We went first to the Ocotlán, 26 miles to the south of Oaxaca. Ocotlán was the home town of noted contemporary artist Rodolfo Morales. Morales was considered one of Mexico's most important living painters until his death in 2001. He used a good portion of his fortune to benefit his town. Morales undertook the restoration of Ocotlan's principal church, the16th century Church of Santo Domingo. Today it is a little gem.
From Ocotlán we headed back north along the highway, and stopped at San Martín Tilcajete. San Martín Tilcajete is famous for its workshops which produce "alebrijes", the brightly painted, whimsical carvings of animals that have become one of Oaxaca's most famous handicrafts. Perhaps the most outstanding masters of the craft are Jacobo Angeles and his wife María.
On my last visit to Oaxaca, I visited the workshop of Jacobo and María, and I bought a beautiful "alebrije" of a bear. It is decorated with incredibly intricate designs. It cost $350 US at the time, but it is truly a work of art. Looking at the prices of "alebrijes" of similar size and quality today, I suspect that my bear has appreciated greatly in value... not that I would ever part with it.
The workshop is located in a lovely garden courtyard. When we entered, artists were at work on several amazing, large-scale "alebrijes." I am sure that the price tag on these would be tens of thousands of dollars.
We were given an explanation by workshop employees on how "alebrijes" are made. The carvings are made from the wood of the copal tree.
The wood is carved into figures of animals.
The carvings are soaked in gasoline to kill any termites, and then allowed to dry for months. Finally the figures are painted. The less expensive carvings are painted with acrylic paints, but the more expensive ones are painted with natural pigments. The intricate geometric designs are based on indigenous symbols, and all have a meaning.
We spent a long time examining the finished "alebrijes" in the workshop's store. Jane finally picked one to buy, and I selected two.
After our visit to the workshop, it was time for lunch. At the entrance to the town is a restaurant owned by Jacobo and María called "Azucena Zapoteca". (They recently opened a branch in downtown Oaxaca. You may remember that last week I wrote a post about our meal there.) I invited our driver, Victor, to join us for lunch, and we all had "chiles en nogada".
|(photo taken by waitress)|
We then continued on to the town of Zaachila. After the abandonment of Monte Albán, Zaachila was the capital of the Zapotecs. There is a small, largely unexcavated archaeological site in the center of town.
We descended into a tomb where in 1962 a treasure of gold and jade jewelry and painted pottery was discovered. The objects are now in the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, much to the unhappiness of the residents. They have not allowed any further excavations of the site to occur until the treasure is returned to Zaachila.
The spaces where we are sitting, carved from the rock, are supposedly where the Zapotec king and queen sat as they watched ceremonies.
|(photo taken by Victor)|
Our final stop was the town of Cuilapan. Here the Dominican order established a monastery, one of the early centers for the conversion of the indigenous people of Oaxaca to Christianity. The Dominicans planned an extravagant basilica which was never completed due to cost overruns. The planned basilica remains roofless.