Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tonala folk art Part 2, glass blowing

Glass sculpture or undersea monster? A cluster of decorative glass sculptures hangs from the ceiling of a glass blowing factory in Tonala, Guadalajara's center for folk art workshops. This is the second part of a three-part series on these workshops.  In my last posting, you saw one of the paper mache factories and got a little dose of Tonala history.  Please refer to that posting for information about paid and  free tours of Tonala's folk art workshops.

It all starts with intense heat. Glass melts at between 2600 to 2900 degrees (F.) or 1425 to 1600 degrees (C.) depending upon the composition of the glass.  Just looking at the picture, I can almost feel the intense heat blasting out of the furnace.  Glass was discovered by potters about 3000 B.C.E., and the technique of glass blowing was invented about 100 B.C.E.  Glass blowing was introduced to Mexico in 1535, shortly after the Conquest, and has been a staple of Mexican craftsmanship ever since. 

Recycling at its best.  Clear glass bottles form the raw material for the glass factory. The huge pile here has been broken into small chunks before being fed into the ovens.   Many are recycled tequila bottles, of which there appears to be a virtually unlimited supply in Mexico. From the original, rather pedestrian use, beautiful things can be made. The workers only use clear glass so that they can add material during the manufacturing process to create beautiful swirling colors. The poles extending into the furnace are used  to pick up globs of molten glass which is then molded and blown  into the desired shape.

Glass worker blows through tube to create a wine glass.  He sat beside a metal plate which protected his legs from spatterings of hot glass.  Occupational safety officials north of the border would have heart attacks at how things operate in this factory.  As we watched, workers performed a delicate ballet, quickly and smoothly moving hot glass on the ends of poles from one work position to another.  No one wore protective clothing or face shields.  Still, everyone seemed confident in the skill of coworkers to avoid  injuring themselves or others.

Shaping the glass was a  delicate process.  The workers seemed to have only a few tools for this, including the glass blowing tube, shears, and what looked like a large pair of tweezers.

Shears are used in a variety of ways.  Not just for cutting and trimming, the shears also functioned to steady a tube held by coworker (out of picture to the right) as  two pieces of molten glass are melded together.  The glass work is certainly not without injury, as you can see from the bandage on the wrist of the worker above.

Large metal "tweezers" are used to shape the stem of a glass. The heat has persuaded this worker to doff his shirt, revealing a pattern of interesting tattoos.

There are two sets of furnaces in this factory.  The one above is used late in the process, when the glass objects are shaped and need to cure slowly.  This furnace is heated by wood, which you can see piled at the base.  The wood produces a much lower heat than the melting furnace, but enough to prevent the glass from cooling too quickly and shattering or becoming distorted.

Wine glasses cure in the final furnace.  Here you can see how the burning log is placed among the stacks of glasses to help the curing process.

And the final result.  Finished glasses were displayed in a showroom near the front of the factory. Notice how color has been introduced to some of the glasses in beautiful swirling patterns.
Wild shapes and colors attract and intrigue.  I was impressed at how plastic a medium glass really is.  Here it is stretched and twisted into an amazing variety of shapes.

Colored vases wait for flowers, or wine, or...? These vases are probably not unlike those blown by the ancient Romans using a nearly identical process 2000 years ago.

Shapes and colors again remind of undersea animals.  The glass objects in the background seemed like giant clam shells, while the corkscrew objects clustered like the tentacles of a jellyfish.

This ends part 2 of my series on Tonala.  The next part will focus on Tonala's master potter, Salvador Vasquez Carmona. He is revered among  Mexican potters not only for his beautiful work, but for the fact that he uses the old ways, developed centuries before the Spaniards arrived.

Hasta luego!  Jim

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tonala folk art Part 1: making paper mache

Paper mache toucan rests quietly as its paint dries. Carole and I recently took a tour of several folk art workshops of Tonala, the craft manufacturing center of Guadalajara. Charter Club Tours of Ajijic conducted the tour and, as usual, did a fine job. Their guide, Rosie, is outgoing and well-informed and the tour was worth every penny of the fee. For further information on Charter Club tours, click here.

