Can you follow the drift? Our first two days here, last Tuesday and Wednesday... More to come, soon.


The blanks and repeats seem to be software errors in my blog app!! Just have patience, please.  


Teacher Bragging Rights

Gloria's big flower -- her first ever art quilt!

Here are a few detail shots of work in progress by the students in the Southwest School of Art class that I just completed. Although most everyone is still working on their "big" art quilt projects, we count the class a success at getting us all (including teacher) moving in the right direction. I'm not listing last names, but I have permission to post these photos!

Ms. Bidet's exquisite stitching

Detail of Suzanne's deep dive.


Detail of Robin's kundalini spine. 

From the Museum

Here are just a few of the images I took at the Museum in Fairbanks at the University. I've captioned with the names of the artists. The ones I've selected are images that feed my imagination and give me a sense of story -- something I try for in my own work.

Contemporary mask

Sara Tabbart, carved wood, detail of "Winter Lake"Dance stick, Kay Hendrickson (Qiawigar), 1982


Gut parka, Siberian Yupak, St. Lawrence IslandFox, Forehead mask, Cup'ik, re 1946

Snow berm at flood plain park, this past week

Sacred Segrada

Sitting in the Segrada Familia I feel like I experienced a soul-touch that I never felt in any church before; perhaps my inner spirit speaks modernist more fluently than Gothic.

I have been inspired to awe in churches around the world, the soaring spaces of Notre Dame, the somber beauty of the church of Santa Maria del la Mar here, near our home away from home, the confectionary delight of the altars and retablos of the Mexican colonial cathedrals. But something clicked in me upon walking into this amazing space, a feeling that no photograph or drawing can capture, the scale and layers of light and space are simply too complex -- and too simple, too.

The scalloped shapes and pointed rays have a dance going on. The detail and contrast of the work of all the artisans and workmen, carvers and ironworkers still working from Antoni Gaudi's vision and plans are the closest I will come to that experience many must have had over the ages as those Gothic Cathedrals were constructed. So the sounds of chisels and cranes mingle with the recorded organ music, making a counterpoint of time and sound in the vast parabolas of space.

As we have settled here out of the heat to watch and write, the angle of the sun outside has changed and the space with it, reflected greens from the window above us show up with purple hues on the columns, the families of columns, each clan a different stone and a different shade of grey/pink/taupe, ever changing. The timelessness and the temporal, the infinity of patterns, this space is like looking into a mirror reflecting another mirror.

The feeling for me truly is that of a forest, perhaps one sent from another planet. I wish all the people here would really take the silence please signs to heart, but that is too much to hope for. I think we will try to come back for mass one evening.

Loving the Internet, another reason

Ok, it's a pill. And a time-suck. You can hear it just take the energy out of your day. But on the other hand, I just spent a little time in a discussion, bilingual, with a former student in Guatemala about the change of government now occurring. Example one of the connectivity. That was on Facebook with instant messaging.

But even more to the point (as far as time spent), as a traveler who loves adventure, I have found a new tool for finding the perfect place to stay: Airbnb. As in Air Bed and Breakfast -- though the listings range (in theory) from treehouses to shared flats to luxury apartments. We are planning a trip in Spain this summer and I just booked a week long stay sharing an apartment in Barcelona and a private apartment loft in Madrid for three days. In between, we will be walking the last stage of El Camino de Santiago, St. James Way, a pilgrimage walk that has a long history, and was recently spotlighted in the Martin Sheen film THE WAY.

After a day of exploration, yes, a day, I found just the right spots. These are places you can't find anywhere else on the web. I reccommend the process, and the reviews -- and recommendations from friends -- seem to suggest that this tool is right on target. I'll let you know when its all in the box!


Round Top and Copper Shade Tree Gallery

We traveled yesterday to deliver art to Copper Shade Tree Gallery in beautiful Round Top, Texas. It was great to see Debbie and Gerald and to have my work in their new space. Here's what Gerald had to say about the move:

"Last month I reported our upcoming move. Well, that is old news, we have completely moved to the new space and we love it. The artwork looks fantastic. With the help of artists, family, and friends we began packing and moving on August 28th and finished on August 31st. The process very smooth as planned. The great news is that we did not break or damage a single piece of artwork... a miracle. We moved directly across the street to Henkel Square."

