Sunday, April 21 – Francisco Toledo Gallery
We walked to our favorite breakfast place: Marco Polo and then drove out to the woodworking workshop just outside town: Tribus Mixe. Their workshop is set among beautiful gardens with little seating areas here and there. It’s tidy and clean and incredibly inviting. Even though they knew we were coming, their selection was kind of meager and a number of pieces that interested us were not entirely finished. They promised more work coming from one of their other workshops, so we decided to return tomorrow.
Just a little farther out was “CASA.” The artist Francisco Toledo bought a former factory and grounds and turned it into an art center. In the enormous gallery area was a show of the photographs of Flor Guarduño, a show we very much wanted to see. Gustavo Pérez’s girlfriend, Veronica, was Flor’s manager for many years, before Veronica moved to Xalapa to be with Gustavo. It was a huge show with some truly stunning images giving rise to some lively discussions.
Monday, April 22 – Oaxaca Centro
Our walk around town took of to a gallery exhibiting Toledo’s current works; a huge tent of artists put up for Semana Santa, where I found a gorgeous woven huipil to buy; our favorite high-end antique store where the guy has an extraordinary collection. In another room, he was deaquisitioning part of it, and I found a beautiful Indian jacket, well-priced enough for me to buy. – The Álvaro Bravo museum had a photo exhibit of the fascinating works of Nadja Massun. – We returned to the Tribus Mixe workshop where Mayer is very happy with what he was able to buy, including another huge peacock, since the last one we had sold. – We arrived home so late we decide to walk a couple blocks to a taco place we’d seen a lot. It was a happening little neighborhood place that had been serving tacos there since 1952 (!), and the food was totally yummy.
Tuesday, April 23 – San Bartolo Coyotepec
Since Mayer discovered the work of one artist in the famous black pottery town, several years ago, much finer that some of the sloppier work in the town, he has begun to carry it. We selected work from him and then from another artist who had larger pieces, also beautifully crafted. The small museum in the town there had a lovely show. Someone had commissioned many textile artists from all over to create dresses, hupiles, scarves – all with the theme of the Virgin of Guadalupe. – Then we drove to the studio of Adelina Pedro Martínez, whose work we discovered last year. She is super friendly and informative. She is the sister of the most famous artist in the town: Magdalena. This is what we learned from her last year:
Most Coyotepec clay used to be fired hotter so that it was more vitreous and therefore more useful for holding water, etc. The more vitreous clay is called PLATEADO. When some clay was under-fired, they discovered it was blacker and prettier, so more people started firing at lower temperatures for the famous black pottery. This was in the 40s or 50s.
Pottery has been made in Coyotepec for 2,500 years. They have found pottery in tombs and have dated it. Doña Rosa became famous for “founding” or “inventing” the black pottery, but this is a myth. Here is the reason (according to Adelina) she became famous: Trains used to come through this town on the way to Ocotlán. When they stopped here, people were lined up with their black pottery to sell. However, they allowed no photos and covered their faces because they believed photos would rob their spirit, and they spoke no Spanish, only Zapoteco. Doña Rosa allowed her photo to be taken, and she spoke Spanish, so she became famous. (Mayer met Doña Rosa when he traveled here in the 60s and has photos of her.)
Adelina’s grandfather was good friends with Doña Rosa and used to sell with her when the trains came through.
Last year, Adelina took us to the home and studio of her famous sister, Magdalena. We have met her several times at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market, and have admired her work and were so happy to find her studio last year. Now, we headed over there again. She and her husband, Raúl, are both doctors (general practice family doctors), so she has little time to work with clay, and her figures are so incredibly detailed, the work takes a long time. Last year we ordered a tree of life from her, but the order went into a book thick with other orders, so we knew we were just in line. But we had told her we were coming ahead of time and lo and behold, she had our tree of life ready for us. WOW. It is truly spectacular! AND, she had another figure ready, that she said we could buy, a woman with a large swirly skirt with super fine decorations all over it. We were thrilled! We will keep the tree of life for our collection for sure, but Mayer says he might sell the woman with the beautiful skirt, who is now seated next to me on the van, wrapped with layers and layers of bubble wrap.
