Zen Recreations

Day 5

Culture, crafts and ancient treasures of Oaxaca

Authentic Regional Craftsmanship 9AM - 4PM

Today on our 5th day we tour outlying artisanal communities and encounter authentic regional craftsmanship and art first-hand steeped in the ancient hills which surround the city of Oaxaca. Each village specializes in a specific craft.

After a hearty Mexican breakfast,  we travel 17 miles from Oaxaca  to the five-century-old town of Villa de Etla or “town of the land of beans”. It is centered on the church and former monastery of San Pedro y San Pablo - a Dominican priest  and a 12th-century Venetian martyr.

Brother Pedro’s preaching attracted papal attention, and he was promoted by Pope Innocent IV, who named him the Inquisitor for Lombardy in 1252. Charged with punishing heretics using some of the same tactics as Emperor Nero had employed in Rome, he served the Pope but made a number of powerful enemies. Assassins attacked him before he served even a full year in his position as Inquisitor. Brother Pedro continued to loudly profess his faith and offer up prayers even when his enemies attacked and killed him.

He was rewarded with sainthood (San Pedro of Verona) before the next year passed.

El Centro de Arte de San Agustin Etla, is a beautifully renovated former cotton factory that  now hosts an art school, with workshops, exhibits, and a great gift shop. The artist Francisco Toledo helped turn this old textile factory into an art school and cultural center. The restoration as well as the beautiful contemporary interventions to the site, building and the steps he designed behind the house, makes it well worth the visit.

 Handmade paper factory

We will tour  El Taller Arte Papel  which was started in 1998 in San Agustín, Etla to admire unique sheets of handmade paper and a wonderful opportunity to choose the best creations. It is housed in a refurbished hydroelectric plant at Vista Hermosa. Maestro Toledo an awe-inspiring, unselfish, altruistic artist and teacher adapted old water pipes and a power plant to make this handmade paper workshop.The old hacienda’s main access connected to the former hydroelectric power plant  was converted into Arte Papel.

 Tree bark, plant fibers, natural-colored cotton and other natural dyes are made into first class paper products. Maestro Toledo a well-known Mexican painter, was the founder of the cooperative, teaching locals how to make handmade paper free of contaminants. They adapted the technique well and developed the use of natural fibers of Chichicastle, agave, Majahua, white cotton, cotton Coyuche, the cotton kapok tree and lion’s paw.

Inside, young men stir vats full of murky gray pulp. They explain that they use native bark, plants, flowers, cotton, hemp, silk, linen, berries and even bits of shiny mica — all renewable resources. The sludgy substance is drained, pressed, and dried on framed screens into textured sheets of paper in subtle hues of pink, beige, yellow and white. Favored by artists for painting and drawing while photographers are experimenting with the printing processes.


A Zapotec word meaning, amongst other things, “a time for transparency” and founded in 2002 by Salime Harp Cruces and Christian Thornton. We visit Studio Xaquixe, a glass recycling center known for beautiful mescal bottles and other works of art in glass, with a three-fold purpose. To create high-quality pieces with original designs, while  counteracting the environmental destruction that Mexico currently faces, and to expand that impact locally—for appreciation of glass as an art form; and for sustainability as a culture.

Maintaining a vision of collective responsibility for the proper care of the environment makes Xaquixe a pioneer in glass recycling. Accumulating trash glass from various communities and collection centers in Oaxaca, every month a ton of recycled glass is transformed into beautiful works of art

Xaquixe is the only art glass studio of its kind in the region, and is continually committed to innovating in its field throughout the world. Generously sharing design models and technology with local ceramic studios, craft workshops, and artisanal cinder block and brick producers, in synergy with their commitment to reduced emissions in Latin America.

True innovators,  Xaquixe has perfected a recipe of 95% recycled glass and only 5% raw materials using a secret Formulated Glass recipe to recycle glass which doesn’t take colors well. Christian Thornton has developed a new way of working with a secret chemical process that allows their recycled glass to accept color. A hand-blown item from Oaxaca demonstrates that glassware can be sustainable, beautiful and created in the most unexpected places. Inspiring small artisan studios and large factories to collaborate and learn from each other.

In order to save on energy, they have converted the 1300° furnace to use vegetable oil recycled from restaurants and able to get it to burn hot enough with no bi-product. A forward-thinking Mexico of innovation has another invention up their sleeve; they are 3 years away from a solar heating system.

Artesanías de hojalata. Tinware

Mexican tin handcrafts and folk art is a complex collection of items made with various materials and fashioned for utilitarian, decorative  purposes. Unique and often one of a kind creative masterpiece.


Weaving with silver threads is the main talent the master jeweler Manuel Garcia has more than 60 years ago, today it is one of the leading representatives of this work in Oaxaca.
The watermark is a technique that involves creating jewelry with silver or gold fine threads, which are carefully worked to weave figures as a lace. The teacher says he is open to teaching the craft, “we need people who really want to learn and with the intention that it will live.”
He leaves us with this thought as we return to Oaxaca and tonight is the Night.

Farewell dinner and Guelaguetza culture show 8 PM to 10PM

This Friday our last evening in Oaxaca we enjoy a traditional culture show La Guelaguetza, Zapotec for “offering”. We regroup in the ‘Chapel’ of Quinta Real for a scrumptious buffet dinner with traditional Oaxacan food and enjoy the evening’s merriment with dancers on stage and a live band bringing pre-Columbian traditions that have existed for millennium to life. Sharing their joy with the simple message I give you something and later you give me something back of equal or greater value and to thank you for spending time with amigos !