The first three photos above are some from Gerald, Linda and I took the other two, showing my work now in the gallery, and the three of us.

How to Make Your Mark in Your Work Work

What are the  marks you make with your work? Do you have symbols, shapes, lines or an approach with color and pattern that you integrate into your art, no matter the exact "content" or "theme" or story? Can your audience see your hand in your work? What a human thing to do. What a connection making such marks is to our amazing history of being human...

Markmaking is our language, private, personal, universal and iconic. The marks we make over and over in our work -- be it visual, kineasthetic, tactile, audible -- constitutes a piece of our personal unique style, and the more we work at those marks, finding mastery of our own special language, the more distinctive is our work, the more recognizable. 

Markmaking is part of style, part of voice, part of what makes my work, my work and yours, yours. Taking time to find, polish, elaborate upon, distill and play with our marks is an important aspect of finding our voice in the medium we choose to use to express our ideas.

The Mark-Making Workshop at El Cielo Studios is coming up in about a week and a half  (June 10, 11,12). I'm hoping to fill this little extra slot with a few folks who want to take the time to find and polish and master their own set of marks for fiber art prints, applique and other surface design. While the activities are designed with fiber artists in mind, they are also of value to any mixed media or visual medium who would like his or her work to become more distinctive and distinctly unique.

Markmaking is a distinctly human activity and one that we have been exploring as humans for millenia. Consider the new documentary by Wilhelm Herzog, Cave of the Forgotten Dreams.  We just saw the film (in 3-D) at Austin's Violet Crown Cinema, a new and snazzy space downtown on 2nd.  This adventure (part of Linda's and my CAMP AUSTIN this week) was stunningly beautiful, evocative and a powerful reminder of what it is to be human, to make marks and to leave our handprint behind.

The week in Austin is also work time for me. I'm part of the New World Kids' Training Team that is working at Ballet Austin with arts educators from three different arts organizations in the city. We, too, are looking at markmaking (among other expressive tools) as teachers move and paint and sound their way through the Sensory Alphabet. Seeing the differences in our minds at work as they play out on the page is just another dimension of this markmaking work. I'll share more about the workshops later this week on the blog, but meanwhile, here are a few playfull markmaking experiments to fool around with:

1. Look at how you doodle. What kinds of lines and shapes and symbols do you play with "when noone is looking?"

2. Take one kind of simple symbol and play it out across a wide variety of media -- paint it, draw it, make it in clay, look for and photograph it in nature and on the streets, sing it, rattle it, make it move. make it into a movie, write it into a story.

3. Carve or cut or otherwise create a stamp of a favorite mark of symbol. Experiment with it on fabric and paper, with repetition and size, change the scale and layer it one upon another. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

4. Look at a favorite artists' Insert Image work and see if you can find examples of marks made over and over. How are these distinctive marks part of the artist's "fingerprint?"


5. Make a slide show of images of a mark or symbol or sign or shape that is interesting to you. How many places can you find it? How many ways can you make it show up?

6. Try your mark in electronic media and on software apps that allow for special kinds of markmaking. Print out these marks and see how they could be used in your work.

Some to try: Zen Brush:


Also: Finger Sketch Paint

Express Sketchbook

OR, you can come out to El Cielo Studio next week and do these and many similar activities with the group!




June 10-12

Markmaking can be what distinguishes one person's

work on paper or fabric or any medai from another's -

their personal style. Using color, line, shape, rhythm

and textures, students will explore traditional and new

media as well as techniques for personal markmaking.

Techniques to be covered include deconstructed

screenprinting, stamping, using paint

sticks and monoprinting with gelatin plates. No matter

what your experience level, you'll gain confidence

in working with layered media and find your

strongest media for the marks that make your work

unmistakably your own.  

$160 plus accommodations, free to $30 for both nights, Friday night potluck is optional but encouraged!