We arrived home so late, we decided to eat at the local taco place again. Fabulous.
Wednesday, April 23 – Marietta Bernstorff
We had arranged to meet Marietta Bernstorff for breakfast at Boulenc. She was introduced to us by our friend Masako Takahashi, who thought we would enjoy each other. Wow, was she correct about that. The first thing we learned, early on, is that Marietta is the sister-in-law of our close friend Marta Turok. She is married to Marta’s brother, the photographer, Antonio. This knocked our socks off! So we shared family stories and already felt like old friends. We can’t believe Marta has not introduced us before, but networking is not Marta’s long suit.
Marietta is a free-lance curator. After a long conversation over eggs and pastries, she took us to the Museum of Contemporary Art where she curated the current show, which took up the entire top floor. She selected thirteen U.S. artists and paired each one with a Mexican craftsperson. She invited them to work together in whatever way they chose. So each room on the top floor was one of these collaborations. The variety of ideas was amazing, and with Marietta as our guide, we heard heartwarming stories about the relationships these artists developed with each other. We were kind of speechless, such a great idea, and the collaborations were fascinating. – Then, Marietta had arranged to meet with a Canadian journalist, and invited us to sit in on the interview, which was much more detail about this story, which we had heard over breakfast:
Ten years ago, Marietta came across a small village of Tan Evet, a village of Mestizos who had worked on the Haciendas and just stayed there after the Haciendas were broken up after the 1910 revolution. They are in the Zapotec area but are not Zapotec and do not speak Zapotec. They were poor farmers. About 600 live in the village and about 600 of the men and children have gone to the States. Marietta saw that the women needed something to do. And old tradition in poor communities was for women to collect scraps of fabric and patch them together to make clothes, sheets, or blankets. So building on that tradition, because she could collect old pieces of fabric for free, she brought in a teacher who could teach the women how to applique. Later, she brought in an embroidery teacher. For subject matter, she encouraged them to tell stories of their real lives. They started with small squares but then began to collaborate on larger mural-size works. We saw several large murals (one of the collaborations), and later in a store some of the smaller squares. The stories are all about migration, people crossing the river, climbing over a wall, a girl in the desert with sores on her feet, a picture of Trump saying, “We don’t want any Mexicans in our country.” The work is quite primitive and simple, but makes a powerful impact. – One of Marietta’s main points is that if you decide to work on a project in a village like this, you have to stay with the village and the project. People have been known to teach a skill, or to help artists improve on a skill they already have, and then vanish. But in addition to teaching these skills, she has to develop a market for the work and teach the women how to market and sell the work.
She started with a group of 27 women, but the group that has endured with the work is just eight, and they are all in the same family. Other families are jealous. Some other women had to stop because their husbands would not let them out of the home. As she continues, Marietta now wants to start working with the men, teaching them a new skill, like tool making or improved agriculture.
She arranged a show of the work in L.A. and was able to obtain visas for several of the women to attend the show. They got to see their children for the first time in many years. All of the people in L.A. from this village turned out for the show, and everyone was proud and excited. – Marietta’s stories went on and on. She is very unassuming. Her next project is to invite people and villages from all over to make squares for a huge quilt about femicide, which is an enormous problem in all of Mexico. She hopes to display the quilt in the Zócalo in Mexico City.
After fond goodbyes and promises to stay in touch, Mayer and I did some more shopping. We followed a lead to a guy who does miniatures. We did not find exactly what we had in mind, but he had a very cool box that had been a table in a bar with a luche libra scene going on under glass – which we bought and will make into a table again! Then we returned to the store than had promised to bring us more of the wonderful rabbit musicians made in a village a five-hour drive from Oaxaca City, so we are glad he brings them in for us.
We had made a reservation for dinner at DESTILADO, our friend Barry’s favorite restaurant in Oaxaca. (He lives here.) We opted for the six-course tasting menu. It was fun and delicious for a novel experience.
