Friday, March 23, 2012

Rafael Coronel

The Museo de los Pintores Oaxaqueños in coordination with Lourdes Sosa Gallery, Black Coffee Gallery Foundation and private collectors of the artist Rafael Coronel present the exhibition Retrofutura II.  The 43 pieces in the exhibition, including oils, acrylics and bronze sculptures, which were previously displayed in the tribute exhibition on the occasion of his 80th birthday by the Palace Museum of Fine Arts in Mexico City.

Rafael Coronel was born in 1931 in Zacatecas and is younger brother of the painter and sculptor Pedro Coronel and son-in-law of Diego Rivera (1886-1957).  He well represents the Ruptura (Rupture) movement in Mexico, also known as Nueva Presencia (New Presence). The movement consisted of a shift away from heroic Muralism toward a more traditional way of art. Coronel created paintings that lacked the forceful social statements of the Muralists' works. Coronel's paintings are ambiguous and suggest that man's efforts to control his destiny are futile. His paintings of old men and women, isolated and floating in nebulous space, have a melancholic sobriety, and include faces from the past great masters, often floating in a diffuse haze.  His paintings contain echoes of Goya and José Clemente Orozco and achieve dramatic effects through a skilful use of chiaroscuro (an Italian term which literally means light-dark) and tenebrist effects (from the Italian word "tenebroso" meaning dark describes a style of painting characterized by deep shadows and distinct contrast between light and dark). The psychology of the characters is captured with accuracy, and their appearance is carefully depicted, but the background in which they appear imbues them with an air of timelessness.

The vocation of being a painter was something hereditary for Rafael. His grandfather used to decorate churches. When his father told him that pedro, his brother, was studying to become a painter in Mexico city, he though it was one of the greatest wastes of time, because painters got no money from painting, even the greatest painters in Mexico had to appeal to other jobs.  When Rafael went to Mexico City he wanted to be a soccer player but after he arrived he became interested in architecture. In 1952 he won a scholarship in a painting contest with a work done with crayons.

He has also assembled in Zacatecas, in the restored convent of San Francisco, an important collection of masks from all over Mexico.  He has lived in the city of Cuernavaca since 1981.  For more pictures from the exhibition please visit my picasa web album.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo

El Centro Fotográfico Manuel Álvarez Bravo (CFMAB) was formed as a nonprofit association in September 1996 by Francisco Toledo. Located in a colonial era home, it has rooms for temporary exhibitions devoted to photography, and a library specializing in history, theory, technique and dissemination of photography.  There is also an associated Music Library with recordings of various music genres (classical, jazz, blues, ethnic, etc.).

Workshops, book presentations and portfolios, screenings and guided tours are offered by the Photographic Center as part of commitment to promoting photographic work. It has a black and white professional laboratory, used in workshop sessions and can be used by previously accredited photographers.

The photographic collection Joseph F. Gómez was established in 1989 with collections of Joseph F. Gomez, Ignacio Zanabria and Manuel Alvarez Bravo acquired by Francisco Toledo.

Please check out my picasa web album for more pictures.  The center has a blog at

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Museo del Ferrocarril Mexicano del Sur

Boxcar art

He used to be at the gallery Arte de Oaxaca
The state of Oaxaca had been one of the states with the greatest difficulty for communication with the rest of México because of its rugged terrain so the railroad was a priority to connect with the port of Veracruz, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Central America.  Work began on September 9, 1889. General Porfirio Diaz came to Oaxaca, arriving by train with his cabinet, marking the opening on November 13, 1892. The railway connected Puebla with Oaxaca. It was the last time Porfirio Diaz and his Cabinet visited Oaxaca. The old railway station, Oaxaca, is located on Calzada Madero No. 511, in the historic center of the city.  It has a linear trace consisting of the main building which housed the offices of the chief of station, the ticket office, waiting room, express office, telegraph office, the dining room and kitchen.  Across the tracks were workshops, a boiler house and water tank that served mainly for the old steam locomotives.  The main building was constructed from quarry stone and its roof was covered with sheet zinc. It had a tower located on the north side of the building, which disappeared due to an earthquake.  After the earthquake the roof was replaced with a vaulted roof.

Street entrance

Mouse of aerosol cans
Today the building is maintained as a museum with many old railroad artifacts.  The tracks remain behind the station and some rolling stock from the 70’s or 80’s is on display.  There are play areas for children and the space gets used for art exhibitions.  The space also hosts concerts and occasional movies.  I have more pictures on my picasa web album.  They maintain a website.