Near (but not so near) Totonicapan, Guatemala

Sensory Alphabet Workshop in Juana’s School, October 7, 2010

Up the mountain looming over Totonicapán we traveled in our loaded van with Cesar, guided along the path by our CASS teacher Juana Ixcoy Leon (or as we knew her in San Antonio – Juanita). We started about 6:30 a.m. We traveled. And traveled. And traveled. First a paved two-lane highway, then a one-lane paved road, then a rock-paved road and across the river and up, finally, a dirt road to a corn-growing agricultural village bounded by strips of forest. We passed corn fields, vegetable and potato fields, small stockades of small horses and donkeys, pine forests – some with their lower branches stripped , evidence of the deforestation issues in this area. Past traditional clay-tiled and adobe walled homes and new “remesa” homes of concrete block. A patchwork of agriculture, forest, villages and people.

This is the trip Juana travels daily to and from Totonicapan where her family and she live – about an hour each way in the communal van that she and the other teachers at the school hire for the commute. (And then she returns home to work for 3 to 5 hours at an importing and exporting business as an office worker.) We laughed as she described each leg of the journey as “un otro canción, ” as roadways grew progressively rougher and switchback curves more frequent.   As we progressed up the divide and down to another set up mountain peaks we passed three  other communities and schools a bit closer to Totonicapan and a bit further down the mountain from her community of Rancho de Teja. “Just a little more,” she said each time, as if we might chicken out and demand to be taken back to the secure pleasures of the Hotel Totonicapan.

When we arrived, the school was in full celebration regalia, with parents and 200 children eagerly awaiting our arrival – all of the women and many of the girls dressed in the traditional traje and headwear of the region – a complex ikat weave of skirt and huilpil, with elaborately embroidered aprons.  All the boys and men wore “western” contemporary clothing. We talked with the school director, visited Juana’s and another teachers’ classroom (Juana’s was especially a delightfully rich environment for the primary students she teaches, with word walls and alphabets, number charts and pictures –evidence both of her training in the CASS program and of her extraordinary energy and dedication to her school and its Quiche community. She is a Quiche teacher, as were all the other staff, save the director. (A situation we found common in all the Guatemalan schools we visited.)

Juana and her fellow teachers had organized student presentations for us – folkloric dances, a poem read, the national anthems of both countries and blessings and gratitude expressed for our visit, on both sides. The children were wonderful, the dances touching, especially one that depicted the planting of the fields by the “men” and the visit by the “women” with lunch balanced on their heads – accompanied by the blessing scent of copal  carried by one of the very young and serious dancers. Another dance was the traditional dance of the elders – the viejos- with costumed children depicting old men and women in a formal procession and dance. This dance is one that our CASS teachers from Guatemala often share with students and school groups when they are in San Antonio. After the more than hour-long program we went to Juana’s room to set up our presentation – about a half hour with each grade doing a simple version of our Sensory Alphabet Workshop, starting with the youngest pre-primaria group (4-5 year olds). All of the children and parents here are Quiche speaking, and one of the schools’ primary tasks is to teach them Spanish, but since they are still learning, Juana and the country coordinator Florinda (who arrived shortly after we did) translated my Spanish into the local idiom.

The sixth grade girls (principally) were our helpers throughout the morning – and parents often stopped in to watch and enjoy when their children were working. The girl helpers kept us organized as they pinned up puppets, helped with the tile walls and helped keep materials in order.

It was a wild ride! A couple of dozen children made shape puppets with Julia and texture and color tiles with me – happily digging into a plethora of materials – a real treat for these kids. They seemed both material-starved and very careful and conserving with the tools and materials, including the markers, glue and recycled scraps of fabric, beans, colorful magazine pages, yarn and other materials we had trekked into the community. Outside on the playground, Art taught groups the Turtle game and other movement activities relating to the Sensory Alphabet, then worked with some of the older kids with magnifying “lookers” and had them draw the lines, shapes and forms they “collected”—the results were carefully rendered pictures of ordinary objects, a testimony to the children’s visual literacy.

At the end of our work session, I handed out four digital cameras (the $20 Polaroid 2 mp plastic cameras we brought to raffle later at the teacher workshop) and sent groups of kids to search for Sensory Alphabet photo images – we printed some of their images out later for Juana to return to the school. (See one of the photos below, more on the blog site).


After the workshop (ending about 2:30) we joined the teachers for a communal lunch of traditional vegetable and beef soup and banana-leaf-wrapped tamales. The meal had been prepared and was served by parents – another instance of gratitude and generosity from a community that wanted to share what it had with the visiting “teachers of their teacher.”

