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!El Maestro!

!El Maestro!  It has got to be the pinnacle of coolness to be greeted as Maestro, Spanish for teacher, master, a title of extreme respect in this case.  It seems as though nobody calls famed Mexican artist Francisco Toledo by his name.  He is a man of small stature but colossal presence.  Toledo walks the streets of Oaxaca in rumpled clothes and well-worn huaraches. On top of his head sits a mass of unruly white hair.  He appears to be but an average man, however, he is a man of far from average importance in his home state of Oaxaca.  Suffice it to say, he is a BIG deal around these parts.  As an artist he is celebrated, as a human being he is respected for his gifts to his community and for his out-spoken defense of human rights.  He is a man of significant wealth which he shares with his people via numerous humanitarian works.  These include museums, libraries, historical preservation projects, and artists workshops that act as both schools and thriving businesses employing numerous people from the local community.  

  Today he entered the show room of Studio Xaquixe ( sha-kee-shay) in Magdelena Apasco, Etla to a hush of respect.  Only the master glass artist calls a salutation…. !Maestro!  None of the other 4 gaffers spoke a word.  Toledo was dropping off components for some pate vere metates that he is designing in collaboration with Christian Thornton, a fine art glass maker at Xaquixe.  Metates are an ancient stone grinding platform that is still used today to grind corn into masa.  They are symbolic of all that is Mexico.  These massive pieces of glass are formed using a sand casting method.  The sides of the piece are left with a gritty ancient looking surface similar to the volcanic stone originals.  However, viewed from above, what would be the grinding surface is polished transparent glass through which curious images can be seen embedded deep within.

 What Toledo has brought today is an amazing tablet of glass with graphic colored glass images arranged on top.  Above this are carefully laid two magnificently detailed fish each about 6 inches long and made from crystal clear sheets of mica.  All of these components will be a part of the cast glass metates.  Mica is a favorite material in Toledo’s work.  On a prior trip I remember seeing a collection of other shapes in mica done by the artist including a set of foot prints made using a tracing of the bottom of his feet. There were no finished pieces for us to  sneak a peek at during this visit to the studio.  There were 3 metates that had not yet been polished, the secrets hidden within the glass still to be revealed.

I did not speak to Toledo.  We made eye contact for a brief moment in which I could see deep into his black eyes as he looked deep into mine.  It  seemed as though he had taken a moment to consider me as I had considered him. That was enough, I felt his energy and it was indeed awe inspiring.

El Maestro Francisco Toledo

If you visit Oaxaca take a drive out to Magdelena Apasco, Etla and visit Xaquixe:  Nearby in  San Agustine, Etla is CaSa, Centro de las Artes de San Agustin: a great museum & center for the arts started by Toledo.  Also in San Agustine is Taller Arte Papel Oaxaca, a small hand made paper workshop also started by Toledo.  Both sites feature amazing shops in which you can purchase artwork, some designed by Toledo himself.  I bought an amazing bracelet laser-cut from old x-ray films.  I will never wear the delicate piece that features a detailed collection of grasshoppers, but it will make a cool gift for my radiologist husband once I have it mounted & back-lit.


An example of a collar necklace by Toledo made from recycled x-ray films….. with our HIPPA laws, producing something like this is a distinct impossibility! 




Empty Nest

     I have some bird drama unfolding at my place.  To be specific it is a nesting war between ‘Lil Ms. Wren and Mr.& Mrs. House Finch…. and it’s getting ugly.  There is a sweet spot on my back porch which makes a charming place to build a nest & set-up household.  The thing is there is only room for one nest back there.

       A few days ago a darling little Carolina wren began work on a nest.  I can’t be sure, but. I think maybe she is the same one who built a nest inside the box of garbage bags on a shelf in my studio last year.  Which meant that I had to leave the door open at all times, rain or shine.  It was super awesome having her as my studio mate, until, her babies fledged.  They were just the cutest thing at first, flying around the studio because they couldn’t figure out how to get out.  Ya, it was all “that is so adorable” & then they started pooing all over everything.  Sure they were tiny little baby wren poos, but still.

