Monthly Archives: June 2010

The Virgin of Juquila

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I know that there is the Virgin de la Soledad in the Cathedral of Oaxaca.  I plan on focusing on her later.  There is another miraculous virgin called La Morenita de Juquila.  I first read about her in Laura Resau’s book Red Glass.  Angel, the young man from Guatemala that travels with the protagonist,

This is a tin ornament of the Virgin

Sophie’s, group to Mexico wears one on a gold chain around his neck.  I think that he buys it in a mercado at Huajuapan de Leon – here’s a quote from the book:

“For himself, Angel picked out a gold Virgin of Juquila pendant. The patron Virgin of Oaxaca. ‘Muy milagrosa, esta Virgen,’ the woman assured us.”

It is significant because it gives Sophie a valuable clue towards the end of the book.  I found it interesting that Laura chose the Virgin of Juquila instead of the the more readily recognized Virgin de la Soledad (who is mentioned in the book Becoming Naomi Leon, by Pam Muñoz Ryan).

Here is the basic story of the miracle of Virgen de Juquila as told by Carlos Amantea:

The story is that she arrived from Spain some two hundred years ago in the form of a statue, about two feet tall.

She was installed in the chapel near Juquila, and many years later, there was a fire. The entire building was destroyed, except for the Virgin. They moved her into the town of Juquila — but when, after reconstructing the chapel, she was taken back to her original home (Amialtepec), she would have none of it: she disappeared and reappeared in the church in the town. After she did this three times, they figured that was where she wanted to be and, of course, she was attributed with deep magic powers.

The only thing that happened to her in all these adventures was that, after the fire, her skin turned dark — what they call morena — like most of the people who live here. She is no longer one of those light-skinned güero virgins out of the Iberian culture but — like the more famous Virgin of Guadelupe — has become a dark beauty. Her skin is the color of the rich brown earth that surrounds the town of Juquila.

There is another version of the story on this website.  There, it says that a covetous bishop wanted to take the Virgin from a peasant to whom it was given.  That story says that she kept trying to go back, but by the fourth time, she decided to stay in the Cathedral built for her in Juquila.  The original spot where she resided is commemorated by a smaller chapel called La Capilla del Pedimento (Amialtepec).  From the article: “Nonetheless the image remained there and gradually people accepted the Mother’s new home. She appeased them by continuing to work miracles in both her old and new domicile. Her children learned how to honor her in both places.”

Approaching El Pedimento - the original resting place.

Many people make pilgrimages to Juquila, to ask for miracles on their behalf.  Here is a description of a typical pilgrimage:

“This is what they do to this day: For the thousands of pilgrims who come to Juquila every week their visit starts in Amialtepec, 9 kilometers before Juquila. There they go to the chapel of ‘El Pedimento’ (the request), a shrine high on a hill near the original site. The ground around El Pedimento is dense clay, which is considered sacred and is said to have healing properties. People use this clay in various ways. Some rub their faces with it, some eat it, but most use it to give shape to their requests. They sculpt little clay houses, cars, farm animals, food, husbands, body parts that need healing, anything they want….

Then they attach a message addressed to the Virgin and lay their “request” at the feet of a large ceramic copy of the Black Madonna. On their return the following year they bring a cross with some type of sign on which they give thanks for the granting of last year’s favor.  So popular is this shrine that each day a caretaker hauls all of the offerings, requests, and crosses out back, forming an enormous holy dump pile.”

Look at all of the crosses!

Now, that, I would like to see!  From there, they proceed to Santa Catarina Juquila, the Basilica erected around the original Virgin’s statue.

“Having finished at El Pedimento, the pilgrims continue to Juquila. Many crawl the last two kilometers, from the entry area to the actual statue, on their knees. They make their way along a dirt road that leaves their knees bloody upon arrival. Once at the feet of their Mother, many pilgrims make a promise (a promesa), something like: “If you get me safely to the USA I will come back here to give you thanks when I return to Mexico.” Or: “If you grant me a child I will make this pilgrimage three more times in my life.”

Many stories testify to this Dark Mother’s willingness to help her children. She is credited with curing the ill, raising dead babies back to life, granting sudden wealth, etc.”