We then made the return trip, leaving the remaining art materials with the school, as well as a wonderful mural of texture, shape and color “tiles.” We left with much more – an immersion into this community that lives somewhere between its traditional roots and the “modern” world, a place where many of the parents (especially the men) spend several years working in the U.S. and sending money, dreams and desire for a better life back to their families at home. The traditions are honored, but the bigger and wider world is knocking on the door.

There's more about our educational conclusions and reflections on the What Can School Be? blog, link below:

For additional photos see the school blog at

Museum of Word and Image

El Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen

The Museum of the Word and the Image, San Salvador

(for more photos see this post's galleries on

Our last visit in the city of San Salvador was to this wonderful museum.  (OK THIS IS A CATCH UP POST!) This small museum was a surprise and treat for all of us, even José Bonilla, our country CASS/SEED coordinator – he had never visited it before. The permanent “collection” and first exhibit is a beautifully designed gallery about the life and work of the museum founder, El Salvador writer and artist Salarrué He wrote and illustrated stories about his country, and raised three daughter artists who followed in his footsteps. The magical world of  Salarrué inspired the colorful and intriguing style for the museum, which has a charming and strongly visual presentation using simple and comparatively inexpensive display techniques and materials – but with great effect and personality. In a small hallway exhibit, children’s art work, related to Salarrué’s stories and themes, was displayed.

In the adjoining gallery was an exhibit commemorating the 30th anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, an event that shook Central America and the world. The simple exhibit of photographs, a simple altar and arrangements of words and images was sobering, and reminded us of the terrible civil war, and how the Archbishop’s death was one factor in bringing world attention to the government’s war against its own people. One panel of photos celebrated the peace treaty that brought an end to the conflict.

Another gallery included a recreation of the Freedom Radio station of the Morazán. This was similar to that of the recreation in the Museo de la Revolución that we had visited. but this one had more photos – and also the collection has all the tapes of the broadcasts of the station.

Perhaps the most important work of the museum is its publications program – among the works published is the Morazán photograph book that led us to the museum after a purchase in the Art Museum bookshop. Videos, books, folios and an ongoing archive of photos, radio broadcasts and other materials related to the war are being carried out in an upstairs library.

We also met a group of students on our way out of the museum who were from the private university that we had visited earlier in the morning. The students interviewed us for comments about the museum for use in a promotional video about the organization. This was another example of the kind of collaborative creative and entrepreneurial work that was going on in El Salvador.

A Letter from the Lake

Hi Susie and Julia:

 Just wanted to send out a quick note to thank you so much for choosing Villa

Sumaya for your 3 day respite after your long tour of central america and

all your good works.  I'm sending along another big thank you for the

recycled dresses - the girls just loved them and Celine will take the one

she is wearing in the picture to school tomorrow so that she can share it

with her school mates and teachers.  It's really a very cute dress and I am

considering copying the style as both girls loved it.  Unfortunately it's a

little itchy but it's a great example of creative mind at work and when the

girls are done enjoying them we will donate them to the Pacha Mama program

that has a massive recyling program around the lake so that they can use

them as examples of what can be done with a bit of refuse.


I also wanted to let you know that we were delighted to know about the

baking soda as a fixative as we did run out of soda ash and were able to

substitute the baking soda.  So again we thank you and hope to stay in touch

and look forward to all that may come.  I'll ask Lizzy to send you our group

package so that you can keep in mind the possibility of bringing little

groupitos here one day.  We'd love to share our paradise with you.


Wishing you all the very best,  love, Wendy


Saturday Morning around Solalá

The stage was set by a quick morning run through the small market at the central plaza in Solala, a busy community just north of and above Lake Atitzlan. We had driven in early from Tontonacapan – leaving at 7:30 since the streets would have been impassible by 8:00 since it was market day in that community. It was not a “real” market day in Sololá –  just the weekend vendors clustered in a couple of avenidas around the church. We made careful selections of a few beautiful textiles of the region – I bought a length of skirt fabric and Julia three patterned embroidered belts – purchased from their makers, perhaps a mother daughter enterprise? The women were excellent examples of both the craftsmanship and the business sensibilities of the region. We had an hour or so to kill before our appointment at noon with Raoul, one of the CASS teachers from several years ago who had promised to take us to his school in the afternoon.

