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Archive for the ‘People’ Category

Today, I broke my self-imposed social-distancing exile and went for a walk around town. The traffic was unusually light and I wondered if all the tourists had flown the coop, going home while the going was good in the wake of COVID-19 and/or Oaxaqueños were beginning to heed the protective measures issued by the World Health Organization. However, the giant Mexican flag on the zócalo and closed banks, shops, and my dentist’s office tipped me off — today is the day Mexico celebrates her much beloved five-term and only indigenous (Zapotec) president, Benito Juárez. His actual birthday is March 21, but the third Monday of March has been designated as the national holiday. Three-day weekends are popular here, too!

Looking up today in Parque Labastida.

In these trying times, we would all do well to remember his famous words: Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz. (Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.)

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Aguas, atole, aguardiente, cafe, chocolate, compuestos, destilados, pulque, tejate, tepache, and té, oh my! Those are only fraction of the 72 beverages (alcoholic and non) found in the eight regions of the state of Oaxaca and featured in the “hot off the press” book, Bebidas de Oaxaca. Authors, Salvador Cueva and Ricardo Bonilla spent a year traveling up and down and over and through the mountains, valleys, and coastal regions of this most diverse, both geographic and cultural, state.

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Ricardo Bonilla and Salvador Cueva.

They met the indigenous men and women whose families have handed down through countless generations the recipes for everyday and ceremonial beverages. Most of all they got to know, learn from, and appreciate the people and their traditions. A poem, composed and recited by Emma Méndez García from Huatla de Jiménez, expressed the pride and strength of the rich cultures of those who contributed their time, histories, and knowledge to the project.

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Emma Méndez García (Huautla de Jiménez) reciting the poem she wrote in honor of the occasion.

The relationship the authors developed with their subjects was obvious at Saturday afternoon’s book presentation at the gloriously dilapidated and magical Proyecto Murguia (site of the 2012 El Sueño de Elpis). They presented each of the cocineras and cocineros featured in the book with the book, a book bag, a mug, and much gratitude and appreciation.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Jovita López Cruz (Unión Nacional Zafra), and Salvador Cueva.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Carina Santiago (Teotitlán del Valle), and Salvador Cueva.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Catalina Chávez Lucas (Tlacolula de Matamoros), and Salvador Cueva.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Reyna Mendoza (Teotitlán del Valle), and Salvador Cueva.

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Ricardo Bonilla, Celia Florian (La Ciénega, Zimatlán), and Salvador Cueva.

Following the formal presentations, 20 of the beverages were free to sample and purchase directly from their makers.

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Mezcal from Graciela Ángeles Carreño (Santa Catarina Minas).

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Pinole prepared by Elisa León Pérez (Santa Catarina Ixtepeji).

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Estella serving Chocolateatole con cacao blanco by Carina Santiago (Teotitlán del Valle).

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Tepache con rojo by María Díaz Cortés and Juana Gallardo Jiménez (Santa María Tlahuitoltepec).

Bebidas de Oaxaca is available in Spanish and English and in hard and softbound editions. For information regarding purchasing the book, go to their website. Or, if you are in Oaxaca city, attend the book talk at La Jícara (Porfirio Díaz 1105) on Thursday evening, March 5, 2020 at 7:00 PM. A percentage of the sales of the book will go to the Bebidas de Oaxaca foundation to support the people and families who participated in the book.

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Día de Carnaval (aka, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Carnival) in Oaxaca is muy especial — especially in the village of San Martín Tilcajete. The Spanish brought the tradition to Mexico and, like may other seasonal celebrations, it conveniently coincided with indigenous festivals celebrating the “lost days” of the Mesoamerican calendar, “when faces were covered to repel or confuse evil.” Apparently, it caught on “because it was one time when normal rules could be broken especially with the use of masks to hide identities from the authorities.”

Masks waiting to be worn at the workshop of Victor Fabián Ortega (click on image to enlarge)…

Not only were there masks at the workshop, there were bodies to be painted and it was a family affair — brothers, sisters, cousins, children, wives, and Victor himself who painted, was painted, and donned a mask.

