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Archive for March, 2011

Once I got past the outlandish, vivid colors of all the buildings in this mountain town, I began to notice there was a lot of graffiti on the walls. And there are a  lot of walls! No front lawns to be mowed in SC – every home here is faced with a wall on the street and a private courtyard behind the wall on the other side. Occasionally we would see an open door or garage door and loved peeking in to see what was hidden on the other side! Enchanting!

So, if you were the type of person who wanted to make a statement (Banksy – inspired) you would have lots of open “canvas” space here. According to our guide James, graffiti was at its peak about ten years ago, and in later years the street artists have turned to stencils. Not surprising after the huge influence Banksy and his admirers have attracted around the world. My photographic vision had now narrowed from doors, windows and graffiti and began focusing on stencils. Most of the ones I documented were of a political nature, but some of them appeared to be whimsical, or advertising an event. Enjoy the slideshow.

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Fading memories

I’ve so enjoyed the process of sharing my artwork and photos from Chiapas in this blog. It’s been well over a week now, and I can feel the magic of the place slowly fading. We still have our watercolors and prints prominently displayed in our dining room, and we look at them now and marvel – “were we really there?” They begin to increase in significance as we get farther and farther away from the actual experience. The colors, the magic, the designs of Mexico are so distinctively different than our current reality here – the grays and soft greens and browns of the end of winter that we see out our windows.

Tomorrow will be my last Mexico post devoted to the public art of stencils. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this watercolor I painted in Chip’s garden, just up the hill from Na Bolom.

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One of the truly special times in San Cristobal was when we had the opportunity to go to Taller Lenateros and make our own paper, and later in the week print our linocuts on that same paper (and some of their fabulous handmade papers as well!) This cooperative was founded by some of the people who were running Na Bolom, and their goal was to provide employment to the indigenous people so they could sustain themselves. What a wonderful enterprise!

We were brought in, given a brief tour and then set right to work making our own paper! Could you imagine making something beautiful from old recycled office paper? (meaning paper that’s already been printed on with outdated information?) We started by crumpling up sheets of paper from their school system and government offices! one sheet at a time and filled up a bucket of water. Once it was full, we set it to the side to decompose (this is a bit like a recipe for making bread or something!)

Next they gave us a clump of some clean white cotton fibers which we were instructed to cut into very small pieces. Many people in the group were frustrated that their scissors weren’t sharp enough, but we persevered and eventually had a big enough pile to move onto the next task. By now the crumpled paper had completely turned into a mash, so we took a handful of that and a pinch of the cotton fibers, tossed them into the blender with lots of water – whirred thoroughly and then poured into a big tub. When we had enough of the “slurry” mixture in the tub, they instructed us to go out into the garden and gather flowers! What a joy as their selection of flowers even in their tiny little garden was so diverse and different than what we have at home that it felt like a real adventure. I personally was most excited to put lots of the bright orange marigold-like flowers in, since I’m extremely fond of orange!

Next we were shown how to put the screen into the slurry mix and float the flowers on top, scroll around the edges and then flip the mix out onto a sheet of galvanized metal – voila! soon to be a sheet of handmade paper! We each had fun trying to get the flowers “just so” – which of course in the end was futile, since once the papers were dried, no one knew which one was so carefully art directed – was THAT one mine? Artists are so ego driven!!!

So here is my paper! (or maybe not, but it’s one of the ones done by our group!) and here is my heart carving on one of our handmade papers too! What a fun and great experience! These people are truly humble, beautiful members of the human race. We were honored to work in their studio with them, and they were so gracious and welcoming to us gringos!Oh and just to keep pace with the rest of this travel blog – here are the rest of my photos from this heartfelt and soulful paper making place – talk about colors that could send you over the moon!!!