We watched as a double line of boys in black paints and girls in long white gauzy first communion dresses and veils filed into the church and asked Cesár, our driver if it was all right if we went into the church. He said, of course, we filed in, sat in one of the few pews empty at the rear of the church. Perhaps he (and we) expected to stay a few minutes and then to continue our explorations of the town, but we were pulled into the celebration and the Mass by the amazing pageant of people, the spirit of peace and joy – families in both in indigenous and “western” contemporary dress and by the sound and song filling the catherdral. The choir that led the sung liturgy was accompanied by Mayan flutes and other instruments; the music and song was magical in the acoustics of the tall arched white plastered church, illuminated by huge stained glass windows with Mayan designs.

In front of us was a Mayan family, the parents in indigenous dress, a small boy in western wear, another couple (perhaps the son and daughter-in-law?) with their toddler girl. I confess I spent as much time attending to their interaction and joy in the day as I did to the priest and his homily. When we filed out, the church plaza was filled with women in their distinctive traje – dark indigo skirts with pin striping and embroidered seams, and ikat patterened huipiles, many with bright head scarves folded and balanced on their dark trensas that were braided with bright colored ribbons. Sololá is also one of the few towns where many men still wear traditional clothing, embroidered ikat weave shirts and ikat trousers with a wrapped brown wool “apron” that has a resist dyed pattern of small square dots.

Calling Raoul, we got directions to his house and met his family and mother – she is an artisan as well as the matriarch of the multigenerational home, then Raoul took us to his school. The school is a bit out of the town on the road to Panajachel – or at least the cutoff is there. Raoul walks from the highway along a dusty steep road about (30 ?) minutes to get to his classrooms, an artisan school in a small agricultural community. He had already gone there and worked in the morning, then returned back to the center to meet us.


We arrived to find the entire community, students, parents and others, dressed in their best and on their 4th day of a five day celebration in honor of the accomplishment of the community in financing and building a second story of new classrooms for the school (as well as the painting of the entire school). The road leading up to the gate was lined with food and snack stalls and filled with many of Raoul’s students who giggled to meet his “teachers.” Climbing down a few steps into the school courtyard, we found a huge tented and festively decorated stage and perhaps every chair in the town filled with an audience of village elders and families.

The feria was a complete surprise. We had expected to visit Raoul’s empty school, since it was Saturday. I can’t decide if I just missed the intent of the visit when we were invited during the workshop, or if this was another example of what seems to be a cultural moré in the Mayan world that favors a kind of indirect “direction”  --much like Juana’s guided trip to her school which from the initial description we thought would take us just a few miles off the highway, but which ended up as an hour-long journey of what she laughingly called “three canciones.” Each school day Raoul travels here – where the school only operates in the morning since everyone works in the afternoon -- and then back to Sololá where he teaches in the afternoons.

What followed over the next few hours was perhaps the purest experience of indigenous Mayan community life that I will ever experience. This was not a celebration for tourists – I spotted one other person beyond our group who looked to be an“outsider,” (I think he was an evangelical missionary). We met Raoul’s colleagues, a group of interesting and intelligent women and men, who teach the school’s students ten different subjects each week, including artisan crafts, math, natural sciences, (language), Spanish, English and oral language. The community was celebrating with all force, energy and resources the building of the school’s new classrooms. They had raised the money (and were still raising more) and organized the construction as a community project over the course of the past year. A Canadian NGO had helped them with the project’s last leg, but community had also raised funds themselves.

Everyone was dressed in their best clothing, and that was for the majority of women and many of the men, the traditional traje. After benedictions by representatives of the four churches, Catholic and four different evangelical groups, a band played Christian rock while women served soup and tamales from enormous iron pots and kettles into clay bowls. First we toured the new classrooms and tried to decline lunch, but it was soon obvious that we were honored guests to be served in a classroom set up with long tables for the important leaders (the men leaders, anyway) of the community.

The soup was a delicious corn-thickened and achiote-flavored and -colored broth with a piece of beef. The tamales were the size of thick fingers, tender corn masa wrapped in and flavored by a large leaf from a tree that grows in the region– it looked and tasted a bit like a fig leaf. We learned from our hosts that the preparations had taken two days prior to the event, and that two cows had been killed to provide the beef for the soup – the women had made 2,000 dozen tamales and a meal was served each day of the five-day feria to the entire community.

