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Best Craft Markets of Oaxaca, Mexico

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Locals at Tlacolula market selling organic cofffee from the region. Every Sunday locals gather by the thousands to trade craft, crops and other essentials. 

My fascination with Oaxaca all began when wandering through the markets of Rosarito, in the northern Baja Peninsula of Mexico. All the incredible handmade embroidery of cloth came from this area, as did art about the dead, black pottery and two of my favorite addictions coffee and chocolate. I had to go.

2 weeks later I was on a plane via Mexico City to Oaxaca City deep in the southern central tip of Mexico. What I did not realize until I arrived was that it was not just the burgeoning cultural capital city but the entire region of Oaxaca that was rich with artisan craft. Markets were not just confined to the city limits. There were different markets for everyday of the week and artisans would gather outside of churches and alongside thousand year old spiritual ruins to trade sometimes even without money but in commodities of other resources that they needed. This place was beyond my imagination and expectation.

Here is a list of my BEST MARKETS OF OAXACA

OAXACA CITY

BENITO JUAREZ MARKET 

In Oaxaca City itself you will find the wonderful bustling market of Benito Juarez, which is divided into 2 large squares of stalls right across the cobblestone street from one another. One is the craft side and the other is the food side of the market. This market is exceptional because here you will find textiles, rugs, embroidery, mescal, hats, baskets, candies, leather even crispy crickets (a Oaxaca delicacy) from all 8 regions of Oaxaca. You can generally find everything you may find in the outlaying markets but for a fractionally increased price. Benito Juarez is open everyday of the week including Sunday.

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Women from Oaxaca weave color baskets outside Benito Juarez Market in the heart of the city.

ARTISAN’S MARKET

Just a few blocks from Benito Juarez you will find the artisan market in Oaxaca city. Here is where you will find the best quality craft of mostly cloth within the city. Artisans send usually another family member to come into the city from outside regions of Oaxaca to trade their craft. You will find similar craft at Benito Juarez but a more extensive collection especially of embroidery. This market is quiet and relatively small, a few rows of stalls inside but it is packed with intricate designs from all 8 regions and certainly worth a visit if it is handmade craft you are interested in. Spend a bit of time in each stall, as there is variety and hidden gems at each trader’s spot you just may have to go through the stacks to find them.

MARKETS OUTSIDE OAXACA CITY

MITLA

Located 44 kilometers east of Oaxaca City

Mitla is a very spiritual and important site to the Zapotec culture. The name Mitla is derived from Nahuatl name Mictlan, meaning place of the dead while the Zapotecan name is Lyobaa meaning place of the rest. The ruins here are unique because of complex building of tombs and walls decorated with elaborate mosaics of fretworks dating back to 900 BC. Mitla was the main religious center for the Zapotecan people dating back to pre- Columbian time representing the beliefs of Mesoamerican s that death was the most consequential part of life after birth. They had incredibly sophisticated systems of construction, writing, calendar, agriculture and irrigation long before the Spanish arrived. It was in Mitla that the Zapotecs built this gateway between the world of the living and the world of the dead.

On the outskirts of the ruins is the market place composed of several dozen stalls trading alongside ancient cacti. The embroidery and cloth is extensive and you will most likely meet the actual artisan or someone from their family here trading.

Tlacolula

Located 32 kilometers southeast of Oaxaca City.

Tlacolula market is the largest and oldest indigenous open-air market in Mesoamerica. For hundreds of years locals from the area have been gathering here to trade in crops and craft on market day every Sunday. The market stretches nearly 2 miles long and sellers from throughout the region come to trade their harvests here to other locals from the area. This is generally a food market; though you can find craft it will not be as extensive in quality and quantity. The trading happens outside the 17th century Dominican complex. There is amazing people watching to be done here and a real feast for the senses! Don’t miss it on a Sunday!

SANTO TOMAS JALIEZA

Located 29 kilometers south of Oaxaca City

Every Friday is market day at Santo Tomas Jalieza. The art market lies between the church and the courthouse. Not only can you meander through the market stalls of artisans displaying their work of belts, bags, rugs and anything else they weave on the loom, but you can even go into some of the local artists homes and observe how the products are made on the original looms.