Medal of the Virgin

There are a couple of conditions:  most people pledge to return the year following their miracle – or more than one year.  Also, there’s an amusing story about chastity during the Pilgrimage itself:

“…you have to observe chastity during the pilgrimage. One story tells of “a lusty, overeager couple who stopped by the roadside to engage in some hanky-panky and presto, were changed to stone. To this day, it is said, they are stuck there, somewhere off in the mountains, belly-to-belly.”

Here are a couple of links I found:

A Day in Santa Catarina Juquila – by Geri Anderson and Carol Alice

Prayer to the Virgin for a Miracle –  for people taking the Pilgrimage

Moon Guides information on Juquila – Moon is a great guide book

Travel Pod.com – Tourist’s tale of going to Juquila – with pictures

Website for the Sanctuary – on Oaxaca Mio

Video – great news feature done by a Mexican news station

An Unexpected Pilgrimage by John Todd, Jr. – great account of a side trip to Juquila

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House of the Scorpion Loteria, Card #4

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How else do you get a spare heart?

Spoiler alert!  If you have not read House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer, yet: this may upset you…  On the other hand, it tells you right on the back of the book in the blurb what is supposed to happen.  I think that the only person who does not know is Matt, the clone.

My Maneki Neko

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Pink brings fortune in love. Southpaw attracts customers.

This next image from my Artist’s Journal is a collage piece that I did when I was in full Maison Celeste mode.  It is a maneki neko, or lucky cat – the kind you see in all sorts of sushi and other Japanese restaurants.  The cat looks like it’s waving, but the Japanese hand gesture to beckon someone is the opposite of the Western one.

There is a story or legend behind the cat – the most common was about a poor monk in the Edo period.  His cat attracts a warlord to get out of the rain in the temple rather than under a tree.  Then the tree is struck by lightning.  The warlord showers the monk with money and gets people to go to his temple, so he is no longer poor.  When the cat died, he was buried in a special cemetery, and a little statue of a cat with his paw raised was put on his grave.

When I started this journal, I painted a couple of pages first.  I started this page out by using my favorite paint color of all time – Color & Co(mpany)’s cerise. It is the most intense fuschia pink you will ever find.  It’s kind of a shame that it’s a tempera paint, because it might run if I tried to shellac over it, but I love it anyway.  I painted the center, then I blended it in with orange and then yellow, filling the whole page.

Before I put the cat on the page, I did some freehand drawings of flowers, leaves, and vines with two different sized Sharpie markers. It’s the first time I’ve tried that and I think it came out great.  I think it stayed that way for a little while as I tried to think of what to put in the middle of the page.

I found this coloring page and printed it out.  I could have taken the trouble to draw it freehand or trace it, but it is a collage piece, so I just left it like it was.  I thought that I would go ahead and color it using oil pastels.  I chose pink to go with the background, shading the outside of the figure in orange.  The ears, claws, and nose are yellow.  Like most maneki neko statues, this one has a collar, bib and bell.  This article says that cats were rare, hence the collar and bell to find them if they were lost.  This website says that the bib and bell stand for wealthiness and material abundance.

I glued him down over my background, accepting that she was going to cover some of the flowers.  Then, I went for total over-the-top glitter, accenting cat and koban (the oval coin that she is holding) with glitter glue.  It buckled a bit, but has flattened out over time.  As a side note, maneki neko can hold other things beside a big gold coin.  This website by Sushi Cat has a great illustration of the lexicon.

It wasn’t until after I colored him pink that I decided to do a little bit of research on the symbolism behind the statue.  Honestly, I didn’t even think that there were pink cats around. I found out that there are meanings associated with the color of the cat and also the beckoning paw.  A left-handed cat (southpaw, like me) is supposed to attract customers and the pink cat brings fortune and love.  Perfect!

After I scanned the picture into Photoshop, I played around with some effects.  I may put one of them up in my CafePress.com shop.

Of course, because I have been reading so many picture books with great art, I thought briefly that the  story of the Maneki Neko would make a great children’s book.  Of course, there are no new ideas, it seems.  I found four of them:

Maneki Neko, The Tale of the Beckoning Cat by Susan Lendroth, illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi – This is the most recent (out last month) and stays faithful to the tale of the monk and his cat.