After lunch we toured the school’s computer lab. Fifteen new computers – but no internet service and not much software. They had built an internal rebar cage to make the room secure (we had already heard several stories in both countries about computers stolen from schools). The school and community leaders asked us to help them find solutions for networking the computers and for software. They also have a large printer that they have never been able to get working. They also explained that potable water was the first and foremost issue that was a problem at the school. A well is on the school grounds, but two pumps in row quickly burned out. Also, there are two small rios nearby, but so far the school has been unable to engineer a connecting aqueduct or piping to the school – another possible solution. They requested engineering advice and support to solve those issues. This is a community that has made it two-thirds of the way with technology and with water – they need help and outside knowledge for the last part. We promised to add their issues to our report – and their problems seem to be ideally suited for partnerships with one of the U.S. organizations such as the Rotary Club International. Another option might be to connect them with Texas A&M who is doing some water-related research and development work in the Lake Atitzlan area.

For more photos see the official report at blog.

Artisaneas in El Salvador


Rich burnished clay jars, some with dream-like and graphic crabs and lizards, or bolsd stripes, spots and repetitions of thick brushed lines. Painted wooden boxes, with surreal nighttime images, painted with tiny brushes and eye-candy detail; popular crafts – little eggs with daily (or night) life scenes under the dome. Leather bracelets, woven bags, hammocks, bedspreads and table cloths in the simple graphic stripes and checks and diamond patterns that show up everywhere in El Salvador, from the tile floors to the brightly colored walls of houses and businesses.

There is, says José Bonilla, our SEED/CASS country coordinator, a craft revival and growing artisan entrepreneurship in El Salvador. Julia noted that compared to what she has seen on previous visits, there are more varied and more polished examples of handicraft and art works available for visitors.

We have seen wonderful examples of beautiful art and craft, both modern and traditional (and our experiences with the teachers of El Salvador confirm that many people here have an innate visual literacy and talents for making wonderful art). Here’s a sample of the SHAPE collections from the workshop:

Both traditional work, like the black pottery from the Linca people in the northeastern state, to modern contemporary uses of recycled materials in jewelry, craft work and even wire puzzles. And there is a plethora of “tourism” goods – wooden plaques, books and other souvenirs, Cottage artisans, school students and others also make a wide variety of tiny woven and leather bracelets and seed necklaces. 

At the heart of all of the effort is a burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit – and a preparation for what the country hopes to be an increase in tourism, and with it a market for arts and crafts. Such a spirit is seen in the many small shops and stalls wherever local visitors gather, the flower and fruit sellers on the volcano road,  -- there was an the enterprising wire-puzzle artist at the mirador at Planes de Banderos a few miles outside of San Salvador who had set up shop with a roll of wire, cutters and imaginative maze like patterns he designed himself. With the advances El Salvador is making in its education infrastructure we can even imagine a future of “education tourism,” where El Salvador is a model of educational development based on natural, cultural and human resources.

One of the more sophisticated craft industries is the use of native indigo to dye fabric and clothing. The beautiful blue and white garments are sophisticated and graphic in their tied resist patterns. I was given a gift of a beautiful shirt by the teacher group from Morazán who participated in the San Miguel workshop. I hope to return to the Morazán to visit the dyers in the future, but, as a working trip, we didn’t have the time for that excursion.


Another contemporary and iconic craft tradition was started by artist Fernando Llort who began teaching young people in La Palma to paint colorful wooden boxes, tiles, crosses and other items inspired by his designs. Many others have taken up the style, but the best examples (and a gallery of Llort originals) are at his gallery in San Salvador.

In addition to stops at several artisan shops in San Salvador, we also visited the local coffee roaster in Perquín and bought some paper bead jewelry and a little wound paper jar, as well some more of the black clay burnished pottery from one of the little artesanea stalls that has sprung up around the Museum of the Revolution. Last night I stopped in at a artesan co-op where handmade soaps and organic coffee beans shared space with stacks of indigo dyed shirts, abstract paintings and woven housewares. Enough words, check the posterous escuelaCASS site for more photos, too. It's easier to upload on that site, so there are a lot more examples there!