Thursday, April 25
We got an early start for our drive to Olinalá, always a favorite drive because of the spectacular mountains, deep gorges, dramatic mountain walls so close – plus the “old Mexico” villages, winding country roads with long stretches that are not paved. We finished The White Road, a deep dive into the history of porcelain – in China, Germany, England – who developed it and how, the kings and emperors who valued it and why, the ways it has been used, with many anecdotes, including several about the porcelain factory that was part of the Dachau Concentration Camp. – Now we are in them middle of Where the Crawdads Sing, one of the most compelling and beautifully written novels I’ve enjoyed in some time. – We arrived in Olinala in time to accomplish some shopping still this afternoon, and had dinner at the little pizza/hamburger place run by our friend
Friday, April 26
We were able to complete all of our Olinalá shopping yesterday afternoon, so we could depart today. The van is almost full, and we are ready to head home, but not before our beloved Taxco.
We were guests for breakfast at the home of Jesus Rendon, who always insists on feeding us.
We took the “diagonal” road to Taxco. The first part is the road to Temalacatzingo, which we are skipping this time. The drive is remarkable in a number of ways. Some time, someone took a huge amount of trouble to create this road. Huge sections of mountains had to be cut or blasted away. It is completely curvy, with hairpin curves and no straightaways at all. We can look across a valley to the mountain on the other side, and see the curvy road where we have been or where we will be going. It’s all so stunning, we did not want to be distracted by listening to our book. All this trouble to build this road, yet we were on the road for two hours and we never saw another car, not a single one, going in our direction that we had to pass or that passed us. And there were almost no cars coming in the other direction either. Maybe five. In some places, the edge of the road is so close to the drop off, it’s scary. The first part of the drive, the road had been improved, paved quite remarkably. When the new pavement gave out, at least they had repaired the pot holes. But then, all that gave out, and it was back to the huge pot holes and areas, many of them, where huge chunks of the road are missing altogether, fallen down the hill during an earthquake or a rain and never restored. And they don’t warn you about these. No orange cones, not even any rocks around the big holes, just huge cuts out of the road. Then there were the rock slides, again, many of them, with huge rocks all over one side of the road. – We go up over a mountain and then slowly wind down to a river bed at the bottom, and finally, a village there, built around the river. – It was until another two hours to civilization, but that was the most remarkable part of the journey.
We arrived in Taxco about 2:00, settled into our HOTEL LUCY (maybe three stars, maybe two, but they have good parking), and then arranged to meet Adrian. This is an extremely sad story:
Two years ago in Taxco, by wandering and going into many silver stores, we connected with Nellie. We loved her distinctive designs (so much of Taxco jewelry looks alike), and we loved the way she did business, the way she priced and explained every thing, and we liked her as a person very much. She’s from an old Taxco silver family and grew up in the industry, but she had definitely carved out a distinguishing niche.
We asked Edu to phone her ahead that we’d be arriving, and Edu phoned Mayer, just a couple days ago, to say, “I have very sad news. Nellie died.” – We had no clue how or why, but we arranged to meet her son Adrian, who also works in her business.
When we met Adrian we learned that Nellie and her other son were killed in a head-on collision with a drunk driver while vacationing in Ixtapan. Her daughter was also in the car and was injured but has recovered. The accident was March 10, only a couple of months ago. We are heartbroken, as is everyone in her family we dealt with. It’s almost too tragic to even think about. We adored Nellie.
Adrian and also Nellie’s sister are continuing her business (though he is in school to become a pilot), and will continue to produce her designs. So we spent a couple of hours with him, selecting earrings.
We had dinner at the Pozole restaurant on the zócalo.
Saturday, April 27
This was a magical day, full of serendipity and surprises, and the totally perfect last day of our journey.
We walked to breakfast at the restaurant in HOTEL BOUTIQUE PUEBLO LINDO where the outdoor terrace affords a spectacular view, looking up a the back of the cathedral and the hills beyond, covered with white houses. We lingered over breakfast.
Then we walked down to the Saturday market in full swing, booths lining the main street, where we had prearranged to meet Pablo, who makes the traditional articulated fish bottle openers out of silver and abalone. We bought all he had: 23. He told us they were first made by Antonio Castillo forty years ago. The Castillo family is still famous for their original designs.