The colorful toucan above was made in one of the paper mache workshops in Tonala. We also visited a glass-blowing factory and the workshop of the master potter of Tonala, a modest man whose expertise is held in reverence by potters far and wide. In this posting, I will show how the paper mache creations are made and some of the finished products. In two following postings, I will focus on glass-blowing and pottery. There are many more crafts than these, created at a mind boggling number of shops. For a map to Tonala and a walking tour guide of crafts workshops, click here.

Paper mache begins with creation of the basic shapes. The grey and rather ugly objects piled above are the forms which are used in various combinations to create the desired shapes. The Mexican art of paper mache manufacture goes far back into Mexican history, at least to the early days of Spanish colonization. Tonala itself has a long history and was the capital of a small kingdom which dominated the area. The name of the kingdom was Tonallan, which means "the place of the rising sun". It was populated by indigenous people of the Coca and Tecuexes tribes. Spanish priests called Tonallan "the factory of paganism" because of the strong tradition of craftsmanship in the representation of their gods, particularly the sun god. That tradition of craftsmanship continues unabated 500 years later.

Butterfly takes shape, not from a cocoon, but from a paper mache form. A worker here cuts away excess material from the shape which will eventually become a brilliant butterfly. The factory, in back of the storefront showroom, was simply a large open room with scattered tables where the workers, in stages, created an amazing menagerie of brilliantly colored animals.

The flaming face of the sun. Using recycled newspaper, a worker further cuts and shapes this representation of the sun with a human face. After 500 years, the sun is still a popular figure for paper mache makers as it was for their forebears at the time of the Conquest.

Parrot spreads his wings for the worker. Pasting additional layers of newspaper strips on this parrot's wings strengthens them.

Parrot gets his colorful feathers in this step of the process. With great patience and an extremely steady hand, this worker gives the parrot the finely detailed features and extravagant colors that are so striking in the artwork as well as in life.

A tiger dries while waiting for the painting process. This fellow appeared almost ready to pounce, but lacked his vivid stripes. The next step after application of the recycled newspaper strips and final shaping is a coating of grey material which becomes the base for the paint. The paint is applied in two steps, first the base of orange, then the stripes.

"Tiger, tiger, burning bright... in the forest of the night, what immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?" The poem by William Blake could well apply to this ferocious-looking and nearly full-sized creature. Just what you'd want to encounter in your living room while stumbling around in the middle of the night investigating strange noises.

Parrots perch in foliage. Looking almost as they would in the southern jungles of Mexico, these parrots wait for a new home. The show room of the factory resembled a still-life zoo.

Toucans dry after their final coat of paint. The life-like expressions and postures of the animals represented in the showrooms are very striking and show fine craftsmanship.

Peacock seems to hear the call of its mate. The peacocks came in a variety of postures and were some of the most colorful and finely decorated animals displayed.

Gazelle meditates restfully on a dais in the showroom. The factory created and displayed animals from all over the Americas, Africa, and India. Interestingly, there were very few representations of human figures, except for a Christmas creche scene.

This completes my posting on the paper mache factory of Tonala. I hope you have enjoyed it and will also enjoy my next two on glass-blowing and traditional pottery making.

Hasta luego, Jim

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Maestros de Arte: Lake Chapala's folk art fair

Butterflies of death.  In early November, Carole and I visited the Feria Maestros de Arte (Masters of Art Fair) held at the Yacht Club in Chapala, about 5 miles east of Ajijic. The Yacht club sits right on the edge of the Lake and the late Fall day was sunny and gorgeous.  The skull above is an example of Mexico's whimsical attitude toward death. Butterflies have been revered in Mexico back to the  earliest civilizations, and have sometimes been connected with death. The artist here uses the Monarch butterfly to adorn a highly decorated skull.  Monarchs are famous for their incredible migration from Canada to Michoacan State, where they nest in the millions.

The Feria Maestros de Arte is an annual non-profit art show created and run (with plenty of volunteer help) by Marianne Carlson.  Carlson, an artist herself, travels around Mexico to visit remote towns and villages where folk art is still produced the traditional way.  She recruits the artists and craftspeople to come to the Feria and display their work.  