Other family members (including women, new in the past couple of years) came painted and masked to gather to begin roaming through the village with other families, inviting one and all to the festivities!

And, it’s not just the adults. As with all celebrations and rituals in Oaxaca, children are encouraged to appreciate and participate — hopefully, ensuring these traditions continue.

The devils of San Martín Tilcajete laughed at everything: baptisms, weddings, solemn acts. Surrounded by devils with masks, old shoes, clothing of sacks, paintings that come from the earth and ancestral plants, they roam the streets chattering and everywhere they walk the streets laughing and appear either as devils or animal spirits.

That is why in SMT in carnival, it becomes a poetic dimension of shapes, colors and sounds; a fun and educational community that teaches us how imperfect we are, and to ask the good not to be so solemn and boring. Chamucos: Carnaval de San Martín Tilcajete Oaxaca, by Adolfo Pérez Butrón. (My translation.)

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I’m in el norte and it is all quiet on the norther front on this day honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. In fact, the sound of silence was one of the things that struck me as the taxi drove me and my luggage through the streets of my little hometown at the base of Mount Tamalpais. The Oaxaca I left a few days ago, was a cacophony of rocket booms and bangs, church bells ringing, processions with enthusiastic bands, and barking dog. From my terrace, yesterday and today, I would have been treated to sound on steroids honoring Guadalupe. Funny what one gets used to…

The above images of the Virgin of Guadalupe were created for an altar dedicated to Guadalupe at the Roses and Revelations textile exhibition and are by painter and sculptor, Demetrio Garcia Aguilar, a member of the talented Aguilar family of potters of Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca. The indigenous symbols used pay homage to the pre-Hispanic fertility and earth goddess, Tonantzin (“Our Sacred Mother” in the Nahuatl language), whose temple at the top of Tepeyac Hill had been destroyed by the Spanish conquerors. Syncretically, this became the site where the apparition the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego asking that a church be built on that site and thus the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe began — another step in the blending of the old and new religions and the original peoples and the Spanish newcomers.

By the way, the Roses and Revelations exhibition is on tour and is currently at the Museo Nacional de Culturas Popular in Coyoacán, in Mexico City. It will run to April 19, 2020.

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What can I say? The poster for the 4th Annual Mezcal Fair in Santa Catarina Minas came across my Facebook page and I said, let’s go! Thus, friends and neighbors rented a van (with non-drinking driver) to head an hour south of Oaxaca city for day two of the 2-day fair.

A barro for distilling mezcal enhancing the basketball hoop.

Naturally, it was held in the municipal basketball court, adjacent to the church!

Food vendor and family member setting up.

Of course, being gringos, we were early, so we headed for the food stalls (all the better to absorb the mezcal to come) — including empanadas from San Antonino Castillo Velasco. Though, in all honesty, they weren’t nearly as good as the gal we usually go to in San Antonino.

Maestro mezcalero, Don Pablo Arellanes Ramírez.

The mezcal stalls hadn’t quite begun to be staffed.

Luis Arellanes Cruz atop the outdoor oven pit used to cook the agave piñas.

However, thanks to mi amiga K, who went in search of cervesa (beer) to wash down our empanadas, we were introduced to Luis Arellanes Cruz, who then took us to the Los Arellanes palenque, explained the process of turning agave piñas into mezcal to the new initiates among us, and introduced us to maestro mezcalero, Rufino Felipe Martinez.

Félix Ángeles Arellanes

Returning to the feria, several of us were delighted to renew our acquaintance with Félix from Mezcal El Minerito where, the last time I was there, friends and I watched the process of layering agave piñas, bagaso, and a tarp to begin the cooking process.

Folkloric dancers from Sección XXII of the teachers’ union of the City of Oaxaca.

Of course, no feria would be complete without entertainment. According to the schedule, there were bands and presentations and parades and dancers and…

The road out of town.

After three hours of wandering, eating, tasting, and enjoying, it was time to head back to the city. As they say, a great time was had by all!

