Sunday, October 23, 2022


After we moved to Mexico Amy wanted a dog. Not me. I had not owned a dog for over twenty years because I traveled frequently for extended periods. 

When I met Amy in 2017 she had an old chihuahua named Unica. It died within a year. We married in 2018 and moved to Oaxaca, Mexico in 2019. Here, especially outside the city, many destitute animals wander around neglected. Three adopted us. It was because we pitied them and fed them. After the first two I told Amy not to show compassion any more. But a starving brown dog was too much for her to look at⏤and then there were three. One was murdered by a roaming alpha male that asserts himself over the vicinity. One we care for cannot be touched. Each has his own set of fears.

These dogs came to us. But in her heart, Amy wanted the dog that is considered an emblem of Mexico, called Xoloitzcuintle. I had never seen one before moving to Mexico. At first sight I found them rather repulsive. Hairless, wrinkled, with often a tuft of colored hair (moica ) shooting up between their eyes onto the forehead. Amy had an attraction to the Xoloitzcuintle. Maybe because she is a person who deeply feels cultural roots. The name is from the Nahuatl language. Nahua people primarily live in central Mexico and comprise the largest indigenous group. The Aztecs and Toltecs are descendants.

Famous Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera had several  Xoloitzcuintles. Frida's favorite was “Mr. Xolotl,” after the Aztec canine deity and guardian of the underworld.

Amy began following online posts about Oaxaca Xoloitzcuintle. We almost bought one, but it was just before a two month trip to the east coast and Europe. While we were gone, our house sitters took care of feeding the “adopted” dogs that showed up at the backdoor each day.

It happened quickly. Amy saw on Facebook that the breeder here in Oaxaca had a puppy for sale. It was available because the people who had asked for it had not responded to phone calls. We went to have a look, meeting at a nearby coffee shop. The breeder, Enrique, arrived late. Opening the front of his jacket, two big ears popped out, then a little face with inquisitive eyes. With a half hour it was done. We drove home with our Xoloitzcuintle. It will be a medium sized female. 

So far so good. Her name is Malinalli, a day in the Aztec calendar associated with the god Patecatl. Patecatl is associated with medicine, healing, and fertility. She is the most intelligent animal I have ever had. Curious, attentive, playful and sometimes obstreperous. She trains quickly.

Amy is her favorite. 

I call her Molly.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Opportunities Given

It hurt. Children we host at our home outside Oaxaca, Mexico, on Sundays for art lessons stole two keys from our door locks. We don’t know for sure who took them. Last Sunday at the end of the session the keys were missing. Amy and I were aghast. Everybody denied knowing what happened before one of the keys was found under a tree. Mysteriously.

I had misgivings about allowing any of the youth in our house. It is far too grand. They begged, Amy took them in, and for awhile it was okay. Amy had group baking sessions, (an oven is at our home) the bathroom was available, children went through the front door and out the back to play in the yard. Now that has changed. We will allow only one person at a time to come inside to use the bathroom, and an adult must be nearby.

Basically, there are two groups. A mother, Remedios, comes with her daughter, son, and sons best friendall talented, bright and highly courteous. Another group, all girls, come from the neighbors above us that have many problems. We love them and have had  good relationships so far. The theft came as a surprise and blow. Certainly we knew in advance that the children are coming from highly difficult circumstances. Two are almost homeless. Another did not go to school, and then changed her mind and is attending. The homes are impoverished and they see bad things.

Amy and I teach free art classes once a week, on Sunday afternoons. We provide all the materials, arrange projects, serve refreshments, and host at the front patio at our home, which is safe clean and enjoyable. We do all this as service to our neighbors who do not have such opportunities given to them.
Today, Sunday, soon we will begin our session with a talk. Not to shame anyone but to say our feelings have been hurt and respect is necessary to go on. We love everyone and are happy to continue serving. There must be mutual respect. Of course, we know it is one or two kids that acted impulsively without regard . . . this should not cause everyone else to suffer.  