Huichol indian at work.  A gorgeously attired Huichol works on a small creation he hopes to sell in the Feria. Every part of the Huichol native dress has a meaning.  This is not a costume, only to be brought out and worn on special occasions or for tourists.  This is how they dress for everyday life.  I have seen photographs of Huicholes in their remote homeland dressed in similar outfits while tending crops or grinding corn for tortillas.  The Huichol native land lies in remote mountain valleys on the border of Jalisco and Nayarit States. They are a poor but very proud people.  Their displacement from some of their lands has led many to migrate to the Lake Chapala area where they are often seen on the streets and at the Wednesday tianguis (street market) selling their incredibly intricate bead creations. 

Huichol bead creations utilize abstract and animal symbols. The jewelry above is typical of what Huichols sell on the street.  Some of the crafts are much bigger and  more intricate, taking the three-dimensional shapes of turtles, jaguars, and other animals. A friend of mine once calculated that a one-foot square creation contained 60,000 beads. I asked a craftsman once how long a large piece on which he was working would take to finish.  He looked at me for a moment and said "until I am done".

Taking it easy the old-fashioned way.  The figure above is a reproduction of the pre-hispanic style. The ancients of Western Mexico often portrayed human and animal  figures in a very naturalistic way, similar to this one.

Three men and a dog.  Dogs were a common theme in pre-hispanic Western Mexico.  The artists' representation above closely resembles 500+ years-old figures I have seen in the Museo Regional de Guadalajara (see my two-part posting  from the November archive).  

Oaxacan weaver spinning wool by hand. The Indio woman above demonstrated the ancient technique of wool-spinning. Before spinning, she carded the wool with the tool at her feet. Examples of her final products hang around her.  She was assisted by two adolescent girls, possibly family members, who were learning her techniques. Weavers from Oaxaca State in Southern Mexico are renowned for their rugs, blankets and other woven products.

Hand-operated loom is a work of art in itself. This is not a museum artifact from a bygone day. Looms like this are functional and use no energy other than that generated by the operator. While strolling around Ajijic, I have come across several similar looms. Their operators have been very gracious in allowing  me to observe them at their work. Notice how the moving parts are connected by twine. There is very little metal in this wooden structure.

Catrina on the way to the water well. Several of the artists specialized in Catrinas, which are closely associated with the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Catrinas (known as Catrinos if they portray a male figure) grew out of cartoons by a Mexican journalist Guadalupe Posada who portrayed people from all stations of society as skeletons wearing their natural dress and performing everyday activities.  He especially loved showing Mexican woman of the upwardly striving classes wearing the French fashions of the day, with the low cut dresses showing off the bare bones of their chests. Catrina dolls have become a Mexican tradition and can be found in all sizes from a few inches tall to over six feet.

Catrina at work in her kitchen. The artist here shows a Catrina in a particular style of native dress working in a wonderfully decorated kitchen.  A Catrina-style pet enjoys dinner out of his bowl. The addition of the dog adds a nice touch to the humorous tableau.

Flaming skull contains details within details. Notice that the eyes of the skull are tiny skulls themselves.  Various small creatures crawl about among the flames sprouting from the skull. I found this an especially striking creation.

The raffle prize I didn't win.  This skull, by a different artist, was one of the prizes offered in a raffle at the Feria.  We bought several tickets, but since I had never in my life won a raffle, I had no expectations. Later we got a call to pick up our prize. I had lusted after this skull but, alas, it went to someone else. The decoration reminded  me of  the fantastically intricate doodles my boss used to create during especially boring meetings.

Hand-painted plate created through ancient techniques. The artist did everything by hand, using methods handed down though generations of craftsmen.  It takes a steady hand and good eye to paint the finely detailed figures and designs.

Young dancers added extra sparkle to the Feria. There were several groups of dancers at the Feria and we got to see this troupe perform traditional campesino dances.  In this particular dance, the pretty girl flirts with the young boy and they playfully struggle over her water jug which inevitably breaks.  He is crestfallen, but is rewarded with a sweet kiss. 

Young beauty takes a bow. At the end of one of her performances, this  young beauty curtsied to the crowd. Her fellow performers look on appreciatively, and perhaps enviously. Like everyone else, we were captivated. Dances like this have been performed at public events for centuries.

