On Saturday we climbed into the 53 Chevrolet taxi again and headed for Holguin. On the way we stopped in Santa Lucia, a small town and the former site of Sanchez Sugar Mill. The mill has been out of production for the last fifteen years, but the promenade with its ornate fence and benches still overlooks the mill buildings. As we walked along I was taken by the pastel buildings and by this one in particular, with its large B. I would love to know the story.
The major buildings in the centre of Santiago de Cuba were getting a facelift, but the streets around the square had an aging neglected beauty. Their once grand cornices and carvings were faded and patched. I loved this doorway even though only one of its original door panels remained.
I’ve owned a Sailor pen for a long time, having ordered it at some point on a whim, but it was only in Cuba that I started to use it. And the more I used it, the more I liked the unpredictability of the line–the skips, the blobs, the thick and thin.
I wish I had had more time to sketch in the city; there was something intriguing around every corner. But before we leave Santiago, here are three photos which capture the flavour. The first was taken from the balcony of the casa where we had lunch with a view of the Padre Pico stairs and the next two highlight the rich colours and the details. And now that I am back in below zero temps, I can’t help but look longingly at that sky.
When I was away in Mexico, the family made plans for us all to celebrate the New Year in Cuba. My older son and his partner were cycling in the eastern part of Cuba for their two week break. They invited the rest of us to stay a week near their route–including 17 month old Louis–so we could all be together for New Year. Although I was not planning to head south again so quickly, (especially as the Kenya trip looms on the horizon), the week turned out to be wonderful both for family and for sketching. And it was certainly a nice break from the -20 temperatures at home.
Although we like the beach, the best part of these holidays is exploring the local towns. So we hired a taxi for the 3 hour ride to Santiago de Cuba and were delighted when Michael arrived with his 53 Chev (with Hyundai diesel engine). We toured some of the churches and monuments to the revolution before entering the city proper. Then we had lunch in a casa at the base of the Padre Pico Stairs and from there walked the city centre from parque to parque.
I have travelled more in 2014 than any other year in my life, 7 countries and several states and provinces. And we are squeezing in an 8th country before the new year. So, I thought I’d share my new travel bags, one I made just this week. I think I have worked out my travel bag needs and am giving these two a trial run. One: a large slate tote with ipad sleeve and lots of pockets, carries sketching, reading, camera and other essentials and has two carrying options and two: a small Traveller for passport, tickets etc. I made a couple of these small Travellers earlier and decided I wanted one for myself. So here is the new red one–with zipper pocket in front and divided sections inside for passport and other travel essentials. It has an adjustable strap–long enough to wear cross-body when you are out and about but able to adjust to a shorter length to wear in front for security. And while I was at it, I made a second kiwi Traveller–this one is sold, but I have enough of both leathers to make one more in each colour. Check the shop (sadly neglected for so long, but promises for 2015 of some new things…) in a couple of weeks.
Yesterday we took a walk through the Miller Nature Reserve in Prince Edward County. The trail leads to Lake Ontario and we walked along that beautiful shoreline for another kilometer or so. It was an overcast day but the range of colours was still remarkable. I am always so grateful that this unspoiled shoreline is so close and so accessible.
Below you can see Prudence and me sporting our headbands and mittens. I’ve been making more headbands–we sold them all at the show and I still have some orders to fill. I really enjoy mixing and matching the colours and textures. My son even ordered one! You can see him in the corner of the last picture.
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.
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.
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.
We spent the final couple of days of our trip staying at our son’s apartment in Montreal. His place is on the third floor of a brownstone and like much of Montreal has a steep exterior staircase and a twisting interior one–always a challenge when you are carrying a bicycle or three bags of groceries. Parking is also a headache, but that’s another story. The important thing is we love Montreal and this location in the midst of the city, steps from the Jean Talon market, is wonderful. We enjoy walking the aisles with all the local produce and they make the best lattes there as well. In this sketch I used a water soluble pen as suggested by Brenda Swenson in semester 2 of Sketchbook Skool. I really like the effect of the bleeding sepia ink and have been using it quite a lot lately.
I got that sepia Staedtler and a couple of sable travel brushes Avenue des Arts, an art store in Montreal I have been planning to visit for some time. It surpassed my expectations–they had everything I wanted and had trouble finding — and amazingly helpful staff. This is an independent art store, not part of a chain, and you could sense the knowledge and love of creativity in the people there.Across the street were some typical Montreal houses, each one more vibrant than its neighbour. I was sorry I didn’t have the time to sketch them.
One of our favourite places on the trip was L’Anse St. Jean on the Saguenay River. We stayed in a b&b at the end of the road and from our window we could see the sailboats and kayaks out on the fjord. I sat on the verandah one morning to sketch this, trying to capture the deep blue of the fjord and the wall of green rising up from it. The bright red roof of the yacht club was irresistible and I think I went a little overboard on the colour!
We also stayed a couple of days in Jonquière and one morning as we were waiting, I sketched this view of the church from the window of the library. Below that is a pastel sketch from the museum in Jonquière which houses much of the material from the Price Brothers Pulp and Paper Company. I found the pastel sketches of the workers in the pulp and paper industry, done over a period of years by Kathleen Shackleton and Francesco Iacurto, absolutely haunting. Kathleen Shackleton is the sister of the antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton, and also produced paintings for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Amazing to think of her travelling in the 1930’s through the northern lumber camps and outposts with her paints. She seems to have been an intelligent and independent woman whose criticisms of the residential schools for native children got her in trouble with the press and her employers. Read more here.