I’ve been under the weather–living through the usual bout which comes from fatigue, too much time on planes and in airports. There are still sketches and photos of Oaxaca I would like to share, but for now, a series of pieces I have made this week, inspired by the colours of Oaxaca. The colour spectrum pouches are designed to stand on their own or pop into a larger bag; some have wrist straps and credit card pockets. The small change pouches below are an homage to the local craftswomen who weave tiny pouches on their back strap looms. All these pieces are all made from recycled leather, are lined with cotton prints and have durable metal zippers.
We are now at the end of our Oaxaca holiday and in the airport in Mexico City for a 9 hour wait. This is a perfect opportunity to do a blog post and maybe some sketching. I have so many photos and sketches on my ipad, but I’ll just do a bit now.
Pablo Gonzales Marsch is a highly respected guide in Oaxaca as was his father before him. Last Wednesday Pablo took us to two villages in the Tlacolula Valley outside Oaxaca. The first was Teotitlan del Valle, the weaving village. Every family there seems to weave; carpets hang outside each household, reds, blues and golds in intricate geometrics, echoing the designs of the sacred buildings at Mitla and Monte Alban. We visited the studio of Jacobo Mendoza Ruiz and his wife–an airy place with four or five large looms, all with work in progress, a showroom and a dyeing room. We had the most informative session on natural dyeing with cochineal, indigo and a local plant which gave a wonderful yellow colour. And then we were able to see the prize winning work of Jacobo and his family. The whole family is involved in producing woven pieces, but the children, late teens, will also go away to school, Jacobo tells us, marking a change in tradition. It will be their choice whether they follow the family tradition or strike out on their own. Palbo explained that this is the first generation to have this choice.
Here Maria Luisa is crushing the cochineal to make the beautiful red colours. Behind are the skeins of newly dyed wool. And below is Maria Luisa with one of her beautiful rugs and one of Jacobo’s award winning rugs, woven with gold thread highlights.
The second half of the day (after a delicious lunch at a road side restaurant) was spent at Mitla, the Zapotec site with walls of complex geometric designs constructed of finely cut stone pieces fitted together without mortar. The Zapotecs had no iron or bronze to cut the stone–so the wonderful precision of the designs as well as their longevity is mind-boggling. Oliver Sacks, in his Oaxaca Journal explains that the Zapotec equivalent for metal was the volcanic glass, obsidian. As I study the designs and copy them in my sketchbook, I start to think of a new hooked rug, or maybe even the border on my current rug. I’ve already decided that one of the birds at Monte Alban, the other archeological site outside Oaxaca, will be my signature of that rug. As we make our way back along the highway the 50 or so kilometers to Oaxaca, my mind is full. Colour, pattern and design dominate, but I am also haunted by thoughts of the Spanish invasion and the wilful destruction of such great beauty and skill. Before we leave, Pablo shows me the evidence that the Catholic church in Mitla was built using stones from the Zapotec sacred sites.
I love sketching and I love good coffee. Oaxaca gives wonderful opportunity to indulge in both. Yesterday, I spent the day walking, sketching, visiting cafes and walking some more. I carry my small plastic stool attached to my backpack–I make quite an odd sight for sure–but the stool allows me to sketch where I like and not rely just on cafes or benches., although there are lots of both in this city.
Above is my sketch from the charming cafe, La Organizacion, in the centre of the old city, just behind the beautiful Macedonia Alcala theatre–a great peach coloured building across the road. Below is a sketch from one of my favourite cafes, Alma de Cafe. This cafe, further north of the city centre, has only three tables and fitting my paints and sketchbook on the table is a squeeze, but the friendly atmosphere and delicious coffee and baking makes it well worth it. Alma herelf was there today and signed my book along with the other server, Araceli. And across the road is Neuroticos Anonimos in case I need it!
Oaxaca has many markets and I have visited most of them–but the Sanchez Pasques seen below is my favourite. What a wealth of colour! But Oaxaca has great quiet beauty as well. The limestone and tiles tell such stories. And I had to include the bicycle which combines, with fun and ingenuity, two of my loves–wool and cycling.
And a sketch done in the quiet recesses of a lovely hotel. This was once a convent and this area was the laundry.
The city is alive this weekend with celebrations of el Dia de los Muertos. Last night we joined the parades–brass bands, banners, fireworks, parents carrying children dressed as skeletons, catrinas and devils, others walkling alongside with white faces and dark eyes. There is a sense of reverence and awe combined with great celebration. We joined the crowds at the Panteon, a huge cemetary just outside the centre of town. Inside the walls there were endless candles and marigolds and sombre music and outside a carnival, including ferris wheel, games and wonderful street food. The adorable sponge-bob, below, had a skeleton face and tiny shining eyes peering from a slit in the striped box body.
I am staying in an apartment in Oaxaca, Mexico, for a couple of weeks, five blocks from the old city centre. It has been warm and sunny and I have had two days to walk around the old city and begin to sketch. I have been sitting on low walls within sight of some lovely buildings, But today I bought a child’s stool at a plastico store at the outrageous price of $1.80 so I plan to do some street scenes crouched down on my red teddy bear stool. I’ve worked out a way to attach it to my backpack.
This city is a Unesco World Hertage site and for good reason–the limestone colonial buildings with the wonderful ironwork abound. Below is the one wing of the state cathedral and below that a window of the science building at the university. We are on our way to the coast for a few days, but hope to be back on Thursday for the Day of the Dead celebrations. Will keep you posted and with some luck will have some sketches of the activities.
I am leaving for a couple of weeks–but will stay in touch here. In the meantime I wanted to show you two more new bags which will be available when I come home. The first is another part-time backpack, this time in slate leather. The camera finds it hard to capture this lovely leather–it has a shimmer which lets you know it is not black, but its own neutral shade. This PTBP is larger than the first one: 12.5″ wide, 11″ tall and 4″ deep with a double leather bottom, wide leather strap, exterior zipper pocket and interior zip/slip pocket in birdbrain canvas and a leather phone pocket. This bag converts easily from cross-body to backpack and can be worn with the pocket against your back for added security.
The second bag is a Sherbrooke bag in tobacco leather. I have been using one like this and find it a great size. It has a zipper pocket outside and three repurposed leather pockets inside. Height 9.5″, width 9.5″ with a long adjustable strap. A perfect day bag which can easily slip inside a tote if you like. High quality zippers and hardware.