This concludes my posting on the Feria Maestros de Arts.  In a future post I will show the workshops in Tonala, Guadalajara where some wonderful crafts can be seen in the process of creation.  Please feel free to comment below or by email if you'd like.

Hasta luego, Jim

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Climbing Mexico's Nevado de Colima volcano

Nevado de Colima volcano. Several of my regular Tuesday hiking group decided on short notice to climb this 14,240 foot (4220 meter) inactive volcano, located north of Colima just inside the Jalisco State line. I was a little reluctant to go at first due to the short notice but also because I am subject to altitude sickness (more on that later). However, my Canadian friend Gerry prevailed upon me and his enthusiasm is hard to resist. (Photo by Tom Holman)

Nevado de Colima is inactive and is one of two volcanos in this area. The volcanos lie inside a national park about three hours southwest of Lake Chapala. The other volcano, Volcan de Fuego, is active and has erupted 40 times since 1576, most recently in June 2005. Volcan de Fuego, the smaller of the two at 3960 meters, lies within sight of Nevado de Colima. No climbing is allowed, for obvious reasons. I was told that climbing is also prohibited on the peak of Nevado de Colima, but this restriction appears to be generally ignored by the local climbing community. Given the remote location, such a prohibition would be difficult to enforce in any case.

You may notice that an unusually large number of the photos displayed here are by others, and that I appear much more than in my other postings.  The reason is that my friends Tom Holman and Gerry Green are talented photographers, and also because the mountain cold killed my camera batteries part way up the climb. So, for once, I get to be a visible actor in one of these little blog dramas. I did my best to identify the photos taken by others.

Getting there

The fun begins even before the hike. Getting to our base camp from Ajijic was easy until we left the highway and started up a seemingly endless and very rough dirt road. We drove several thousand feet up the escarpment to the broad plateau on which Nevado de Colima stands. As we climbed higher the road became hardly more than a mule track. Gerry's 4-wheel-drive Honda was the only one of our three cars to make it all the way to the camp. Gerry had to ferry people, supplies, and equipment up from where the other two cars gave out.

Mexican bikers and hikers take a breather at the park gate. At the top of the escarpment we stopped at the national park gate.  A local official collected our entrance fee and gave us paper name bracelets similar to that which you are given as a patient at a hospital. When I asked someone about the bracelet, I was told it would help identify my body. I'm still not sure if they were pulling my leg.  (Photo by Gerry Green)

Water for a thirsty mountain biker. My friend and fellow Oregonian Tom kindly supplied some fresh water to a tired biker. This young Mexican and his friends had pedaled all the way up the 9,000 foot escarpment. This rugged trek had taken us over an hour by car. While we waited our turn at the gate, more bikers kept arriving. When we finally left two days later, we passed still more bikers coming up, some just beginning to pedal up in the late afternoon. We were astonished at this because it meant they would certainly arrive long after dark. Lacking camping equipment, they would face a pitch-black ride back down. We couldn't decide whether this was amazing commitment or sheer insanity. Each to his own. (Photo by Gerry Green)

The peak of Nevado de Colima from the park gate. This was my first good look at our goal. It was beautiful but sobering. We still had many miles of increasingly treacherous road to our planned base camp. (Photo by Gerry Green)

Settling in at our base camp

Keeping up a roaring fire was a major preoccupation. Gerry left me at the campsite with most of our gear to head back down for the others. The sun had dropped below the ridge and I felt like I had stepped into an icy meat locker. I pulled together as much fallen wood as I could and started up the campfire. We had to work at keeping the fire going, because much of the wood on the ground was damp and caused a lot of smoke but little flame. As the night went on, the temperature kept dropping. I don't know how low it ultimately went, but it froze the water in my canteen and the batteries in my camera. We had camped at about 12,000 feet.