TEOTITLAN DEL VALLE

Located 28 Kilometers southeast of Oaxaca City

The market area in this small town brings together many of the town artisans and vendors every Monday to trade their unique rugs of this area. Weaving in this village dates back to 500BC. Though the earliest weavings were made using cottons today they are loomed with wool. The designs here are incredible and extremely intricate and are from not only the Zapotec but also the Navajo and also more contemporary designs. Many of the dyes are made from natural products such as a small insect called conchinilla, plants and roots. The looms are all hand –operated, and weaving is done by both men and women.

Topiaries From the Elgin Valley

In the heart of the Elgin Valley on Brookelands farm, men and women of the Grabouw community are gathering seeds, sticks, leaves, stems and flowers to create holiday-inspired, handmade topiaries. Andrea’s Topiary Creations employs disadvantaged men and women from the local farm community to craft and create the topiaries. My partner Grant and I made the trip out, just an hour outside Cape Town, to visit Andrea’s Topiaries and meet some of the talented crafters who make these creations by hand.

Local crafter, Franklin, uses indigenous cape fynbos to create handmade topiaries in the Elgin Valley.

Local crafter, Franklin, uses indigenous cape fynbos to create handmade topiaries in the Elgin Valley.

The farm boosts generations of bursting protea bushes and all sorts of indigenous Cape fynbos. At the moment the farm grows oranges and lemons, but is moving towards growing only blueberries in the near future. On the farm, guests can stay at the cosy, charming stone cottage for two and meander through all the botanical life with a natural stream running right under your doorstep. All of the “farm charm” can be thanks to Andrea’s elegant style and Rob, her husband’s love of the bush, farming and creating amazing spaces in nature.

A glimpse of county farm life in the main house on Brookelands Farm.

A glimpse of county farm life in the main house on Brookelands Farm.

What started as a hobby for farm owner, Andrea, and her daughter Kate fourteen years ago has developed into a thriving business supplying locally sourced and community crafted topiary creations to the hotel and interior design industries. Cape indigenous foliage is used to create works of art in the form of bunnies, reindeer, wreaths, trees, hearts, baskets and more.

 

This holiday season why not gift the ones you love with a locally- made, indigeously crafted topiary. The holiday forest scent lasts for years and each creation is treated to maintain its colour indefinitely. It’s a gift that keeps on giving year after year.

Hand- Crafted Baskets of Africa Take Time and Patience

Hand- crafted baskets from Southeast Africa take time and patience when ordering in large quantities, but the wait is certainly worth it.

In a quieter part of the world, one which is out of reach to the internet and the spinning worlds of social media and Amazon.com, where nothing is just a click away, but rather seasonal and controlled by the rains, is where villages lie under dozens of species of palm trees. It is here in Southeast Africa in Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa where many of the world’s baskets are woven into works of art and then distributed through the world to become household items that are as common as a laundry basket.

Satrana woven baskets. A specific weave endemic to Mozambique

When ordering satrana woven baskets and pouches, one can chose either natural or colour, from this one supplier, however, one can not chose the specific color. Papyrus supplies can sometimes be limited in villages and they get what they get in terms of coloured papyrus.

Satrana is a certain kind of weave specific to Mozambique. Baskets are commonly woven with the non-threathened papyrus grass. Recently I had a customer contact me, inquiring about lead times for this specific satrana woven basket. There are a handful of suppliers in Cape Town trading in baskets made in Mozambique and Madagascar. Headaches can be many when dealing with a world that is almost off the grid, yet produces some of the most beautiful handmade craft in all the world. Suppliers in Cape Town first need to pinpoint the crafters in the villages, establish that they are using non-threathened palms and then employ entire villages to meet heavy demands and big orders from the Western World. One really needs to appreciate that beautifully crafted things take time and patience, a lot of patience. Lead times for orders of 1000 can take up to 6 months in some instances.

Basket Handbags

These satrana woven pouches have strings attached and make a beautiful summer handbag. They retail between R250- R500.

