ⏤C G Jung

Monday, February 20, 2023

Night of Carnival

I was slightly fearful of creating this particular unforgettable experience. I spoke with a psychologist about going to Rio de Janeiro for carnival, explaining I knew how hedonistic the trip could be and how my nature was sort of wild with some chaos thrown in to the mix. He smiled, confirming what we both knew. I booked my trip and went to South America for three weeks, including a night of carnival in the sambadrome February 14, 2010 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rio indeed becomes quite a swirl of exuberant activity during carnival. Millions take to the streets and of course the main event is samba parades in the sambadrome. Five nights of parades.The parade starts at 9:30pm and it goes until 5-6am. Each of the six Samba Groups have 82 minutes to parade. Each group includes up to 3000 participants. 

There are also balls preceding the samba events. Each ball is based on a theme. The one I attended was called Red & Black, the colors of a favorite Brazilian soccer team. I had paid my fee before leaving the US, so had time to shop for clothes that were red and black. In particular, I found an awesome black shirt with red lightning designs.

The ball began at 11 PM and went until dawn. I took a cab from my hotel and arrived as other international people were stepping into the cavernous ballroom; dressed in red and black of course. The music and dancing was incredible, and because people were also getting inebriated the floor swirled with bumping and grinding. I got in the middle of it all, just feet from the stage where along with the band playing salsa and samba, scantily clad girls made shimmering ripples with their bodies . . . I had never seen flesh quiver like that.

The sambadrome holds perhaps 90,000 people and some carnival nights include higher ranked samba groups. I went on one of the best nights: Sunday. I also paid for one of the best spots to sit. The most I will ever pay. Not saying how much . . . but it got me an incredible view where I took pictures all evening and morning until my battery gave out just before dawn.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Sojourn to the Sea

For the first time since we moved to Mexico almost three years ago my daughter Sarah is visiting us. Our house has plenty of room and we are happy to be together. Yet we are somewhat removed from cultural activities since the location is in a pueblo outside of Oaxaca. Sarah asked about going to the ocean, so we decided to make the seven hour drive through the Sierra Madre Mountains to the Pacific. Amy and I had visited Mazunte about 2 years ago and liked it. It has an international reputation as a hip and laid back spot along the coast. Young people especially like it as a counter culture place to forget the world and re-center in harmony with nature. 

To drive from Oaxaca with our puppy MaliNalli, we followed an infamously winding road through mountains that makes some sick to their stomachs. The dog threw up! Near the coast, earth gave way to sand. Our fabulous hotel, Carpe Diem, took us in with open arms and made us feel at home on a tree laden hillside above the ocean. Sarah participated in yoga sessions on the roof veranda with sparkling and astonishing views.

Mazunte beach is not for swimming because the ocean is too strong with powerful waves hitting the steep shoreline. We drove 7 minutes to nearby San Augustinillo where swimming is perfect. Amy sat contentedly by a table under a big beach umbrella. Sarah and I dove in and played in the surf. MaliNalli streaked around with joy but was afraid of the water. She dug holes in the sand . . . just like any child.

Yoga by the sea

Sunday, February 05, 2023

An Unexpected Place

Final Voyage, oil on linen, 30 x 48 inches

My most recent painting had a surprising genesis. Amy and I were at a special museum exhibit in Oaxaca featuring art celebrating Xoloitzcuintle dogs. We own one. “Xoloitzcuintles are national treasures in Mexico, with a history that goes back at least 3,000 years. Mentions of these “strange hairless dogs” appear in the journals of Cortez and other European explorers. Ancient Aztecs named the breed for their dog-headed god Xolotl. Xolos were considered sacred by the Aztecs and often were sacrificed and buried alongside their owners to serve as protective guides to the next world. In modern times, Xolos are dedicated watchdogs and companions.”
At one time Xolos were almost extinct, now resurrected they are celebrated. Ancestors of today’s Mexicans held the dog in high regard and today it is the dog most representative of Mexico.

In art, “happy accidents” are gifts. Like a lightning bolt, pure inspiration suddenly comes from an unexpected place. Many times I have labored on art with good intentions only to find I don’t like the outcome. Perhaps it lacks spontaneity, freshness . . . and so I strike out what I have done. Then something new appears in that destruction. A new direction and vision occurs.

At the exhibition, among the paintings, drawings and sculptures, I found myself in front of a glass case. Inside, a bronze sculpture of a boat, holding only an erect Xolo at the bow, showing the way. That moment I got an idea for a painting. I could make another of my “Memento Mori” pieces, commemorating the inevitability of death and passage between worlds.

At home I began gathering together ideas and decided death would row a boat with a casket while a Xolo sat atop, amidst flowers. I would call the work “Final Voyage.” The lake is set among mountains. The mood is somber but a light shows through the clouds, illuminating the waters. The course is set, the journey begun, with our Xolo guide present showing the way.

First study


Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Original Tin Angel

When our neighbor Mayolo understood that Amy and I needed frames for our paintings in our little village in southern Mexico, he said, “I can make them out of tin!” My first reaction was to say no. I had never shown a painting in a tin frame and considered it cheap material that is used to preserve foods. Mayolo insisted he could do something that would make us happy. We decided to try one.

Memento Mori,    Steven Boone

I don’t understand Spanish and Mayolo does not speak EnglishAmy does her best to interpret. 

We collaborated with Mayolo to use motifs from our paintings as frame elements, and, the magnificent results that Mayolo created are mind blowing.

Rooster Serendade,    Steven Boone

Mayolo delivers frames that truly delight, proving he is a master craftsman and ingenious artist.

The Key,    Amy Córdova Boone

Best Birthday,    Amy Córdova Boone

Since that first frame, he has delivered to us nine moreeach distinctly custom made with unique embellishments that enhance the art. In fact, each piece is itself a work of art and adds great value. Thank you, to our dear friend and brother, the one and only Mayolo!

                                                                  Amy Córdova Boone