The official food taster. The next order of business was stirring up some hot food. Here, Tom has me try out the result of his efforts. I  am always surprised that a rather unremarkable menu of hot food assumes gourmet proportions on a cold night after a long journey. As you can see, we had quickly changed from our shorts and t-shirts into more suitable attire.  (Photo by Gerry Green)

Plotting the climb. Robert, in the red jacket, discusses routes and methods with Gerry, who is seated on his "throne". In his hands and behind him, Robert has rock climbing tackle. He is our resident rock climbing expert, and gives lessons to Mexicans and Gringos alike. The Mexicans who joined us in our camp and on the climb were Robert's hiking friends from Guadalajara, where he lives with his Mexican girlfriend. Gerry had a hard time hanging on to his throne Every time he got up, someone slipped into it behind him. It was much more comfortable than an old crumbly log, if I do say so myself.

Omar and Angie preparing their Mexican specialty. This young couple, friends of Robert, joined our campsite and contributed much to the evening. Omar was very easy going, spoke passable English, and had an infectuous laugh. Angie was quiet and very sweet. Her English was about as limited as my Spanish, so we felt somewhat on an equal basis. As the evening wore on, we all began to tell jokes with Robert translating into English or Spanish as the case demanded. Most of the jokes translated pretty well and we laughed our way well into the night, until the cold finally drove everyone into their beds.

That evening, and the next day, several of us began to experience altitude sickness. People can experience this as low as 8,000 feet and we were camped at 12,000. Gerry got violent headaches that first evening. Omar had severe stomach upsets after he went to bed and was up most of the night. The two sons of our Mexican climbing partners both got sick on the climb the next day and almost didn't make the peak. I felt ok at first, although a little light-headed and easily tired. However, I woke up feeling intensely claustrophobic about two hours after going to bed. It didn't help that I had squeezed into a small tent with Tom, who is a pretty big guy. I spent almost the entire night breathing deeply to calm my claustrophobia, counting my breaths for a very long six hours. It later dawned on me that the thin air was the cause of my breathlessness and feeling of suffocation. Sleeplessness is a common symptom of altitude sickness. Although most of us felt good enough to try the climb the next morning, Omar was pretty wiped out and stayed in camp. We all felt bad for him. I didn't have any further symptons, except that lack of sleep meant that I quickly began to nod off every time we stopped for a break in our climb. No one knows why some experience the problem and others don't.  It has nothing to do with age or physical condition.

Setting out

Ready to go! Heavily bundled against the early morning cold, we set out for the peak. We were joined by several more of Robert's Mexican hiking friends, along with their young sons. Many hikers carry collapsable hiking sticks resembling ski poles. These help you keep your balance and allow you to use your upper body to pull you up and take some pressure off your legs. Me, I just use an old stick.  (Photo by Gerry Green)

Misery Hill well deserves its name. The hill did not look too bad at first. After all, I could see the top just up ahead. Trouble was, once there, another top loomed ahead. On and on went Misery Hill. It didn't help that big stretches were not only steep but comprised of loose gravel and sand. Two steps up, one step back. Fortunately, the chilly air kept the warm sun from becoming oppressive. I wouldn't like to try this in the summer. (Photo by Gerry Green)

The peak looms closer. As we finally neared the top of Misery Hill, the peak of Nevado de Colima came into view. It looked beautiful but rugged, with white clouds whirling above it resembling volcanic smoke.

Lupin blossoms in the mountain clearings. Lupin is found in mountain areas throughout the western parts of North America. These Lupin were bigger than any I'd seen in the mountains of Oregon. The flowers were a lovely luminous blue.  (Photo by Tom Holman)

At the top of Misery Hill--at last! We took a long break at the top of Misery Hill to catch our breath and enjoy the stunning view unfolding below. The rocks I am sitting on form the lip of the volcanic crater. Behind me is a sheer drop of many hundreds of feet. The wooded ridge behind me forms the other side of the crater. I was startled by how much the country resembles the high alpine country of the Eastern Cascade Mountains of Oregon. (Photo by Gerry Green) 

Struggling to the Hotah

Eye level with the clouds. Gerry picked his way among boulders the size of my Toyota as we worked our way along the rim of the crater toward the peak. On the far side of the crater, you can see the tops of clouds. We were somewhere between 12,500 and 13,000 feet, actually above the clouds at this point.

Strange markings attracted our eyes. We saw these markings a considerable distance away. They only became clear after I used my telephoto and later further enhanced them with my computer.  They appear to be religious, apparently Catholic, in origin.

