Written by Oaxacan resident artist Kat Black. Check out her work here: http://katblackart.
While walking down the cobblestone streets of Oaxaca we see the colorful handicrafts, colonial buildings, and booming galleries which remind us that art is a significant part of the lifestyle here. Whether you’re inside the market or outside in the open air, art is all around us. It’s always interesting to remember that much of the art and handicrafts we see in Oaxaca City can be traced back to smaller pueblos in the surrounding areas, and often times each town has their own specialty.
One of the best hidden gems of Oaxaca is the Centro de las Artes San Agustin, better known as El CaSa in the nearby pueblo San Agustin Etla, about a half hour away from the city center. Founded by Oaxaca’s most famous artist, Francisco Toledo, this ecological art center offers gallery shows, workshops, and tours of their paper and jewelry making facilities. The main building of El CaSa is a huge abandoned textile mill, surrounded by reflection pools and waterfalls, a peaceful garden, and a rooftop area with a wide array of cactuses and trees.
The spacious main building has held a wide variety of exhibitions this year, with themes like silver, native (versus GMO) corn, and costume design. Several buildings line the property, including smaller galleries, offices, and classrooms, but the most interesting (and possibly most missed) section starts at a dirt trail in the back dipping down into the woods. The steep and windy trail leads you amongst beautiful trees where you will come upon two small houses, one where paper is made, and another where jewelry is made. The crafters will gladly welcome you in to demonstrate how they boil cotton in huge blue pots, spread the pulp onto screens, and press them into paper, often with designs from leaves found on the property. Some of the paper is sold as is, some made into books, and some passed along to the jewelry designers to roll into beads for bracelets and necklaces.
You will also see the paper cut and folded into kites, which Francisco Toledo uses like canvases and paints graphic images on. Other pieces are made into lamps with intricate geometric designs cut in, and select pieces folded inwards or outwards. Many of these items are sold in their gift shop.
So next time you’re visiting Oaxaca and looking to take a trip out of the city, be sure to check out El CaSa for an amazing artistic adventure! Or if you live in town, take advantage of their workshops and seminars, listed on their website.