The Beckoning Cat: Based on a Japanese Folktale by Koko Nishizuka, illustrated by Rosanne Litzinger – This book tells a different story – about a poor fisher boy and his cat who attracts customers.

Tama the Cat: The Story of the Maneki Neko, the Beckoning Cat
by Robert Ogden, illustrated by Julia Preston – not available on Amazon.com, but you can order it from the U.K., along with prints from the book.

The Tale of the Lucky Cat by Sunny Seki – in this story, a toymaker is saved by a cat – beautiful illustrations, with text in Japanese and English.

So, if I want to do a children’s book, there are two possible legends to milk (from Wikipedia):

The Courtesan: A courtesan named Usugumo, living in Yoshiwara, in eastern Tokyo, kept a cat, much beloved by her.  One night, the cat began tugging at her kimono.  No matter what she did, the cat persisted. The owner of the brothel saw this, and believing the cat bewitched, cut its head off. The cat’s head then flew to the ceiling where it killed a snake, ready at any moment to strike. Usugumo was devastated by the death of her companion. To cheer her up, one of her customers made her a wooden likeness of her cat as a gift. This cat image then became popular as the Maneki Neko.

(doesn’t that one sound heart-warming and child-friendly?)

The Old Woman: An old woman living in Imado (eastern Tokyo) was forced to sell her cat due to extreme poverty. Soon afterwards the cat appeared to her in a dream. The cat told her to make its image in clay. She did as instructed, and soon afterward sold the statue. She then made more, and people bought them as well. They were so popular she soon became prosperous and wealthy.

(That one is also known as the George Rodrigue Blue Dog story – LOL)

Some fun links:

Canon Paper Craft Website – so awesome, and what a great idea!  17 pages of high output ink that you cut apart and put together. Instructions on assemblage are on a separate PDF.  There is a black maneki neko, a white maneki neko, and a calico maneki neko to print out.

ActionCat.com – there are lucky cat e-cards, plus you can design your own cat to print out or for screen capture.

Maneki Neko by Sushi Cat
– great site with all sorts of information, also maneki grams, puzzles and games – children will love it!

Lucky Cat Museum – online collection of lucky cats.

There is also Lucky Cat Fabric – I did not post a link, but there are a couple of Etsy.com shops that sell fabric.  Those links become obsolete when they get sold, but just do a search for all sorts of products.  Try quilting fabric sites for other options.

Cover of my artist’s journal

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Everybody seems to be into artist journals.  With a blog, a journal that I keep when I go to restaurants (mostly), and art that consists of collages, it’s hard to justify using collage papers on something that I am not going to sell or frame.  I do tape and glue little things in my written journal, like tickets, good horoscopes, fortune cookie papers, etc., and lord knows when I plan on scrapbooking to keep the other memorabilia.  Probably never.

But I decided to give it a go – maybe last year – and got the cover done, one collage done, and painted a couple of pages in preparation for more.  I do see it as a great place to really go wild – in my collage work, I do not use glitter or sequins.  Neither can I use a lot of the images I used on this cover, for example.  The major image is cut out from an awesome book on the Virgin of Guadalupe, called Guadalupe, Body and Soul by Marie-Pierre Colle.

Guadalupe looks good on the mosaic table!

I also used some fun glitter sticker letters – the message “Rock The Art World” was possible to make after I did my name in the center!  And, of course, I do want to one day rock!

I love Chupa Chups!

A lot of the hearts and roses are also cut from the cover of the Guadalupe book – I hate to waste bright images.  BTW, the hard cover of the book has the same image as the paper cover – I am not really one to jacket books.  The Chupa Chups logo was designed by Salvador Dali – did you know that?  I don’t love the suckers themselves as much as the wrappers.

The next image is a sticker from Punch Studio that I superimposed over a tequila bottle label – Jose Cuervo.  The colors of the agave fields were perfect against the Virgin.  I also had another candy wrapper (from a Lindor truffle) to add to the mix.

No, I don't just believe in chocolate and tequila...

I am constantly buying books for my classroom.  I love to collect folk tales, fairy tales, and picture books that have great art.  There is a series of books by an author named Monica Brown – the three I’m talking about are biographies for children.  There is one about Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gabriela Mistral, and even Pelé (must be newer), but the one I got the picture from is called My Name is Celia/Me Llamo Celia – about Celia Cruz.  The illustrations are by Rafael Lopez and they won a Pura Belpre Award.  One day, I would like to write a book – either a Young Adult novel or an art picture book, so that is why I also attached the “Latina Book Award Winner” medallion.