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Today, November 3, blogger buddy Chris and I made our annual pilgrimage to experience the flowers and families of the panteón in San Antonino Castillo Velasco. We have been doing this for many years and are always surprised and delighted by the creativity of the living, as they decorate the graves of their departed. This year was no exception — especially the sculptures on two of the graves. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Below, the plaque on the simple wooden cross read, 1994 – 2018 Fernando Moctezuma Valencia García “Tachuma” Te amoremos por siempre, tu familia (We love you forever, your family). A little internet research revealed that the young Fernando was already a talented ceramicist.

The hands of a loved one honoring Fernando by creating this exceptional sculpture on his grave, moved me to tears.

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A mural celebrating the life and music of composer and violinist Macedonio Alcalá has joined a bust of fellow Oaxaqueño composer Álvaro Carillo in the Jardín Carbajal (Macedonio Alcalá at Cosijopi).  The mural by Uriel Barragán Bouler was unveiled August 22, 2019 in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the death Macedonio Alcalá. The composer is best known for his piece, “Dios nunca muere” (God Never Dies) — a song that has become Oaxaca’s unofficial anthem and provided the artist with the theme of the mural.

Mural of composer Macedonio Alcalá

According to one legend: While Macedonio Alcalá was convalescing from a serious illness, he was visited by a group of indigenous people from Tlacolula de Matamoros, who asked him to compose a waltz for their festival of the Virgen de la Asunción. Subsequently, the flutist José Maqueo went to see him, and noticing the poverty stricken situation of Macedonio Alcalá, without him noticing Maqueo left twelve pesos under the pillow. The next day the composer found the money and told his wife: “Look, God never dies, always comforts the afflicted,” and he immediately began writing “Dios nunca muere.”

Whether it’s true or not, it’s a lovely story to accompany a lovely waltz.

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Oaxaca is in mourning. Last night, word of the passing of one of her greatest champions, Maestro Francisco Toledo was announced by Mexico’s president — an indication of the importance and esteem the Maestro is held. Born in Juchitán, Oaxaca on July 17, 1940, Toledo died in Oaxaca city on September 5, 2019, at age 79.

This morning outside the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO), which he founded and funded.

Besides being a world renown artist, he was a fighter for social justice and the environment, a very generous philanthropist, and crusader for the respect of indigenous peoples and character of Oaxaca. People are still chuckling over the unique form of protest he led when a McDonald’s threatened to open in the zocaló.

This morning, inside the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO).

We awoke this morning to see the gigantic Mexican flag that flutters above the city of Oaxaca flying at half staff and large black bows, indicating a family in mourning, had been fastened above many of the institutions that benefited from Toledo’s philanthropy.

Biblioteca Pública Central Margarita Maza de Juárez – Oaxaca’s main public library.

The streets of Oaxaca are little more subdued today — less laughter, music muted, and even the traffic doesn’t seem as chaotic.

On the sidewalk outside the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO).

A public tribute to the Maestro is scheduled for 2:00 PM today at the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá.

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It’s Guelaguetza time in Oaxaca… so many festivals, parades, and food festivals. However, not so much time to blog.

July 18, 2019 – Olga Cabrera (Tierra del Sol) and Carina Santiago (Tierra Antigua) following their mole demonstrations.

July 19, 2019 – Festival del los Moles at the Jardín Etnobotánico.

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July 20, 2019 – Mariachi concert at Hotel Las Golandrinas, in honor of founders, Señor and Señora Velasco.

July 20, 2019 – Gathering, in the rain, of one of the China Oaxaca delegations at the Guelaguetza desfile.

July 21, 2019 – Feria Regional de Hongos Silvestres (wild mushroom festival) in Cuajimoloyas, in the Sierra Norte.

So much fun and so much more to do! Stay tuned…

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Yesterday, friends from California invited me to accompany them on one of their favorite pastimes — going to the source for artisanal mezcal. At our first stop, the palenque of Félix Ángeles Arellanes, Mezcal El Minerito, we were just in time to watch the beginning of the process of cooking the agave piñas.

The art of making mezcal at the palenque, Mezcal El Minerito.

Piling river rocks onto the red and white hot coals in the earthen pit that functions as the horno (oven).

Covering the rocks with bagaso (recycled crushed agave fibers).

