Monday, September 18, 2023

¡Viva! Art On The Streets


Amy and I are artists who spend time together creating art in our wonderful home in a village outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. We go to the city at least three days a week and feel excitement. I always make a new discovery and am surprised by something I have not seen before. Much of it is art on the streets. 

The street art is awesome and mysterious because we assume it is done for free by artists who create masterpieces.

My daughter Sarah during a visit

One group, called Subterreneos, is a collective of artists. They have their own atelier and make woodblock prints, sometimes on a massive scale. Much of the work is of somewhat political nature, making social justice statements. The prints are for sale, but often also are printed on special papers that are then glued with a wheat paste substance on walls around the city. I have seen fantastic works. They deteriorate naturally, but are replaced with something new, often  in a different location. 

Mural being created by the group Subterreneos for a local food market

Artist working on mural

Native culture, heritage, tradition and “raíces,” or roots, all run deep in Oaxaca. Travel and Leisure Magazine has awarded Oaxaca first place in its annual best cities in the world issue⏤more than once. Amy and I chose to live here after an initial visit. We felt a definite allure. When we found our dream house at a price we could not resist, we made the move. It was like holding hands and jumping into the unknown, but trusting something bigger.

We live outside of the big city in a growing community called San Pedro Ixtlahuaca. Not much around but cornfields and rolling hills, but it has a town center with businesses and is not far from a hugely important Mexican archeological site called Monte Alban.

Oaxaca and its charms are all close by.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

In The Heart

In the heart of the tapestry that is Oaxaca, Mexico, a treasure trove of villages unfurl, each with its own distinct artistry woven into the fabric of tradition. For instance one village is famous for woodworking, another for textiles and yet another for clay work. Like living time capsules, they specialize in crafts that span generations, weaving threads of culture and craftsmanship into art. 

Last Friday morning, a journey of cultural exploration awaited, intertwining the lives of Amy and me with the essence of our adopted homeland.

The sun cast its golden glow upon the rugged landscape and abundant corn fields as we set out from our home in the village of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, guided by our gracious Mexican neighbors, Mayolo and Marta. Our destination was San Bartolo de Coyotepec, a place renowned far and wide for its special black pottery.

Mayolo, in front of a mural at San Bartolo de Coyotepec

The road stretched before us, each mile bringing us closer to a world rich in tradition and heritage. Our car meandered through busy, cluttered city streets with myriad “tope”, concrete speed bumps, and onward toward our destination, with Mayolo guiding us through the maze of Oaxaca he knows so well. Passing a familiar neighborhood, he said it was where he grew up. He told the story of meeting Marta who lived in the next neighborhood. They met as youngsters in school uniforms. Marta exclaimed she had met her boy and he was hers for life. And so it came to be.

For Amy and I, the day was not just about acquiring artifacts; it was about connecting with the soul of Oaxaca, and perhaps forging bonds with artisans who breathe life into their creations.
Upon arrival after a one hour drive, we found ourselves on an avenue through the heart of the village, surrounded by artisans at work in shops that lined both sides of the street. On display are black vessels that hold stories and shimmer with the sheen of quartz polished surfaces.

Unusually quiet, it seemed we were the only ones looking at the wares. We meandered through marketplaces, admiring the intricate pottery on display. Our eyes danced as we discovered creations that resonated with our hearts. We couldn't resist taking home several pieces of San Bartolo's legacy, each a testament to the creative vision and dedication of its creator.

Finished buying pottery, we walked to a nearby restaurant suggested by a local artist, where we were treated to a feast of flavors unique to this region. The simple cuisine was a composition of tastes and textures, especially the almond molé—a reflection of the diverse culinary tapestry of Oaxaca. Over the shared meal and animated conversations, (Amy helps me as translator when needed,) we dined with Mayolo and Marta, finding ourselves more entwined with the vibrant spirit of Oaxaca. 

I mentioned to Mayolo I want to venture further, to visit Huichol Indigenous communities and document the lives of rural Mexicans. He volunteered to go with me and suggested we could do a peyote ceremony together. It is a sacred tradition among Huichol people. I just might do it.

Early afternoon we bid farewell to San Bartolo de Coyotepec, hearts full with experiences of new friendships and deeper appreciation for beauty that thrives in simple black clay pottery. The journey home was a contemplative one. The last half hour we listened to the Gypsy Kings play their special flamenco songs in Spanish.

Vase that captured Amy's heart.

We brought back to San Pedro Ixtlahuaca not only the tangible treasures of black pottery but also the intangible riches of cultural exchange and profound connections. In the vicinity of Oaxaca, where each village tells a story through its craft, we continue to find our own narrative—of shared experiences, cherished traditions, art, culture and enduring ties that bind us to our adopted home.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

La Ofrenda Sagrada


I liked it as soon as I saw it. Amy was already smitten. We were in a gallery called Peyote People that represents art special to Huichol Indian people of southern Mexico. It is across the street from Boulenc, a bakery and restaurant we visit frequently to buy the best baked bread in Oaxaca. We had bought bread and decided to drop in to the gallery on our return to our car. Beaded art, yarn paintings, textiles, ceramics and wood carvings adorned the area from top to bottom. Amy had stopped in her tracks in front of a yarn painting hanging high on a wall. I came to her side and we admired it together. Huichol yarn paintings are made with colorful yarn meticulously glued to board and depict symbols important to the culture. Amy was especially touched by the motif of corn, feathers, a deer, the sun, and peyote plants, skillfully laid out in yarn of fantastic colors. We bought the piece. 

It is called “La Ofrenda Sagrada” meaning The Sacred Offering, by Jesus Jimenez. We hung it in our kitchen/breakfast nook area, over a bench where my Frida Kahlo painting hung previously. La Ofrenda Sagrada is bright and magical, perfect for its place in our Mexican home.

The Kahlo has moved upstairs, over our bed.

Amy said how much she likes having the Frida Kahlo over our bed now. Nothing was there before. I made the painting, copying Frida’s earliest self portrait and putting a skeleton next to her. In the upper left corner is her quote: “I want to be inside your darkest everything.”