Trip to Perquín, Morazán, El Salvador

(This blog is also posted on the Posterous site at with many more photos there.)

The clean air, the pines, steep tile-roofed houses with more wood in their construction than in other Salvadorean towns, the steep narrow streets lined with small shops, the smell of coffee roasting in a tin barrel roaster --these signal the mountain town of Perquín  in the far reaches of the Departamento (like a state) of Morazán in northeast El Salvador. But Morazán and Perquín soon became more for me than names on the map after my visit to the little Museum of the Revolution.


Julia shared with us her first experience here, “When I first came to the Morazán, I had come with the pictures that were described by the teachers telling about their war time experiences. Many had left with their mothers and grandparents as refugees to Honduras. They showed pictures where the tropical mountain landscapes had literally been bombed to rocks.” When she arrived in 2001, the lush greenery and land was  already in the process of recovery and the tasks of  rebuilding had begun. During her first trip she was hosted by CASS teachers from 2000, Rolando Perez, Juan Bautista Chicas and Ana Delia Romero.  They  traveled by bus on a Friday afternoon from San Salvador to the Morazon Department Capital, San Francisco Gotero ( a trip that took 4 or 5 hours) and caught the last camioneta, for the  20 miles to the rural  communities of Segundo Montes.

Julia remembered she had a reservation to stay in a B & B in Perquin, 20 miles to the north, but the students told her it was not possible, there was not transport there on the weekends. They had arranged everything: she would stay several nights with each of them. They had organized transport to see the schools and the region with a local man who owned his own truck. She remembered her first visit in Morazan, via  the specially arranged camioneta, “Traveling throughout all the rural communities in Segundo Montes to witness the process of rebuilding after the devastations of war: schools, homes, churches, community centers, with the help of NGOS and churches from all over the world."

Part of the itinerary of that incredible education trip was a visit to Perquín, to visit the Museum of the Revolution and to further north to witness the mountain routes the teachers’ families (the women, young children and old people) had traveled to escape the death squads burning and bombing the communities right behind them. There were photos of Rolando as a 4 year old in front of a church in the refugee communities in Honduras. Another photo captured a 14 year old Miguel (our driver that day) two weeks before a grenade exploded in his hands (Miguel received reconstructions and prosthesis limbs in hospitals in Cuba ). Julia remembers an incredible emotional  day of learning with these young teachers traveling with a handicapped veteran from the revolution on poor mountain roads with intermittent rain."This was Morazan and the experience and access to Perquin  in 2001."

Now, almost 10 years later, Perquin is still a long trip up the mountains–but now there is daily bus service and an internet café in the center of town. The roads are rebuilt and there are signs of construction and rebuilding everywhere – small construction businesses and many construction sites for homes and public service: road work, piles of cement block, workers carting materials up and down the roads.

The schools have grown and prospered. There are 10 CASS teachers from the rural communities of Morazán, most studied at Alamo Colleges (nine of them attended the workshop at the Education Resource Center that we facilitated on Saturday – more later on that). All of these teachers have a remarkable shared community history of war, survival, and rebuilding. They are brave, resilient and, now, amazingly joyous people who are still working under difficult conditions by U.S. school standards – at least as far as the “material world.”

THEN (Elmer's first school in Morazán)

The same school today (and Elmer is an administrator of a program that trains teachers who do not have university degrees with workshops and web-based college courses so that they can become Licensiados.)

The museum is small and modest: a few rooms lined with photos and small glass cases of artifacts from the conflict – pictures of pre-war poverty of the region (no schools then, no democratic representation, intense prejudice against the indigenous people and widespread hunger and poverty) medial supplies, the backpack of a revolutionary hero, posters of support for the fighters, rifles and machine guns, parts of downed aircraft. All these signs of violence and courage set against a background of children’s paintings depicting the peace. The museum is larger, and Julia noted a new pride and cultural ownership by the indigenous Linca tour guide as he described the people who have lived in this region since people arrived.