Sparse vegetation replaced scrub pine.  Above the tree line, the ground consisted of loose sand and gravel, with clumps of grass here and there.  We tried to walk on the grass because the loose gravel took too much effort.  

A  steep incline and no way but up.  I took this shot to show the steepness of the 45 degree slope we struggled up.  In this terrain and at this altitude, the  climb became ten steps forward, rest, and then try to make ten more.

Target:  The Hotah.  On the left side of the peak above there is a notch about half way down. The loop of this notch resembles the loop in a J, called hotah in the Spanish alphabet.  Our route will take us along the base of the cliff wall of the peak, avoiding the sandy gravel if possible, and through the Hotah.  Once through, the trail continues around behind the peak and then up to the top.  Due to the remaining effects of our altitude sickness, Gerry and I agreed that we would try to get through the Hotah and then decide whether to join the others for the final 500 foot assault on the peak. (Photo by Tom Holman)

A sheer wall of volcanic rock.  Finally, we reached the base of the peak, which rises hundreds of feet above us.  The peak consists of the rock remaining from the volcanic eruption, which solidified and resisted the erosion around it.

A careful route.  We picked our way through the rocks and grass clumps, staying as close to the wall as we could, and avoiding the cross-shaped sandy patch in the middle of the photo above. The tracks you can see bisecting the sand from top to bottom are those of climbers coming down, not going up.  You can almost ski down through this loose sand, a much more amusing activity than slogging up through it. (Photo by Tom Holman)

Our advance party.  Robert, Tom and the Mexican climbers were far ahead of us, as seen through this telephoto shot.  They had left the sand behind and were only a couple of hundred yards below the Hotah.  They will be tough yards, though.  

Roiling clouds obscure the peak.  Cloud banks roiled around us, sometimes completely whiting out our surroundings, sometimes opening up far vistas of the valleys below us.  The temperature changed from warm and sunny to freezing cold and back again in moments.  As we neared the Hotah, we had to scramble over huge rocks. (Photo by Gerry Green)

A moment's breather near the Hotah.  I paused so Gerry could get this shot.  You can see how steep the terrain has become just below the peak wall.  What appears to be bright sky behind me is actually white clouds sweeping in.  (Photo by Gerry Green)

A tricky scramble through the Hotah.  Gerry took this shot as the clouds covered us, giving it an eerie, misty look.  The Hotah, which looks broad and inviting from a distance, actually closes in to an extremely narrow passage that requires some rather tricky rock climbing.  Off to my right is what I call The Void, dropping off hundreds of feet into empty clouds. (Photo by Gerry Green)

A close-up of some fancy footwork.  Gerry's photo captured me struggling through a gap so narrow I had to remove my pack to squeeze through.  It would not do to miss one's footing here, with sheer drops close at hand.  Even a twisted ankle would cause a major problem in getting down.  There would be little or no hope of a helicopter rescue and I would face a long hop down on one foot. (Photo by Gerry Green)

Made it through!  I picked my way carefully over a narrow cliffside trail, having just come back through the Hotah.  I was heading down at this point. Gerry and I decided that at 13,500 feet, we had made a  good effort but that was enough. Next time, I'll go for the peak.  It was a wonderful climb as far as we went though.  (Photo by Gerry Green)

Others made the final push to the peak

Exhausted.  One of our Mexican climbing partners shows the numbing exhaustion of climbing at that altitude.  One's attention becomes very narrowly focused on the next step, and one's goal is just the next few feet in immediate sight. (Photo by Tom Holman)
View of the upper crater.  This  photo shows the part of the climb I did not see. The trail here winds around to the right and then up. Notice the twisted volcanic rocks on the left. (Photo by Tom Holman)

Victory!  The ones who made it, including Tom who took the picture, celebrate the victory of the summit.  Robert is in the center holding the American flag, while the Mexicans hold their flag, and one of their sons spreads the skull and bones.  I have no idea what the pirate flag was about, but kids being kids, they probably had their reasons.  (Photo by Tom Holman)

That's it for our volcano climbing adventure. Hope you enjoyed seeing it as much as I enjoyed doing it.  Someone once asked a man who was pounding his head with a hammer why he was doing  it.  He responded "because it feels so good when I stop".  There you have it.