In my collage materials, I have a finite number of Peter Max hearts from a run of wrapping paper that he designed for Target years ago.  I went back to the store when the displays were being taken down to ask for them – they were awesome big hearts – but they said no.  Before one of them got put in the recycling bin, my sister managed to obtain one of them (is it really stealing if they are going to throw it away?), which hangs on my studio wall.

Another element I use often – especially in my Blue Dog Shrines, is a wrapping paper by Caspari – a gold background with painted squares.  Whenever I use it, people always think that I painted it myself.  Nope!  Nel Whatmore did.  Here’s a Virgin of Guadalupe shrine that I did – gave it to a friend of mine for her birthday – I might need to remove it from my Etsy shop.

At the bottom of my Virgin, of course, is the little angel that holds her half moon up.  Since my name is Celeste (which means “blue sky” or “heavenly”), I like to hope that angels are watching over (out for?) me!

Angels watching over me...

Alebrijes and Oaxacan Woodcarving

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I am a big fan of Oaxacan Woodcarving.  Good thing I’m going to Oaxaca!  Last year, I picked out a fabulous rabbit painted by Aurora Sosa of San Martin Tilcajete.  I think I ended up having my husband buy it for me for Christmas or my birthday or something.  It looks like the bunny on the left, only in the crouching position.

Over the years, I have purchased a couple of woodcarvings, but they are smaller and less detailed.  This was the first one I purchased as a collector – I just thought it was beautiful and I wanted it.  If I am lucky, maybe I will get to go to Aurora Sosa’s village and meet her.  Her father, Luis Sosa Calvo, is also a carver.

From Wikipedia:  Alebrijes originated in Mexico City in the 20th century.  The creation of the first alebrijes, as well as the name itself, is attributed to Pedro Linares, a Mixe Indian artisan from Arrazola, Oaxaca who made a living in Mexico City making piñatas, carnival masks and “Judas” figures from papier-mâché.   He sold these in markets in Mexico City in the 1930s.

When he was around thirty years old, Linares fell ill with a high fever which caused him to hallucinate.  He dreamed that he was in a forest with rocks and clouds, many of which turned into wild, unnaturally colored creatures, some with wings, horns, tails, fierce teeth and bulgy eyes.  While seeing the creatures, he heard a crowd of voices which repeated a nonsensical word that sounded like “alebrije.” After he recovered, he began to create the creatures he saw using papier-mâché and cardboard.

The descendents of Pedro Linares, many of whom live in Mexico City near the Sonora Market, carry on the tradition of making alebrijes and other figures from cardboard and papier-mâché.  Recently, there has been a yearly Parade of Alebrijes in Mexico City.

Here are some links about paper mache alebrijes and Pedro Linares:

History of Mexican Paper Mache Sculptures
Wild Dreams and Rainbow Faces – article about the Linares family on Novica.com
Pedro Linares family website – has some glitches, but recounts Linares’ original “alebrije” dream.
Paper Mache Dragon by Joel Garcia Grande, who studied with Pedro Linares
The Skeleton at the Feast:  The Day of the Dead in Mexico
by Elizabeth Carmichael and Chloë Sayer – includes work of the Linares family
Exhibit in San Diego featuring Linares

More from Wikipedia on Wooden alebrijes (paraphrased):  “What are called “alebrijes” in Oaxaca is a marriage of native woodcarving traditions and influence from Pedro Linares’ work in Mexico City.  Pedro Linares was originally from Oaxaca, and during family visits to Arrazola, he demonstrated the designs he was making in Mexico City. The first to copy the fantastic forms and bright colors was Manuel Jiménez, who carved the figures in local copal wood rather than using paper.

Animal figures had always been carved in the central valleys area of Oaxaca by the Zapotecs since the pre-Hispanic period.  Totems of local animals were carved for luck or religious purposes as well as hunting decoys. Figures were also carved for children as toys, a tradition that continued well into the 20th century.  After the craft became popular in Arrazola, it spread to Tilcajete and from there to a number of other communities.