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When we first saw the flyer for the Destination Arts workshop in Chiapas, I had a vision of a quaint little town perched high in the mountains, similar in my mind to Park City, Utah in size. Our flight from Mexico City landed in Tuxla Gutierrez, about one hour in the air after soaring above spiny backbones of dusty colored mountains most of the way. It looked like we were going to land on a grassy field until moments before we touched down. We were met at the airport by a cheerful Mexican driver and momentarily were heading up a very well made and STEEP road that went on for the better part of an hour. (On our way back to the airport, we saw several road bikers heading up this hill and we shook our heads in disbelief! This climb could give the Swiss Alps a run for their money!!)

We saw a few crops, mainly corn being grown on the sparse hillsides as we continued to ascend; our destination was around 7,500 feet above sea level. As we crested the final hill and began to descend, we glimpsed San Cristobal at last and what a shock – it was enormous! I obviously hadn’t done much research, as I then discovered it’s actually a city of 150,000 residents! Thankfully, our gracious hosts at Na Bolom were actually in the oldest part of the city, which felt in many ways, like my original vision of the place: narrow streets, narrow sidewalks, and very old and very colorful buildings! There were grand cathedrals each with a big square in front for markets or gatherings, an incredible Indian marketplace with hand-crafted items and chachkies, a huge indoor food market where folks could buy everything from meat and seafood to beautiful locally grown produce and flowers.

We saw people of every possible description here and kept wondering where they all came from. There were the obvious residents of the community who were walking briskly and with purpose from one place to another. There were many many local Indians, the women with long dark braids, festive attire, and a big sash draped off their shoulders or heads carrying any number of items from children to food or products to sell. Many of them would be hoisting a large bale of shawls or handmade jewelry and approach you on the street looking for instant sales.

The biggest mystery was the ever-shifting parade of young 20 and 30 somethings dressed in completely eclectic garb, some with dreads, some carrying musical instruments, often greeting each other as long lost friends. We began to get the picture that this community attracts young folks from around the world that may be staying in the numerous hostels, and doing what? perhaps what that age group has been doing since our post college days – exploring the world? grand adventures? Anyway, it was fun to speculate as we heard many different languages being spoken there.

Richard and I had a blast painting and this view of San Cristobal was at the top of the Cristobal Colon Steps, looking back to the center of town. Here now another slide show installment of the walls, doors and windows, and views of this enchanting “village”.

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I’ve been keeping a travel sketchbook for most of my adult life. I have an entire shelf of them in my studio, along with my visual diaries and collage sketchbooks. I realized out of doing this blog (and being inspired by Barbara Bash’s blog) that I’ve never shared them with anyone other than Richard! (my favorite model for sketching, as he’s often reading a book or magazine and stays still long enough for me to draw him!) I hope you enjoy today’s entries. Tomorrow I’ll post some of my favorite wall photos from San Cristobal.

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In the next week or so, I will be posting artwork and photos from our recent journey to San Cristobal de las Casas, high in the mountains of southern Chiapas, Mexico. We had the distinct honor to travel there with a group of fellow artists and our intrepid, brilliant leaders Kate McGloughlin and Dan Lipow. They’ve created a great gig for themselves called “Destination Arts” with the goal of traveling the world making art and taking pictures – right up my alley!!!

We had the privilege of staying at a magical hacienda called Na Bolom, part museum part B & B. It was originally built in 1891 as a monastery and later transformed in 1951 by archaeologist and explorer Frans Blom and conservationist and photographer Gertrude Duby. Their goal was to help preserve the indigenous tribes that lived in nearby jungles and towns from the onset of civilization. Na Bolom is still the home to one tribe who are the modern ancestors of the Mayan culture: the Lacandones. We were able to briefly interact with them, but learned the most from the museum which is housed there.

The jaguar has special significance to the people of San Cristobal and especially to our hosts at Na Bolom. They have many different statues of jaguars around the place including this big one in the courtyard. I was inspired to create this linoleum block print from one of the sculptures in the dining room and had a blast remembering how fun it is to carve a piece of linoleum, roll the ink on and see the magic unfold! Thank you Kate!

All for today – will end with a few of my snapshots from Na Bolom. Enjoy!

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