The old station platform and remaining tracks

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Mocachino at Cafe Nuevo Mundo
It would be difficult to think of Oaxaca without thinking of Chocolate.  Chocolate has been used as a drink for nearly all of its history.  Chocolate is produced from the seed of the tropical cacao tree. Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia in Mexico, Central and South America. Genetic studies suggest that the plant originated in the Amazon basin and was gradually transported by humans throughout South and Central America. The scientific name, Theobroma, means "food of the gods". The majority of the Mesoamerican people made chocolate beverages, including the Aztecs, who made it into a beverage known as xocolātl, a Nahuatl word meaning "bitter water". Its earliest documented use is around 1100 to 1400 BC in Puerto Escondido, Honduras. The Maya civilization grew cacao trees and used the cacao seeds to make a frothy, bitter drink. Maya hieroglyphs indicate that chocolate was used for ceremonial purposes. By the 15th century, the Aztecs gained control of a large part of Mesoamerica, and adopted cacao into their culture. They associated chocolate with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility, and often used chocolate beverages as sacred offerings. The Aztec adaptation of the drink was a bitter, frothy, spicy drink called xocolatl, made much the same way as the Mayan chocolate drinks. It was often seasoned with vanilla, chile pepper, and achiote, and was believed to fight fatigue, which is probably attributable to the theobromine content, a mood enhancer. Because cacao would not grow in the dry central Mexican highlands and had to be imported, chocolate was an important luxury good throughout the Aztec empire, and cocoa beans were often used as currency.

Mayordomo and La Soledad are the two largest chocolate sellers in Oaxaca but there are many others

Grinding chocolate in a molino
The seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste, and must be fermented to develop the flavor.  After fermentation, the beans are dried, then cleaned, and then roasted, and the shell is removed to produce cacao nibs. The nibs are then ground to cocoa mass, pure chocolate in rough form. Oaxaca does not grow the cocoa beans but imports roughly eighty percent from the state of Tabasco and the rest from Chiapas. It is often ground with sugar, cinnamon or vanilla, and almonds, and formed into bars used to prepare hot chocolate, tejate, atole, and as an ingredient in some moles.  You can also get your chocolate fix via nieve or pasteles such as muffins or pan au chocolate.

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Hot chocolate is made either with hot milk or hot water traditionally whipped with a wooden whisk called a molinillo held between the palms using a back and forth motion until the chocolate is aerated and frothy.

Tejate vendor in Etla
Tejate is a maize and cacao beverage, originating from pre-Hispanic times it is the original energy drink.  Toasted maize flour, fermented cacao beans, mamey pits and flor de cacao (also known as rosita de cacao) are finely ground into a paste. The paste is mixed with water by hand. When it is ready, the flor de cacao rises to the top to form a pasty foam. It is served cold, as-is or with some sugar syrup to sweeten it.

Tejate and Atole vendor in the Pechote market

Atole is a traditional masa-based Mexican hot drink. The drink typically includes masa, water, piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar), cinnamon, vanilla and optional chocolate or fruit. The mixture is blended and heated before serving. Atole is one of the traditional drinks of the Day of the Dead, but is common throughout the year.

Oaxaca is also famous for its mole a rich, piquant sauce that sometimes includes chocolate. Mole can be purchased as a pasta mix to which you add chicken broth and tomato, or you may assemble your own using the same ingredients that Oaxacanos have used for centuries.

Cocoa solids contain alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine, which have a physiological effect that has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Dark chocolate appears to help prevent heart disease. When LDL cholesterol oxidizes, it tends to stick to artery walls, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Research has shown the polyphenols in chocolate inhibit oxidation of LDL cholesterol.  The presence of theobromine renders chocolate toxic to some animals, especially dogs and cats.  

Friday, March 9, 2012


The Valley of Puebla is a plain crossed by a number of small rivers, streams and arroyos, with the most significant being the Atoyac beginning with the runoff of the Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatepetl volcancos.  Cholula, located in the river’s upper basin at an altitude of about 2100 meters, is best known for its Great Pyramid, with the Nuestra Señora de los Remedios sanctuary on top and its numerous churches. Over the colonial period, forty-seven churches were constructed in the city.