Now the three main communities are  San Antonino Arrazola, San Martin Tilcajete and La Union Tejalapam, each of which has developed its own style.  The carving of wood figures did not have a name, so the name “alebrije” eventually became adopted for any carved, brightly colored figure of copal wood, whether it is of a real animal or not.  To make the distinction, the carvings of fantastic creatures, closer to Linares’ alebrijes, are now sometimes called “marcianos” (martians).

Oaxacan alebrijes have eclipsed the Mexico City version, with a large number of stores in and around the city of Oaxaca selling the pieces and it is estimated that more than 150 families in the area make a living carving and painting the figures.  Many rural households in the Mexican state of Oaxaca have prospered over the past three decades through the sale of  these brightly painted, whimsical wood carvings.   They sell them to international tourists and the owners of ethnic arts shops in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

Here are some books I found about Oaxacan Woodcarving:

Mexican Folk Art: From Oaxacan Artist Families by Arden Aibel Rothstein and Anya Leah Rothstein
Crafting Tradition: The Making and Marketing of Oaxacan Wood Carvings
by Michael Chibnik
Oaxacan Woodcarving: The Magic in the Trees by Shepard Barbash and Vicki Ragan  and the sequel:  Changing Dreams: A Generation of Oaxaca’s Woodcarvers

Dream Carver by Diana Cohn and illustrated by Amy Cordova – children’s book inspired by the story of Manuel Jimenez

Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan – the focus is on the Night of the Radishes, but Naomi is descended from a Oaxacan woodcarving family.

ABeCedarios: Mexican Folk Art ABCs in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill.  The carvings were made by Moisés Jiménez and Armando Jiménez and photographed by K.B. Basseches. Cynthia Weill also wrote Opuestos: Mexican Folk Art Opposites in English and Spanish with carvings by Martín Santiago and Quirino Santiago.  She also has a new book coming out called Colores de la Vida: Mexican Folk Art Colors in English and Spanish (First Concepts in Mexican Folk Art) – there is no mention of who the carvers are.

Lesson Plans:

Wood Animalitos:  alebrijes made from pieces of wood

Woodsies Extraordinaire – could be adapted to Oaxacan Wood Animals

Texture Critters – a drawing project inspired by Oaxacan art

Mythical Beasts – can be adapted – students create  a mythical beast and write a story about it

Mexican Animalitos – these are made from paper mache

Whimsical Oaxacan Animals – made from paper clay

Alebrije Painting Lesson based on a  book based on a Zapotec legend called Rabbit and Coyote by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Drawing Oaxacan Alebrijes – from Crayola.com

Here is a 9 week art unit on Mexico for sixth grade

Here is a lesson plan where students  construct a fantasy animal of paper and plaster (for 3rd or 4th grade)

Alebrijes: Fantasy Animals – 3rd grade Spanish animal unit with links to Activity Sheets in English and Spanish – very well thought out.

Websites with examples of Oaxacan Woodcarvings:
El Caracol Zapoteca – beautiful photographs – my favorite!
La Fuente Imports – photos also very well done
Solmar Imports – more examples, along with other folk art

Port Wahakaa’s website, The Art of Oaxacan Woodcarving has an excellent gallery with articles on copal trees, the styles of woodcarving villages, animals in myth and nature.  There are three galleries illustrating the work of many carvers, with short comments on each artist.  There is also a “Rough Guide” describing various styles with an examples from the same artists described in the gallery.

Articles about Artists and the art of woodcarving:

Here is an article on Gabino Reyes and Eloy Santiago
Crizmac Article on Zeny Fuentes
Website of Jacobo and Maria Angeles Ojeda – own a gallery and restaurant in Tilcajete
MexOnline.com article on how woodcarvings are made
Oaxacan Woodcarving: Innovation Meets Tradition – this is a DVD featuring Zeny Fuentes offered by CrizmacEl Caracol Zapoteca offers articles on woodcarving and artists

From StudySpanish.com – here is a reading in English and Spanish about alebrijes, with a recording of the Spanish reading – there is also a long version for more advanced students.

Finally, here is a clipping I got a while back from the Crizmac website (click on the image for full size).