   But I digress, now she is back, I’m certain that it’s her.Her new nest was a lovely green from the moss from which she was building it.  There was also a noticeable amount grey cat hair artfully woven in there, if only Jack & Johnnie new.  Yes it was looking so cozy, WAS, past tense.

      After a full day of building she must have felt very content, but wait, what’s this? THAT is not her nest, who’s nest is it? Where is ‘Lil Ms. Wren’s nest? Oh no!  There it is on the ground!  Someone tore it down & threw it on the ground. Who could have done such a rotten thing?  

     And then they showed up, the both of them, guilty as the day is long.  Mr. & Mrs. House Finch working as a team.  Little wren is out numbered. Their nest is made of twigs and grass with a trailing tail of blue nylon from a shredded tarpaulin.  It has none of the panache of it’s predecessor.    Poor Ms. Wren!  Those shameless home wreckers have destroyed her pretty green nest.  She was in such distress that she continued to visit her nesting site throughout the day only to be run out of Dodge by those demon Finches.  

    She wasn’t about to give up that easy. NO, she’s a little fighter. Sometime during the course of day three Ms. Wren started building a new nest, better than the first.   What a trooper!  Such spunk!  So brave! And where did she build it? Right ON TOP of those bully finches nest!  True, that wasn’t very neighborly, but fair is fair & they started it. Now their nest is a super deluxe high-rise and the Finches abode is the basement.     Can’t we all just get along? Give peace a chance. War… huh…. what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again.

     Time will tell if the feuding holds off long enough for someone to put some eggs in that nest.

Our hero, ‘Lil Ms. Wren

Oh Those Potter’s Hands!

     I have a nice group of ladies who make pots with me on Tuesdays.  It’s winter & lately there has been a lot of whinging about dry hands & broken nails.  My hands are in the clay far more often than these gals.  Add to that, my former life as a nurse has left me with a need for clean hands at all times. This means washing, washing, and more washing.  So why are my hands soft & lovely?  It’s simple, I take good care of them. I love my hands.  They can do so many beautiful & remarkable things.  My hands make me happy & I like to return the favor by giving them the loving care that they have so rightfully earned.

     Keeping your hands healthy is more than a matter of beauty.  Any nurse will tell you that your skin is your “first line of defense”, not only against infection and disease.  Our skin also protects us from toxins inherent in our environment, and a potter’s environment is filled with numerous potential hazards.  Many substances are capable of passing right through your skin and into your bloodstream. This includes toxins that can threaten your health.  One example of toxins in the studio are heavy metals such as mangenese, cobalt, cadnium, and others which are present in clay, oxides, stains, and glazes.  These toxins can be inhaled in dry form or absorbed through the skin.  Over time, exposure to heavy metals can cause serious damage to the neurological system.  Skin that is dry and broken facilitates the entry of unwanted substances into your body.  If you are in the mood to scare the bejeezus out of yourself, do some research on the hazards of working as a potter.  Here’s a link to get you started:

     So what is my secret?  Lotion.  That’s it.  My secret weapon is Lubriderm Advanced Therapy FOR EXTRA DRY SKIN…. the one with the pink & blue label. The version for normal to dry skin doesn’t do it for me.  Many people recommend all manners of exotic oils & expensive designer creams to prevent potter’s hand.  I save a load of dough using this un-glamorous grocery shelf staple.  The secret is to use it a few times a day after washing your hands when they are still a little moist & can better absorb it.  I recommend putting a healthy dose of lotion on your hands before beginning your work and after each time that you wash your hands.  That’s it.  try it.  Works for me.



Can you hear me now?

Hey!  It’s me!  I’m here!  Can you hear me?

    I’m an artist working in my studio all day everyday.  When I’m not in there I’m thinking about when I will be there.  I can’t sleep, find little time for laundry, and I never answer my phone.  My friend tells me that total strangers will be interested in reading what I am writing right now and I will be famous by the end of next Tuesday.  If this is true I will be amazed!