At first glance, the pyramid looks like a hill as most of it is overgrown. The south side of the pyramid has been excavated and there is a network of tunnels inside.  From the top of the pyramid, in the sanctuary atrium, it is possible to see the Malinche, Popocatepetl, Iztaccíhuatl and Pico de Orizaba Volcanoes in the far eastern horizon.  The church was built in 1594 and is home to an image of the Virgin of the Remedies, the patron of Cholula. The first church collapsed in an earthquake in 1854 and was rebuilt, damaged again by an earthquake in 1999 and repaired.  The pyramid it is on was a pilgrimage site in pre-Hispanic times, and it remains one now with people coming to visit this Virgin image. According to myth, a giant named Xelhua, after he escaped a flood in the neighboring Valley of Mexico, built the pyramid of adobe bricks.  Building of the pyramid began in the pre Classic period and over time was built over six times to its final dimensions of 18 meters tall and 120 meters (390 ft) on a side at the base making it four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza and the largest pyramid base in the Americas.  In the last state of construction, stairs on the west side led to a temple on top facing Iztaccíhuatl.  However, the pyramid had been overgrown for centuries by the time the Spanish arrived.  Exploration of the pyramid began in 1931 under architect Ignacio Marquina who dug tunnels to explore the substructures.

One other important church of the San Andrés municipality is the church of Santa María Tonantzintla, which is valued for its decoration in what is called folk or indigenous baroque.  The church was initially built in the 16th century and developed over four phases until the 19th century.  At the end of the 17th century, it had its basic layout, and its intricate stucco work was begun and not completed until early 20th century.  These details include pre-Hispanic elements such as dark skinned angels, niches with headdresses, tropical fruits and ears of corn.  This area was originally sacred as Tonantzin, the mother goddess, the Spanish replaced her with an image of the Virgin Mary.

 The name of Cholula comes from the Nahuatl word Cholōllān.  Settlement of Cholula began between about 500 BCE with the establishment of two small villages.  At the end of the Pre-classic, many other settlements in the area were abandoned but Cholula grew. This was the time when work on the Great Pyramid began. Cholula continued to grow during the Classic period to a population of about 25,000. In the Post-classic period, Cholula grew to its largest size as a regionally dominant city.  The city’s location was strategic, on the trade routes between the Valley of Mexico, the Valley of Oaxaca and the Gulf of Mexico, making it a major mercantile center.  A variant of an artistic style and iconography, especially in pottery, spread from Cholula to other areas in the Valley of Mexico, then to other areas in Mesoamerica. This cultural trait is called Mixteca-Puebla was spread by the vast trading networks that existed in Mesoamerica at that time.  By the time the Spanish arrived, Cholula was a major religious and mercantile center and one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the central Mexican highlands.  Hernán Cortés estimated that the city had 430 temples and a population of over 100,000.  Cortés had arrived to Cholula after the Spanish victory of the Tlaxcalans, and he was supposed to meet Moctezuma II here. Since Cholula was allied with the Aztecs, the Spanish and their new Tlaxcalan allies were suspicious of this.  Cortés called the leaders of the city to the central square of the city where the Spanish charged and killed as many as six thousand Chololtecs. The event is called the Cholula Massacre, and it resulted in destruction of much of the city.  Unlike many other pre-Hispanic cities, which were abandoned or destroyed before or immediately after the Conquest, Cholula has remained to this day.  Nearby in the same valley the Spanish built the city of Puebla, which grew to prominence rapidly.  Because of Puebla and an epidemic, which claimed much of its indigenous population, Cholula never recovered its former importance. For more pictures please visit my picasa web album.

Pole Rain Dance

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Talavera Poblana

Talavera pottery of Puebla is a type of majolica pottery distinguished by a milky-white glaze. It is a mixture of Italian, Spanish and indigenous ceramic techniques.  All pieces are hand-thrown on a potter's wheel and the glazes contain tin and lead, as they have since colonial times.  This glaze must craze, be slightly porous and milky-white, but not pure white.  There are only six permitted colors: blue, yellow, black, green, orange and mauve, and these colors must be made from natural pigments. The painted designs have a blurred appearance as they fuse slightly into the glaze. The base, the part that touches the table, is not glazed but exposes the terra cotta underneath.  An inscription is required on the bottom that contains the following information: the logo of the manufacturer, the initials of the artist and the location of the manufacturer in Puebla.  Authentic Talavera pottery only comes from the city of Puebla and the nearby communities of Atlixco, Cholula, and Tecali.