The Mesoamerican Ballgame: An Interactive Website

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I just spent over an hour at a great website I found.  It is www.ballgame.org and it was the companion website to an exhibit that toured from September 2001 through December 2002.  The exhibit was called The Sport of Life and Death: The Mesoamerican Ball Game.

The website is engaging and well laid out.  The common theme is the ancient ball game played in Mesoamerica for over 3000 years.  There is information on various cultures:  the Olmec, the people of Western Mexico, the city of Teotihuacan, the Maya, the ancient people of Veracruz, the Toltecs, the Huastecs, and the Aztecs.  There are four major parts to the website, including information on the now defunct exhibit.

The first part is called Explore the Mesoamerican World.  When you enter this section there is an interactive timeline that illustrates the rise and fall of several civilizations.  The map is loaded with information on the culture, artwork, ballgames and archeological sites where the ballgame was played. Information can be accessed by clicking on the map, on the time line dates, or on the menu to the left of the map.  The civilizations mentioned above are included and there is also a segment on the Spanish Conquest.

The second part of the site is called Explore the Ball Game.  This section is divided into information about the Ball, the Uniform, the Ball Court and the Game.

The page about the ball has four components: artwork depicting an offering of a rubber ball by a priest (click on it for illustration), a slide show on how the rubber balls were made (from tree to molding), an interactive game that offers interesting facts about rubber and the balls, and a series of first hand accounts written by Europeans who witnessed the game when they came to the New World.

The Uniform page is illustrated with statues and also has a menu to explain each element. The Parade of Players has a wide assortment of clay figures of ball players and spectators that are clearly labeled with arrows.  The Mascots are various animal carvings worn by the players or used to decorate the ball courts – each figure is labeled with interesting pieces of information about the uniform, the players, and animal symbolism. The Locker Room shows more stone replicas of ball player equipment with explanations.  After learning about the parts of the uniform, one can then dress a player for a game.  Watch out – the “hacha” was tricky to place…

The Court page has five interactive parts.  First, there is video panorama of the Mayan ball court at Copan (Honduras).  Click on “Listen to an Aztec Song” and there is a three-part musical rendition of the Matlatzincayotl, which was an ancient song honoring Xochipilli – the patron god of the ball game.  There is an interactive diagram of a ball court with explanations that appear when you move your cursor over parts of the illustration. Finally, there is a gallery of artwork from ball courts, with explanations and symbols clearly pointed out and explained.  In another link to historical art,  there is a cylindrical vase that tells a story.

The Game page has a video clip re-enacting a ball game from the National Geographic Special called “Lost Kingdoms of the Maya”. There are links to click on that ask “Did Women Play?”, “What Happened to the Losers?”, “The First Dream Team” compares ancient sports with those played today, and there is a depiction of the Mayan glyph for ball player.  My favorite link is “Explore this Artwork” which explains how the creation story of Popol Vuh – the Hero Twins is contained within the design on a plate. Be sure to click on the diagram and line drawing to get the full effect.

Experience the Game is a section in two parts: Watch the Game (or Be a Fan) is a narrative interpreting an elaborate clay model of a ball court with players and spectators. You can also click on the links for close ups of the model.  It is interesting, once you get used to the idea that no actual game will be played in the segment.  The final activity: Play the Game (Be a Player) is a great trivia game.  Players who answer correctly win a point for their team.  It can be played more than once – maybe three times before the questions begin repeating themselves.  These questions might also be transcribed for a quiz.

If you click on the Classroom Connections link at the bottom, there are four art projects with instructions: Make a paper face mask, Create a clay effigy vessel, Craft a headdress and costumes from paper, and Mold clay ballgame figures.  In fact, if you click on the different instruction links, there are charts and diagrams that can be printed out – information that I didn’t see anywhere else in the site.  These included a Cosmic Diagram, Story of Popol Vuh, Animal Imagery, a Pronunciation Guide, a Glossary of Terms related to the Mesoamerican Ballgame, and other printables.

This is a very rich website that should be suitable for upper elementary to adult learners (I liked it and learned a lot!).

Oaxaca Projects, Part One

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I made this map to include in my students’ Mayan codices. It looks great laser printed on brown craft paper.  You have to cut the paper to size, however.