We wanted to find the sweet guy who helped us yesterday, leading us to Adrian, so we could see his silver work. His directions led us up to a new little Plaza, up higher so that the view of the cathedral was level with the baroque towers. We like his uncle’s work, but he was not at all set up for wholesale, and we had bought all we wanted from Adrian yesterday.
Our friend Nicholas, who is one of Mayer’s antique pickers and also a folk art painter, whose work we carry, lives about two hours from Taxco, in Xilitla, Guererro. When he learned we were in Taxco, he made it a point to drive up to see us. We met him in front of the cathedral. We were still carrying the fish, so we walked them up to our hotel to put them in the van, and then I suggested we find a coffee shop where we could visit. We found the most idyllic little balcony, with a view and plants hanging off the roof, with a gentle breeze and had a great visit with Nicholas. I always consider it a special treat to take a break in the middle of the afternoon for a cappuccino, and this balcony could not have been more romantic. – Nicholas has rebuilt his house after the damage it suffered in the last big earthquake. He brought one mask with him for Mayer to check out, and of course, Mayer bought it.
Then we went to collect the earrings we had bought from Adrian yesterday. We love the way they package the earrings with the prices clearly explained on each package, just the way Nellie did it. The woman helping us, Miriam, has worked with Nellie for years, and was of course very torn up by the tragedy. She too is a really charming person.
We had a little time to rest in the hotel before heading up the hill to the place we had selected for dinner upon someone’s recommendation. We discovered after we arrived that it was a home made into a small restaurant, and then quickly realized from the photos on the walls that it was the former home of William Spratling! WOW! We were stunned and quite excited. (He is the silversmith who revived the silver industry in Taxco in the 40s and whose designs are now famous and expensive.) Shortly, the host came to our table to welcome us, and she turned out to be the person we met eighteen years ago when we visited the old Spratling Ranch, which she has taken over: Violante Ullrich. She told us to come into the gallery part of the house after our meal to see some of the Spratling reproductions she does, plus her own designs. The meal was a total ten, an invention of hers: mole lasagna!
In her gallery afterwards, we shared lively conversation for more than two hours, with so much in common, so many stories and people in common. We ended up buying one of her bracelets, a really unusual design and a necklace by one of her colleagues, Berke Gold, who was part of this whole conversation. She had a serape on her wall that interested Mayer a lot because in all of his books and research, he has never seen anything like it. She said she’d be happy to sell it to him, but did not have a clue about price. Mayer took photos and promised to research it. Violante lived in San Miguel for five years until 2010! She had a gallery called 4-D (Four designers). Our connections went on and on.
Her story is that her father, a New York art dealer, was close friends with William Spratling and spent a lot of time in Taxco. Spratling died in a car accident in 1967, at the age of 67, and her father arranged to purchase the Spratling home, ranch, and all of his collections. Violante and her husband and two-year-old daughter moved there in 2003, became a jewelry designer, and has been busy keeping the Spratling designs alive and doing her own designs. – We invited her to be a special guest at one of our open houses, and she will come visit us in San Miguel soon.
Finally, she said, please come join us on the rooftop for a little birthday party we are having for Berke’s partner, Diego. We were joined by Annabel, an animated, funny, sweet neighbor and friend of theirs, a Brit who has lived in Taxco for twenty-five years. She regaled us with stories of the way Taxco used to be and how it has changed.
Then the musicians arrived.
Suddenly we found ourselves sitting on a rooftop with views all around, sheltered by a huge, splendid 400-year-old ficus tree, listening to two skilled guitar players with gorgeous voices playing and singing with harmony and unusual arrangements with complex guitar finger work, and laughing with these new friends – in William Spratling’s former home! It was magical.
Thinking back to how all this serendipity occurred: The guy who offered to help us find Adrian first took us to the wrong place. There, we got to chatting with a vendor who suggested we try this place for dinner. If we had not gone to the wrong place and had not had to wait and had not gotten to talking with this guy, we might never have known to check out this restaurant. No one on Trip Advisor and none of the ads even mentioned that it was Spratling’s former home!
Sunday, April 28
The drive home was uneventful. We finished our third book-on-tape and arrived home to a warm welcome from Sandra, Edu, Golda, and all the doggies, so excited to see us.
An Unforgettable Experience of México