While walking the streets of San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas state the abundance of street art was irresistible. It seemed that walls in very public spaces were adorned and respected. Take a look!
Art and Life in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
The dates on the facade of this church read 1522-1524 when it was constructed. San Juan de Chamula is a small town just a 30 minute drive outside of San Cristobal de las Casas. The church is lovely from outside with large turquoise pots adorning the roof corners and inside the entire floor is covered with long pine needles, thousands of candles, incense and statues of saints in glass cases lining the walls. The native families in traditional dress push some needles aside and melt candles to the floor creating their own alters. I saw a woman kneel with her family, take up a handful of pine needles, blow a gourd whistle and while chanting a native dialect pass the needles over her 20 year old daughter’s head, chest and belly then bow her head to the floor. It is rumored that chickens are offered on the main alter but none were apparent today. No photos are allowed inside the church so you will need to visit to experience the beauty.
As we drove into town women were seen herding sheep through town and doing the Sunday laundry at a common well. Sunday is Chamula market day and the town was packed. This is a short video of the square and church.
Men in sheepskin vests with large white cowboy hats sat on one side of the square drinking shots of Pox, a liquor made from corn that was offered to our friends Matt and Allan. The women were dressed in goat skin skirts with pleated satin tops tucked into wide belts and a folded cloth atop their heads. Jim and I wandered on finding elaborately embroidered clothing which I could not resist, whistles and bowls made from gourds and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. I came away with bulging bags of lovely hand embroidered blouses and a black dress with bright sequins and a wide black belt. Even a long sleeved cotton blouse which I have been very thankful to wear every night when the chill sets in.
We stopped for lunch at a fancy country club like place and then ventured on to Zinacantan, a village which supplies exotic flowers to many parts of the country. The soil is so rich, corn plants grew up to the road in the middle of town and the valley was filled with huge greenhouses. Clothing here featured elaborate floral embroidery on bold colored satin and at least on Sunday these ponchos and capes are worn by the whole family. As we drove into town half a dozen young girls ran in front of our car wanting to sell us things or give us tours. It was a little off putting so we simply drove up and down the hills a bit and left without stopping. On the way back down the hill I spotted this lovely bright colored home on the side of the road with the beginning of San Cristobal behind.
Having been a potter for 30 years I search for ceramic creations wherever I visit. In this case I found Amatenango, a village southwest of San Cristobal. No tour companies go there so I was very lucky that my friends from home in Playa del Carmen were visiting this area at the same time and had rented a car.
When climbing the 300 steps the first morning I had seen a hillside of colorful houses and we happened to pass them on the way. Also local fruit stands lined the road as we got away from the city where we found peaches, pickled hearts of palm and canned quail eggs. Matt Weatherbee’s GPS directions led us to a cliff where the road simply ended. One can see the intended highway below in the lower right hand corner of the photo below. As Matt was attempting to turn the car around (with a stick shift and steep incline) a family came to their front porch to watch and this very helpful man explained a much safer route. But his face says, “No, no not down that embankment!”
We did arrive in Amatenango to be greeted by stall after stall along the highway with ceramic wares spread in front. Spotted jaguars in all sizes and chicken vessels are featured. They are all hand built and pit fired to hardness then painstakingly painted with acrylics. The artists all seem to be women with many young girls helping as apprentice painters and sales agents. I did purchase several of these, especially the green covered vessel in the photo above.
At 3:00 almost every afternoon at this time of year huge black clouds roll in and there is a brief downpour. On the way home we experienced this. Also the only gas stations were shelters on the side of the road with plastic bottles of gasoline and a siphon. Lodgepole pine trees were abundant so produce boxes that were made nearby were stacked high along the road as were wooden dog houses and children’s hobby horses.
The final photo we saw briefly on our return to San Cristobal, a huge metal sculpture of a woman in traditional dress creating a chicken pot.
The hotel where we were staying, Hotel Posada Primavera on Calle 16 de Septiembre, is decorated with wood carvings of saints which I greatly admired. This St. Francis was in our room and other two were in the hotel lobby.
Asking the owner where I could see more she offered to call the artist, saying he is from Guatemala and carries his wares in a backpack. A few hours later she informed me he was in Merida but would take a bus south and stop at the hotel for a showing on his way home. At 5:00 he arrived and we cleared a table in the lobby to view eight of his current creations. I bought the one above, St. Francis of Assisi with birds on his shoulders and another of the Virgin de Guadalupe, which is packed away for the trip home to Playa del Carmen. Forgetting to take photos of Daniel and his work, I was thankful when he sent me photos via WhatsApp and promised to send more as they become available.
They are carved from one piece of wood with arms and wings that fit into holes with pegs. He learned from his father and works now with his son. He also paints all the pieces.
One more that was located near the stairs to our second floor room: St. Gabriel who is about two feet tall.
Isaiah Zagar has created mosaic paintings on abandoned buildings and other properties in Philadelphia since 1969. My home on South 2nd Street had a wall by him but the new owners took it down when I sold and moved to Mexico. There is now an indoor space next door, with mosaic throughout, where Ornella Ridone’s show was hung (previous post).
The Magic Garden on South Street began in 1991. It is an outdoor property with tunnels, arches and open gardens adorned with mosaic walls beyond imagination. Painted tiles, mirrors, bottles and bicycle wheels are some of the materials used. To quote from Isaiah’s book: “My whole life as an artist is a journal; the way I’m feeling, the way I’m feeling every day, the way I’m thinking, the things I’m thinking about. They all enter into my work life, into my drawing life, so it’s constantly changing…”