One supplier decided to try to bridge the gap between long lead times and bigger orders. The supplier imported Raffia in rolls from Madagascar, to meet orders more efficiently and produce baskets locally in Cape Town using the traditional woven method. This way a supplier can have control over the process, not needing to worry about containers being shipped over the Indian Ocean, or rains causing delays in production. The raffia also becomes a more cost-effective way to ship as the weave is more pliable and can be compressed when packed, eliminating added air space and decreasing volume and therefore freight cost.

For more information on bulk ordering these beautiful baskets: availability and supplier cost and style comparisons please contact amyonajourney@gmail.com

 

MADWA, woven crafts Madagascar to Swaziland

MADWA, based in Cape Town, South Africa, is a social upliftment project working with artisans in Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. All woven crafts of Madagascar products are made using natural sustainable materials and each product is hand crafted by the traditional weavers empowering individuals and often times entire communities to use their craft skill to achieve economic stability and independence.

Madwa boasts a large range of products including baskets using papyrus, clutches and bags made of raffia and papyrus, bins, laundry baskets and large baskets made from umtsala, crocheted floor mats using grass, textiles of lambas: hand-woven, cotton throws and woolen blankets; all handmade locally using traditional craft.

My most favorite addition to the Madwa’s range are the raffia crocheted throw pillows with feather down inners. At 60 cm x 60 cm they make a perfect throw cushion, large enough to sit on and beautifully crafted for a sun-deck or porch.

Woven throw pillows madagascar

Raffia crocheted throw pillows

To request a catalogue and prices of Madwa’s current range please contact by email: amyonajourney@gmail.com

Link

Design for Tomorrow: Open Design Festival in Cape Town

www.opendesignct.com

Can design change the world? According to The Open Design Festival, who opens their neon green programme with a quote from possibly the greatest thinker of all time, Albert Einstein, it can and it is. Einstein said, We cannot solve the complex challenges of the future by doing what we’ve done in the past. We need to think and act differently.” How do we get everyone to think outside the box when we’ve predominantly been taught to stay within the lines?

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The Open Design Festival is being held in 4 locations across Cape Town: Woodstock, V&A Waterfront, City Hall and Langa from 13-23 August 2015. It aims to inspire new ways of thinking with a host of mediums to activate our minds from workshops on architecture for children to expos of vintage toys to rails of nouveau African chic to talks on career, education, and socio-economic development not much is left to the wayside. And much if not most of the festival is free of charge thanks to The City of Cape Town and an array of creative sponsors.

As anything vintage always peaks my interest, I began the Open Design Festival at the charming and historical location of Cape Town’s City Hall. On the 2nd floor of the City Hall in a room all to its great own, were hundreds of decade-old toys arranged as art around the room. I have always loved toys: plastic, tin, wood, anything with a bright demeanor to bring a child’s face to life. For some people, toys are seen as clutter not to be included in the decor throughout one’s home of design and modern satisfaction. I have never seen toys that way, and it was inspiring to see an entire exhibited celebrating toys as art.

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For fashion, there were many exciting new designers to peak my interest, including AYA, who uses African textiles combined with tailored cuts to give the African chic a powerful lift. I found an incredible vintage coat, that at first sight looked more like a couch on a hanger but once on it was a 70s retro-piece of note with linear quilted genuine leather panels and big green coat buttons. Belted, she was a complete score! This find was found on The Godmother’s rails whose collections can be viewed regularly along with other collectors at The Threads Project at 349 Albert Road in Woodstock.

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Down the passage past the collections of ART books on tattoos and raw food cooking for kids, was an interesting stop at a Maker’s Station where one could watch art in its process at the Exhibit: Lessons in Transformation by artists Katherine Bull and Warren Editions collaborating in print, engraving and performance about none other than the great Nelson Mandela’s famous speech within those very walls at the Cape Town City Hall. Next door were two more giant rooms filled with some of South Africa’s most celebrated artists making their customary provocative statements. Works by Brett Murray, William Kentridge and Christo Basson were just some of the thought provoking art on exhibit in an initiative called HOST.

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Brett Murray

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If what you see at the Open Design Festival isn’t enough to get you thinking outside the box, then perhaps it will awaken your heart. To quote one of William Kentridge’s pieces now on exhibit at the City Hall, “If you have no eye then use your heart.

Dassies by Christo Basson

Dassies by Christo Basson