The history of Mexico has seen the rise and fall of great civilizations and thousands of years of traditions and practices of several indigenous communities. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the collision and ultimate fusion of these different cultures impacted Mexico’s cultural identity. The Mexico we see today is a result of this long and storied history. Today, the best way to travel to Mexico and unlock a deeper understanding of Mexico’s culture and identity is through a one-on-one mini apprenticeship with a VAWAA artist. Artists hold the keys to wisdom, tradition and knowledge of their home country, and a Vacation With an Artist allows you to truly connect through culture.
For those seeking to travel to Mexico, VAWAA offers mini-apprenticeships with artists in four different states of this geographically diverse country.
1. Experimental Ceramics in Umécuaro, Michoácan
Umécuaro is a small, rural village located among gorgeous mountains where cows, chickens and other animals walk around freely. It is 30 minutes away from the capital city of Morelia, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its well-preserved colonial architecture and layout of the historic center. VAWAA artists Kees and Carmen have built a studio in front of a beautiful lake in Umécuaro, making it the ideal green and creative environment to live and work in.
Carmen is a well-known Mexican abstract painter and ceramist, native to Morelia. Her partner Kees is a Dutch stone sculptor, painter and ceramist. Together, they teach the primitive Mexican way of producing and burning ceramics, using local clay and red earth to produce ceramic-sculptures as well as table and homeware. The local clay and red earth is burnt in a very simple kiln made out of red bricks and fired with charcoal and wood.
She loves teaching how to create beautiful pieces with few and simple materials. She says, “Wherever you go you will find clay, water, and you can create fire to burn with the primary elements in your direct surroundings. The whole process taking care of the artistic part of creation.” During your stay you will also have the opportunity to visit the beautiful pueblos nearby like Pátzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan, and Santa Clara del Cobre, which are full of color, tradition and local crafts.
2. Dyeing and Weaving in the Zapotec Tradition in Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca
The nature of the mountainous terrain in the state of Oaxaca created many divided areas. This resulted in numerous neighboring communities living in complete isolation from each other. This physical isolation allowed for sixteen individual ethnic groups to maintain their ancestral traditions and customs, and languages! The Zapotec community is one such group living in Oaxaca. Learn Dyeing and Weaving from VAWAA Artists Jacobo and Maria who are master weavers in the Zapotec tradition. Spend your vacation in the picturesque town of Teotitlán del Valle, where Jacobo and Maria live and work. This colorful town, forty minutes away from Oaxaca City sits amidst incredible natural beauty.
Living in tune with nature is a big aspect of Zapotec culture, and the natural dyeing techniques that Jacobo and Maria will teach you go back more than a thousand years. Jacobo and Maria guide you through the process of using fruits and vegetables like black sapote, marigold flower, mango, lemon, and pericón to make dyes. Along with this, they pass on the knowledge of actually dyeing fibers with local dye plants, and teach you how to prepare different wool fibers for weaving. Each part of the process is in rhythm with Mother Nature, including washing fibers with the amole plant, a pre-Hispanic soap!
Food is integral to the Zapotec community’s culture, and each process of preparing a dish is a ritual of its own. You will enjoy traditional meals prepared by Jacobo and Maria who will also point you to where you can try the best mole! (Hint: It might just be at Jacobo’s sister’s restaurant!) You’ll also sample regional Zapotec ingredients like nopal (cactus) and chapulines (toasted grasshoppers), as well as traditional mezcal.
3. Landscape Photography and Land Art in Parras de la Fuente, Coahuila
Parras de la Fuente is known as the oasis of the semi-desert of Coahuila state and as the cradle of New World wine. There is so much richness to uncover from its vineyards and walnut trees to its ancient architecture and history around its desert civilization. Deep in the desert you will find rocks engraved by indigenous ancestors; it is without a doubt a treasure that has survived the inclemency of time.
Spend your vacation in Parras de la Fuente learning from Alfredo, a contemporary photographer with 25 years of experience and more than ninety exhibitions across five continents. With Alfredo, you will trek through the dunes and mountains of Parras de la Fuente to learn landscape photography and technical components of creating compelling visual installations and performance pieces in nature. Alfredo is also the founder of a non-profit organization Luz del Norte dedicated to promoting and disseminating the diversity of Latin American photography through various platforms.
Alfredo will teach you how to use different techniques to photograph nature, followed by three days guiding you through vast dunes and mountains. Along with this, you will have the opportunity to meet other creatives and visit the studios! You will also have plenty of time to explore this city, soak up the desert sun, and savor the vineyards after which the city is named.
4. Stone Sculpting and Wood Carving with Paola and Julio in Zacualpan de Amilpas, Morelos
Zacualpan de Amilpas is a small rural community with unique, traditional architecture. There are 16th century chapels, sugar cane alcohol distilleries, and a market where locals barter every Sunday. It has a very specific as well as diverse ecosystem. Explore this small rural community under the guidance of VAWAA artist Julio, who is a prolific Mexican stone sculptor of precious and semi-precious stones, wood and metals. Julio has constructed relationships with the most important communities of miners, artists, and lapidaries around stones in Mexico. He says that sharing what he knows about stone transformation is a way to keep alive ancient knowledge and to communicate his personal journey of experimentation and plant the seed for its expansion.
Julio will teach you about various types of stones and gemstones and give you an understanding of Mexican sculpture tradition. You will also learn many techniques for learning how to combine stone and wood and how to use carving and cutting tools. This VAWAA gives you access to an important art library and studio, and you will leave with your very own stone/wood sculpture! Julio takes you on a complete gastronomic experience based on traditional local food and homegrown plants, vegetables and fruits.
During your VAWAA, you will walk to local 16th century colonial churches and chapels and traditional handicraft studios such as ceramicists, leather workers and blacksmiths. An incredible experience is the visit out of town to harvest stones at a river bed, or visit the marble or basalt mines, or even spend time at the thermal baths! A drive to Mexico City will give you the chance to see Mexican stone sculptures and culture from modern and contemporary, to pre-Hispanic.
This intimate access to a master artist goes beyond traveling. It is a true cultural connection and a transfer of knowledge. Confirm your very own VAWAA if you would like to experience Mexico through a Vacation With an Artist.
Written by Kimsuka Iyer
Repurposed content from Vacation With An Artist. Learn more about VAWAA here.