I must come up for an idea for a printmaking class I’m taking tomorrow and I just drew the saddest little grasshopper you’ve ever seen. He’s looking up at me from the pages of my notebook like “ really, that’s all you’ve got?” After all of the amazing, inspirational printmaking studios (tallers) you visited today, that’s it?
I am in Oaxaca, Mexico, after somewhat spontaneously deciding to join my mom (a printmaker) on a printmaking tour and workshop (facilitated by @juliannakerwin). It’s been almost 20 years since I was last in Oaxaca and even longer since I carved a piece of linoleum or wood in a printmaking class.
I spend the first two days, before the tour starts, reacquainting myself with the food, smells, markets, and sites of Oaxaca, of which there are so many! The historic center of town is jammed with galleries, studios, restaurants, shops, and parks, with a fair amount of Americans but not as many as some other places. There are plenty of opportunities to practice Spanish and plenty of menus not yet translated which yield regular surprises- like last night’s dinner of small plantains in mole; I thought the plantains were just a part of the meal, not the whole thing. They were delicious! Chapulines (crickets) are served as snacks everywhere. Dried and covered in salt, chocolate or lime and chile, I avoided them 20 years ago but eat them freely now because, why not? They are the reason behind my attempt to draw a grasshopper for tomorrow’s class.
I don’t remember seeing as much printmaking in Oaxaca in 2003, so I Google it to learn more about its history here. In 2006 there was a massive statewide teacher strike that turned violent and around that time print shops sprang up to create large scale and large quantities of prints in support of the teachers. Oaxaca is a politically active state and being one of the poorest states in Mexico, has ample reason to protest ongoing inequalities and corruption. Many of the printmaking studios have had a direct relationship with these protests while others have gone more of a fine art route but what seems clear is that there is great support for the art form, in all its forms, from the community.
What a day!
I attempt to bring my little surfing cricket to life and I won’t know until tomorrow how he turned out. Our teacher is lovely and sets us up with materials, tools, and directions in his front courtyard.
After working on our own projects we tour more studios; some master printers who print for world famous artists and others who bring their presses into the literal streets, supply materials, and help anyone who walks up make a print. Both versions are awesome.
I ink my plate and lay it face up on the press and lay a piece of cotton paper gently over it. Our teacher, Federico Valdez (@federico_valdez_art), guides us through the process until we each end up with three little prints of our own.
After finishing our prints we wind through the hills outside of Oaxaca City, through beautiful Etla, in search of a paper factory that ends up being closed. As keeps happening, someone knows someone who knows someone and we end up in the studio of an amazing paper maker (and human) Roberto Valenzuela of Papel Oaxaca. He was a biologist, dismayed at the environmental impact that paper production had on the planet and decided to begin making paper from agave, banana leaves, and multiple other natural fibers. He is a dear!
Now it is Sunday night. It is raining outside and I fly home tomorrow. I feel so much gratitude for the inspiration this art form, trip, city, workshop, and country have given me. I can’t wait to return to Oaxaca, but in the meantime I am excited to practice some of what I’ve learned back in New Mexico .