Putting the long tobasiche agave piñas into the oven.

Adding the more rounded jabalí and tobalá piñas.

Topping it off with more tobasiche piñas.

Covering the piñas with more bagaso.

Félix’s sons worked nonstop — an hour and fifteen minutes from the time of the first photo, they covered the mound with tarps to enclose the oven. Though we didn’t see it, I suspect this was then sealed with soil.

Félix pours the “Nectar of the Gods” — a multilayered and complex artisanal mezcal.

Nothing like being at the right place at the right time. And, yes, we not only watched, we tasted and we bought!

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While Juana was wrapping the branches and trunk of my newly acquired hat stand (my aforementioned decade-in-Oaxaca anniversary present to myself), I wandered around Matlacihua Arte.  My eyes and feet kept drawing me to a back corner of the showroom where a lamp, assembled from three intricately carved and painted jícara gourds, beckoned.

It is the work of Gabriel Sosa Ortega, the son of Jesus and Juana.  Working in a variety of mediums, Gabriel is one of the up and coming talented young artists being recognized in the state.  He was part of the Friends of Oaxacan Folk Art (FOFA) exhibition of young artists at the Museo Estatal de Arte Popular Oaxaca (MEAPO) and he collaborated with Jesus Sosa Calvo (his father) and US-based artist Joe Lewis in a piece for the Bajo la bóveda azul cobalto/Under the Cobalt Blue Sky — an exhibition of international collaboration at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO).

Gabriel’s lamp made me an offer I couldn’t refuse!

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As of today, it has been ten years since I, accompanied by two suitcases and a backpack, arrived to begin making lemonade out of lemons by moving to Oaxaca.  And, in case you haven’t guessed, I haven’t regretted it for a minute.  Oaxaca, how do I love thee?  There are too many ways to count!  However, being embraced by the warm and welcoming arms of Oaxaqueños and being surrounded by art, culture, and history are at the top of my list.  So, what better way to celebrate the past ten years than to commission a piece of functional art — a hat stand — from the San Martín Tilcaje workshop of Jesus Sosa Calvo.

Juana Vicente Ortega Fuentes and Jesus Sosa Calvo with my new hat stand.

Sunday, blogger buddy Chris and I pointed his little Jetta towards San Martín Tilcajete to pick it up.

When I discussed the piece with Jesus, my only instructions to him were that he incorporate hummingbirds (colibries, en español) in the design — and he certainly did! (Click on images to enlarge.)

The initial plan had been for the hat rack to reside in my bedroom.  However, it was way too beautiful not live near the entrance to Casita Colibrí, for all visitors to see.

My new piece of functional art already looks at home in Casita Colibrí.

Muchisimas gracias to Oaxaca and her people for enriching my life for the past ten years.  Here is to many more!!!

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A foodie blog post is overdue and so I present to you, Oaxaca Eats Food Tours, the brainchild of Kay and Dean Michaels.  Loving and appreciating Oaxaca and wanting to share it, they saw a niche and proceeded to fill it beginning in August 2018.  The goals that guide their enterprise are:

  • Share the gastronomic richness of Oaxaca with people from all over the world
  • Hire local tour coordinators and support businesses passionate about their culture and cuisine
  • Give back to the community through charitable donations

And so, a few weeks ago, I joined several others at the designated gathering spot (in our case, in front of the now departed OAXACA sign across from Santo Domingo) where Dean and Kay greeted us, introduced the tour guides and presented us with our “Tour Activity Sheet” that included an itinerary listing the restaurants we would be visiting and the dishes they would be offering — very handy for this blogger, when reconstructing the day.

Our first stop (if you don’t count a brief visit to a nearby cart for a few whet-your-whistle sips of tejate in keepsake small traditionally painted red jícara cups) was the rooftop terrace of Mezquite Gastronomía, a restaurant that has become one of my favorites of late.

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Botana Oaxaqueña – guacamole, chapulines, quesillo, queso fresco, pico del gallo, chicken taquito, cecina, tesajo, chorizo, quesadilla, memela

Upon our arrival, a tall glass of fresh squeezed orange agua fresca, a platter filled with traditional Oaxacan appetizers, and a refreshing mezcal cocktail was set before each of us.  Our waiter described each item and its preparation, while our tour coordinators translated and, during the meal, added a little history and a few anecdotes of their own, and answered any and all questions.  They were a font of knowledge.