(Picture at top: cups made of painted gourds)

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Helping the Animals

"We don't have two hearts, one for animals and one for humans ; we have one heart or we don't have any."
(Alphonse de Lamartine)

Amy and I are still not accustomed to the sight of half starved creatures roaming roads. Often they are maimed from being struck by vehicles. Twice we found dead dogs on our property and buried them. Two dogs show up at our doorstep every day to be fed. I told Amy after the first one not to feed more. But another one was so pitiful with its bones poking out she fed it and now it is “our” dog. 
Mexican dogs have it rough compared to their northern counterparts.

Avion (foreground,) and Loki
I am Facebook friends with an American woman living in Oaxaca. She is doing marvelous work helping the animals here. Recently she developed a couple of Spanish language coloring booklets to teach children how to handle animals with respect and care. Since Amy and I are teaching in our pueblo, she sent and we printed out an 8 page pamphlet. Soon to be shared during our Sunday workshop at our home.

I have had some misgivings. What if the children go back home and the adults are insulted that we are advising their children. These are poor people who cannot afford cars, water heaters, and sometimes do not send children to school for lack of money. How are they to pay for vet care, neutering, good pet food, grooming etc.? It is like showing them inadequacies.

Yet Amy and I want to make the project fun, and we will show how to make a stitched booklet. The kids can make art for the covers. 

"Animal protection is education to humanity." (Albert Schweitzer)

"Animals often talk more reasonable with their eyes than humans with their mouths." (Ludovic Hal√©vy)

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Dance of Death

Over the years I have come to realize my best artwork elicits strong reactions and not necessarily favorable. People have cried in front of my paintings. I have been assaulted in fury, with invectives hurled. Folks have swooned. 
Most of my career has been as a landscape painter. From the start of life I have been a nature boy. In school I often gazed out the windows to the landscape beyond, wishing to be free as a bird. I am tactile, feeling things to help me connect and understand. Thankfully the world has responded to my creative efforts and I have been able to make a living as an artist all my adult life. 

Keeping Score, oil on linen, 28 x 22 inches  c. 1996 

I struggle to make work that pushes boundaries and reaches into human psychology. A painting series called Hangups, begun in 1993 and continued for a decade were faces hanging from clothespins suspended on lines. The images originated in my subconscious. With the contortions and props, they elicited a wide range of emotions, from happiness to comic laughter, frustration, anger and repulsion. One, called Van Gogh All Hung Up, is in the permanent collection of the Foundation Van Gogh, in Arles France.

French, Middle Ages

Here in Oaxaca, Mexico, I have been working on a series of “Memento Mori” paintings. The Latin phrase literally means, "Remember that you must die." Each time I begin work on one, I touch raw feelings such as sadness or grief. Also come feelings of closure, laughter and relief. 
The famous French painter Matisse made the statement: “Art should be something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.” I say that is not all art must be.  

The biggest annual festival in Oaxaca is Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is time of remembrance and celebration of souls departure from this earthly existence. Most Mexicans consider death as not just a misfortune but also an ultimate state of liberation. Many positive images associated with the skeleton can be found in Mexican culture.

Skeletons in art have a long history. Some of the most memorable works in my mind are by Albrecht Durer, Pieter Breughel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch⏤famous artists from medieval times. In the Middle Ages the skeleton started to be used artistically as a personification of Death, i.e. in Dance of Death artworks, and as a symbolic element in other 'macabre' artistic themes with memento mori content, such as the Triumph of Death.

Detail from Pieter Breughel the Elder, Triumph of Death, 1562

In these contemporary times, the dance of death continues with different plagues: world wide pandemics, global warming and the ensuing natural calamities, wars, famines . . . you get the picture.  Death does not care, it comes to all that live. The skeleton represents spirit released of the body; a medium that connects life and death, conscious and unconscious.