The Moros brought techniques and designs of Islamic pottery to Spain by the end of the 12th century as Hispano-Moresque ware. From there the influenc spread to the rest of Spain and Europe, under the name majolica.  Spanish craftsmen from Talavera de la Reina, adopted and added to the art form.  Further Italian influences were incorporated as the craft evolved in Spain, and guilds were formed to regulate the quality. The Spanish brought Majolica pottery to Puebla in the first century of the colonial period. Production of this ceramic became highly developed because of the availability of fine clays and the demand for tiles from the newly established churches and monasteries. The industry grew sufficiently that by the mid-17th century, standards and guilds had been established, leading Talavera into what is called the "golden age" from 1650 to 1750. During this time, the preferred use of blue on Talavera pottery was reinforced by the influence of China's Ming dynasty through imported Chinese ceramics that came to Mexico via the Manila galleons.  Italian influences in the 18th century introduced the use of other colors. The tradition that developed is called Talavera Poblana to distinguish it from Talavera pottery of Spain.

The process to create Talavera pottery is elaborate and has basically not changed since the early colonial period.  The first step is to mix black sand from Amozoc and white sand from Tecali. It is then washed and filtered to keep only the finest particles. This can reduce the volume by fifty percent. Next the piece is shaped by hand on a potter's wheel, then left to dry for a number of days.  Then comes the first firing, done at 850 °C (1,560 °F).  The piece is tested to see if there are any cracks in it. The initial glazing, which creates the milky-white background, is applied. After this, the design is hand painted.  Finally, a second firing is applied to harden the glaze. This process takes about three months for most pieces, but some pieces can take up to six months. This process is so plagued with the possibility of irreparable damage that during colonial times, artisans prayed special prayers during the firing process.

The tradition has struggled, during the Mexican War of Independence, the potters' guild and the ordinances of the 17th century were abolished. This allowed anyone to make the ceramic in any way, leading to a decline in quality.  The war disrupted trade among the Spanish colonies and cheaper English porcelain was being imported. The Talavera market crashed. Out of the forty-six workshops that were producing in the 18th century, only seven remained after the war.

Efforts by artists and collectors revived the craft in the early 20th century.  In the late 20th century there has been a further revival with the introduction of new decorative designs and the passage of the Denominación de Origen de la Talavera law to protect authentic Talavera pieces made with the original 16th century methods. Today, only pieces made by workshops that have been certified are permitted to call their work "Talavera."  Certification is issued by the Consejo Regulador de la Talavera, which performs a twice-yearly inspection of the manufacturing processes.  Only nine workshops have so far been certified: Uriarte Talavera, Talavera La Reyna, Talavera Armando, Talavera Celia, Talavera Santa Catarina, Talavera de la Nueva Espana, Talavera de la Luz, Talavera de las Americas, and Talavera Virglio Perez. In addition, the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Puebla tests to ensure that the glaze does not have lead content of more than 2.5 parts per million or cadmium content of more than 0.25 parts per million, as many of the pieces are used to serve food. Only pieces from workshops that meet the standards are authorized to have the potter’s signature, the workshop logo, and the hologram that certifies the piece's authenticity.

Some workshops in Puebla offer guided tours and explain the processes involved. The oldest certified, continuously operating workshop is in Uriarte, founded in 1824.  Another certified workshop, Talavera de la Reina, is known for revitalizing the decoration of the ceramics with the work of 1990s Mexican artists.  The photographs are from these two workshops.

Talavera is mostly used to make utilitarian items such as plates, bowls, jars, flowerpots, sinks, religious items and decorative figures. The Puebla kitchen is a traditional environment of Talavera pottery, from the tiles that decorate the walls and counters to the dishes. Historically tiles were used to decorate both the inside and outside of buildings in Mexico, especially in Puebla. Many of the facades in the historic center are decorated with these tiles called azulejos and can be found on fountains, patios, the facades of homes, churches and other buildings, forming an important part of Puebla's Baroque architecture. This use of azulejos attested to the family's or church's wealth. This led to a saying "to never be able to build a house with tiles", which meant to not amount to anything in life. Please visit my picasa web album for a full set of pictures covering the fabrication of Talavera ceramics. Talavera de la Reina is on the web at and Uriarte Talavera at

Casa de Alfeñique a classic example of Puebla's tiled buildings.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Carnival in Puebla

Carnival in Puebla was born in the seventeenth century from the sumptuous feasts of the Spanish planters who denied access to the Indians, they, in response, danced in atriums, plazas and streets, imitating, in a sarcastic way, the parties of their employers, their outlandish costumes and the strange movements of their dances.  Carnival Fiestas in Puebla take place in the old neighborhoods and also in downtown.