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Perro Oaxaqueño – mezcal cocktail featuring grapefruit

Next on the tour’s itinerary was Los Danzantes, another restaurant I have been to many times.  However, one of the fun parts of Oaxaca Eats, is tasting menu items you have never before ordered — because there are already too many dishes that sound delicious.  In this case for me, tuna with a sesame tostadito and quesillo and queso wrapped in a hierba santa leaf.

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Quesillo and queso in a hierba santa leaf

Besides a vaso veladora of one of the restaurant’s tasty mezcals, we were also served a Zegacola, a locally made artisanal alternative cola beverage.  While I’m not a fan of soft drinks, this wasn’t nearly as cloying, actually had some flavor, and didn’t leave the impression it could remove the rust from a junkyard car.

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Tall glass of Zegacola next to a vaso veladora of mezcal

Our third stop was at a restaurant I have never before been to, though I pass by it frequently — the Centro Histórico branch of Tierra del Sol.  It was here that the preparation became a participatory event.  We were presented with tray containing a score of ingredients and instructed to choose those that were to be made into our salsa.  I suspect there were no bad choices or combinations!

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Table side grinding chiles in a molcajete for our salsa

In addition to the delicious, though a bit picante, salsa we had created, we were served a tetela filled with beans, chile, and an avocado leaf, along with three different moles, oh my!  And there was an agua fresca of guanábana, a mezcal cocktail with pineapple and celery, AND two copitas (yes, two!) of mezcal — an espadín and a tobalá — from the palenque of maestra (yes, a woman!) Berta Vázquez in San Baltazar Chichicapam.

Mole Mixteco with chicken, Huachimole with pork, and Mole de Laurel with beef

Are you full?  Sorry, there was more!  A several block walk took us up to Don Juanito Taquería and Pozolería.  By this time, we, too, were looking at each other in wide-eyed wonder and asking, could we possibly eat any more?  But we could and we did.  Besides, who could resist Doña Epifania’s charm and tales of the restaurant’s long history (since 1966).

Epifania Albino Robles, wife of owner Felix Leoza, explaining Don Juanito’s history and the preparation of each plate

Did I mention, it was a very hot day?  I can’t begin to describe how refreshing the agua fresca of pineapple and hierba buena was!  As if we hadn’t already eaten enough, in addition to tostaditos with guacamole and red and green salsas, we were served a beef tostada, beef taco al vapor, and their renown pozole.

Pozole (beef and pork) de la Casa

Believe it or not, it still wasn’t time to part company.  Our final destination was Cafébre, where a self-described coffee geek regaled us with her coffee knowledge and enthusiasm, all the while brewing coffee to exacting specifications — cup one using a Melitta filter pour-over technique and cup two using an AeroPress plunger-like device.  I think we were all seriously surprised at how the taste of the same coffee beans could vary so much depending on the brewing technique.

Brewing coffee using Melitta filter technique

The sweetness of the day was sealed with a creamy maracuyá flavored cheese cake which, as unbelievable as it sounds, we all finished.  By this time, Kay and Dean had rejoined us, we lingered, and then finally said our thank you’s and farewells and waddled back to our respective homes and hotels — sated and sleepy.  Four hours of delicious dining is exhausting!!!

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Yesterday, Mexico celebrated el Día del Artesano (Day of the Artisan).  Alas, I’m a day late in recognizing the men and women whose artistry in carrying on traditions and renewing and enriching them with their own creative spirit contributes to Oaxaca’s vibrant cultural life and economy.  However, the entire month of March has been designated “month of the artisan,” so here are several of the artesanas and artesanos who I have had the honor and joy of knowing and visiting over the past year.