At the moment, I have to say that I am maxing out my loafing potential as Summer Vacation begins.  I have all sorts of ideas and projects, but at the moment, I can’t seem to be bothered much.  So… in an attempt to focus, I am looking back at my application for the National Endowment of the Humanities Summer Institute that is four short weeks away.

In order to be considered for the Institute, I had to write an essay of no more than 4 pages, double spaced.  I tried hard not to play with the margins too much, but I had so much I wanted to say.  The excerpt below is the part where I explain what I would like to do while I am down in Oaxaca.  Yes, there will be tours, and lectures, and all sorts of interesting things to see, but the main idea of getting a bunch of teachers together is to create lesson plans that will use the resources we will learn about – as well as any others we can bring to the table.

Here goes – of course, I’ve added notes as I am thinking of them now:

If I am fortunate enough to be chosen to participate in this Summer Institute, I have some specific ideas of what I would like to pursue.  First of all, I am interested in expanding upon my lesson plans on the Mayan Civilization, which is one of the standards that I must teach in sixth grade Social Studies.  I would like to take the idea of creating a Mayan codex (which I did as an accordion book out of cardboard and brown paper this past year) and add more elements to that book.

Glyph with Mayan Long Count Birthdate

This will be a challenge – but I think that my students already have some experience with “creative” spelling.  It may not be as difficult as I envision.

If possible, I would like to have clarification on how to calculate the dates in the Long Count calendar so that this could be aligned with the Mathematics curriculum.  I would also like to collect more specific information about the Mayan observatory – perhaps this information could be added to the Astronomy unit in the Earth Science curriculum.

To be honest, I found some excellent lesson plans, but the Mayan calendar in long count confuses me…  It is true, however, that we do study the planets in Earth Science – I just am not aware of any specific astronomical information in my Mayan resources.

In regards to teaching ESOL and reading, I have also located two young adult novels that portray young people living in Ancient Maya.  One of these books is called The Well of Sacrifice (by Chris Eboch) and the other is Heart of a Jaguar (by Marc Talbert).  The Well of Sacrifice has a female protagonist and Heart of a Jaguar has a young male protagonist.  I would like to organize a parallel book study where the students can identify with life in a Mayan village.  Both books portray vivid scenes of ritual sacrifice and I look forward to sharing ideas about teaching this sensitive subject.  I have supplemented my reading materials with books of Mayan folktales and legends and want to use those as resources, too.

I hate to sound jaded, but for most middle school students, the portrayal of blood and gore only seems to ENHANCE the reading experience.  Truth be told, I am having a hard time getting into these books, so I don’t know how that bodes for younger readers…  I forgot to mention that I DO use Me Oh Maya!, which is a Time Warp Trio series of books.  It’s pretty funny and is a good attention grabber.  In coordination with the new British series I found, it could be good.

In addition to these texts, I have found four texts that illustrate the modern world of the Maya and Mixtec people.  What the Moon Saw and Red Glass by Laura Resau involve heroines that voyage to Oaxaca and encounter curanderas, divination using corn kernels, and the Mixteca language.   Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Muñoz Ryan also involves a journey to Oaxaca, and highlights the woodcarving culture of the region.  Although Colibrí by Ann Cameron is set in Guatemala, many of the traditions and references are similar to those in my books about Oaxaca.  I would like to make the teaching of these texts in more depth possible by collecting information and real life examples and making them available to our school library – to generate interest and understanding in the subject matters and culture described so vividly in these books.

So, there.  I don’t know if I am going to do all of those things, or choose aspects of each.  I do want to do some advance preparations so that I have some idea of the lesson plans before I get to Mexico.  After I made the proposal, I came up with the idea of looking at my collection of folk tales – which is pretty extensive, and using those for a Language Arts lesson plan on elements of a folk tale.

On top of that, I have many interesting picture books about the area that can be appropriate for introducing the culture.  I have a book called Josefina by Jeannette Winter that is written about the artist Josefina Aguilar.  We don’t have a trip planned to Ocotlán, but I could go down there.  She and her family have a pottery studio there.  Dream Carver by Diana Cohn is said to be inspired by the real life of Oaxacan woodcarver Manuel Jimenez.  There is also a series of books by Cynthia Weill which include Oaxacan woodcarvings to illustrate the alphabet and opposites.

So, my problem is not with coming up with ideas – it is with narrowing down the possibilities for the four week Institute!