The modern Carnival Fiestas retain strong pre-Hispanic ingredients. The indigenous roots of the fiestas lie in the local natives (Huejotzingos) celebrating war victories over their enemies or thanking the gods for successful harvests. But the Carnival of Huejotzingo has transformed through time by remembering events of local history. Dance groups (cuadrillas) perform dances derived from ballroom dancing and other traditional folk dances. In the carnival events are reborn year after year: the fight against French intervention in Mexico, the kidnapping of the daughter of the mayor and the traditional Indian wedding.
Carnival is the fun, joy, music and rejoicing before Lent, but it also has a ritual significance of female fertility and the earth.  Traditionally women did not participate at this event, which is why some men dress as women. During the celebration there is a burning of a doll representing Judas or the devil, also to clean the past with fire for the start of the next year, as any farmer begins the spring to prepare for planting when nature renews the earth.  It might also explain why celebrations were continuing five days into Lent.  For more pictures please visit my picasa web album.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Three Days in Puebla

Although Puebla doesn’t really belong in a blog about Oaxaca, many people find it convenient to fly into Mexico City then bus to Puebla, stay for a day or two then bus to Oaxaca.  There are many more flights from the US direct to Mexico City and a bus leaves directly from the airport to Puebla, very convenient.

The Spanish founded Puebla to have a secure Spanish settlement between Mexico City and the port of Veracruz. The story begins with a letter from the bishop of Tlaxcala in 1530, Julián Garcés, to the Spanish queen outlining the need for a Spanish settlement between Mexico City and the port of Veracruz.  According to legend, the bishop had a dream where saw a valley with woods and meadows crossed by a clear river and dotted with fresh-water springs on fertile land. While dreaming, he saw a group of angels descend from heaven and trace out the city. Convinced he had a divine vision, he celebrated Mass, and took some of the brothers out in search of the place. This legend is the source of Puebla’s original name, Puebla de los Angeles, and its current nickname Angelópolis.  The city was founded in 1531 in an area called Cuetlaxcoapan, a large valley surrounded on four sides by the mountains and volcanoes, in between of two of the main indigenous settlements at the time, Tlaxcala and Cholula. Forty kilometers to west are the volcanoes Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, the dormant volcano, La Malinche, lies to the north, and Pico de Orizaba to the east.

During the Mexican War of Independence, Puebla’s main role was the printing and distribution of the plan for independence. Later, during the French intervention in Mexico, on 5 May 1862 in the Battle of Puebla, defending Mexican forces defeated the French army which was considered to be the most powerful in the world at the time thus the holiday “Cinco de Mayo” is a major annual event here. At the end of the century, Puebla had a thriving textile industry, immigration from Europe was encouraged and people from Spain, Italy, Germany, France and Lebanon came to live in the city. French influence can still be seen in much of the city’s architecture. The Germans mostly settled in the Humboldt neighborhood where Bavarian style houses and the Alexander von Humboldt German College can still be found. German immigration here was one of the reasons Volkswagen built a large factory just outside of the city, later in the 20th century.

Puebla is considered to be the cradle of Mexican Baroque both in architecture and in the decorative arts and the historical and cultural value of Puebla's architecture is a major reason why the city was chosen as a World Heritage Site in 1987. Various styles and techniques such as Baroque, Renaissance and Classic are represented here in over 5,000 buildings included in the catalogue.  The historic center is filled with churches, monasteries, and mansions, mostly done in gray cantera stone, red brick and decorated with multicolored tiles. 

The city is also famous for mole poblano, chiles en nogada, cemitas and Talavera pottery. Soon after its foundation, Puebla was well known for its fine ceramics due to the abundance of quality clay in the region.  Between 1550 and 1570, Spanish potters from Talavera de la Reina in Spain came to Puebla to teach European techniques of the potter’s wheel and tin-glazing. These new methods were mixed with native designs to give rise to what became known as Poblano Talavera. The glazing technique was first used for the tiles that still decorate many of the buildings in this city.  Later, it was used to make pots, plates, jars, religious figures and other items.

Puebla has a subtropical highland climate moderated by its altitude of 2,200 meters and as a result it rarely gets truly hot in Puebla, averaging only three days with temperatures above 29 °C. Night temperatures are cool at all times of the year. Like Oaxaca, Puebla experiences a dry season from November through April and a rainy season from May–October.  For more pictures please visit my picasa web album.  I will have several more posts on Puebla covering carnival and Talavera pottery.