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Emilia Gonzalez, wool spinning and dying in Teotitlán del Valle

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Juan Manuel García Esperanza, silver filigree, Ciudad de Oaxaca

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Carrizo basket maker from San Juan Guelavía

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Barro rojo (red clay) potters from San Marcos Tlapazola

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Mural painters in San Martín Tilcajete

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Weaver from Santo Tomás Jalieza

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Eligio Zárate, potter, Santa María Atzompa

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Jesús Sosa Calvo, wood carver and painter, San Martín Tilcaje

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Seamstress, embroiderer, crocheter, Sra. Gutiérrez from Teotitlán del Valle

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Don Luís, weaver, Ciudad de Oaxaca

A very special thank you to Don Luís, whose weaving studio shares a wall with my apartment and I have the pleasure of seeing and hearing most every day.  The rhythmic sounds of his loom are one of the songs on the soundtrack of my Oaxaca life.

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The devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe captured the imagination of fiber artist Linda Hanna when, as an early teen, she visited Mexico with her family and saw believers crawling on their knees up to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Blouse by Teresa Silvia Tzintzun, San Pedro Zipiajo, Michoacán (Purepecha).

Detail of blouse by Teresa Silvia Tzintzun, San Pedro Zipiajo, Michoacán (Purepecha).

The Virgin’s appeal continued to deepen when Linda moved to Oaxaca in 1997.  Thus the seeds/threads of the exhibition, “Rosas y Revelaciones: Homage to the Virgin of Guadalupe by Mexican Textile Artists” were sown/sewn.

Blouse by Marcolina Salvador Hidalgo, Chachahuantla, Puebla (Nahua).

Detail of blouse by Marcolina Salvador Hidalgo, Chachahuantla, Puebla (Nahua).

The legend of La Virgen de Guadalupe is known to every Mexican, every person of Mexican descent, and probably every foreigner who calls Mexico home.  The image of this dark-skinned Virgin who spoke Náhuatl is as imprinted on the national consciousness as she was on Juan Diego’s legendary tilma (cloak).

Dress by María Guadalupe Santiago Sánchez, San Antonino Castillo Velazco, Oaxaca (Zapoteco).

Detail of dress by María Guadalupe Santiago Sánchez, San Antonino Castillo Velazco, Oaxaca (Zapoteco).

Her image has continued to appear on cloth, albeit with human, not divine, intervention.  Both Father Miguel Hidalgo in the Mexican War of Independence and Emiliano Zapata, one hundred years later, during the Mexican Revolution, led their troops under the banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Man’s tunic by Pascuala Vásquez Hernández, Zinacatán, Chiapas (Tzotzil, Maya).

Shawl by Adolfo García Díaz & Delvina Salinas Cruz, Tenancingo, Estado de México.

The Rosas y Revelaciones textile exhibition presents work from 52 communities in ten states in Mexico (Chiapas, Colima, Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tlaxacala, and Yucatán) — with the majority being from Oaxaca.

Apron by Valeria García Hernández, San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca (Zapoteco).

Detail of apron by Valeria García Hernández, San Miguel del Valle, Oaxaca (Zapoteco).

Linda explained that she gave the artists free rein to let their imagination and expertise be their guide. I suspect these words by Guadalupe Ángela, from her poem, “Virgen de la Creación” (Madonna of Creation) composed for the exhibition, echo their prayers for inspiration and guidance:

Madonna of Creation
pull the image from me, the beauty.
Make it cedar, make it textile, make it
a landscape.  May the needle and thread be touched
by you.

Ruana by Erasto (Tito) Mendoza Ruiz, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca (Zapoteco).

When you go, be sure to take the time to watch the video interviews with some of the artisans — the seriousness, devotion, and honor they felt at being selected to participate in this incredibly special project is extremely moving.  The show is currently at the Museo Estatal de Arte Popular Oaxaca (MEAPO) (closed on Mondays) in San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oaxaca and runs through March 17, 2019 (extended until April 28, 2019) — after which it will be prepared to tour.  Its first stop will be at the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares in Coyoacán, Mexico City — in time for Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12, 2019.

(ps)  Linda is hoping the exhibition will develop wings and fly throughout Mexico and eventually to the USA.  If you have contacts in the museum world who might be interested in hosting this exhibition, please be sure to contact Linda Hanna at Casa Linda.

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