Another building shows a recreation of the radio station that was the voice of the people. Photos show women, children and elders operating the radio – equipment patched together from old transistor radios and other well-traveled electronics were used as receivers by the guerillas in the mountains.  In the back of the museum, a bomb still remains in a crater, with other earthen holes that show the impact. Our guide explained that on one day during the conflict 20 government planes each dropped 4 bombs on Perquín – the intent was obvious, to drive these people into the earth. (An effort, by the way, funded by the U.S. During both the Reagan and Carter administrations – at the height of the war --  the U.S. was contributing about 1.5 million dollars a day to the El Salvador government.)

Despite the part of the U.S. in the tragic history and loss of the region I was welcomed and have been warmly affirmed as a friend by the teachers we worked with in San Antonio. And as a tourist there this week, I sensed no resentment or anti-American sentiments. The teachers who came to us during the earliest years of our work with CASS all shared the history of the region, and grew up in the Honduras refugee camps camps. Many of the personal stories that they used for hand-made books included images of helicopters overhead, families fleeing across the river border, children waking in the middle of the night to escape the violence. And their photos were of a town literally leveled to the ground.

Now, after the Peace Accord was signed in 1992, Morazán is a welcoming place, busy with life and hoping for more tourism, (about 6,000 people a year visit the museum in Perquín) with a growing number of artisan crafts including indigo dyeing, paper and wood jewelry making, and sale of the distinctive coffee-colored clay pots from clay found only in this mountainous region, (More on the crafts later!) We had a wonderful meal at a little comedor, walked around the corner to buy coffee just out of the roaster – organic coffee – a new initiative in the area to rejuvenate the Salvadoran coffee industry, one devastated by global economy and the less-expensive coffee of Southeastern Asia.


Much money flows into El Salvador from the U.S. – formally in US aid including programs like this scholarship program-- and informally, through the money sent back to families at home from the emigrant Salvadoreanos in the U.S. But that’s another story!

Coming tomorrow, more about the crafts and art of El Salvador.

Handmade Books by CASS Docentes


In case you've been wondering what all this teacher and school stuff has to do with art, here's an album of the kinds of work I do with the Central American teachers who study with the CASS scholarship program at Alamo Colleges. The teachers write stories from their personal experiences, then try out some design skills. I help them choose an illustration style to work with, and monitor the progress, provide critique and teach the simple bookbinding skills that hold the whole thing together. 

These are books from the 2008 class, and I am visiting some of these teachers on this trip.


Head over to the Escuela CASS What Can School Be? site for more pics of the teachers books, (The upload on that site is much better)

The Sun Shines on the Volcano

FInally, the rain seems to be letting up and we had a few hours of sun this afternoon driving into the city of San Miguel, a workhorse of a place with about a million population. We're here en route to another set of school visits in the northern area of Morazon, the part of El Salvador that had the worst impact of the war and is still less populated and developed than other parts of El Salvador.

On the way we visited a wonderful school and had a formal presentation by the students and faculty and an amazing lunch of fish from the lake at the bottom of the mountaintop where the school is (an hour down and 2 hours back up, we were told). Also on the menu -- a delicious chicken (yes, this was the real thing, a chicken that had never seen an industrial farm) soup, beef, rice, papusas, enchiladas (which are, in this part of the world are a thick corn tortilla topped with mild red chili sauce and fresh cheese) and more of the wonderful thick comal-toasted corn tortillas of El Salvador. And this was after a little snack that had been served to us upon arrival with fried yucca (the ultimate crunchiness treat of the world), papusas, sweet rich black coffee laced with cinnamon, sweet baked candied pumpkin and about 6 other dishes -- just a little snack. 

And now we're about ready to head for "the best fish soup in the world," according to our traveling coordination and SEED program director Jose.

For the wearable art lovers among you readers, here are some creations by third graders -- all with recycled materials. I'll get better pictures of these later for the WHAT CAN SCHOOL BE blog on posterous. 

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Directly above, a collaged skirt embellished with corn husks and glitter.

Top image, hat - and the world's ubiquitous "foamy"

Middle image, Project Runway weep, this is a third grader's dress.

I'll be posting more soon about the school, but for now -- just time for a brief siesta before heading for that famous fish soup.




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The Seeds You Sow

Gary Sweeny's art work sums it up.

Here, I step back and send a message that goes beyond this specific travel experience, one perhaps that will resonate with my  artist friends and readers who perhaps are a bit confused by all this education stuff making its appearance on my blog.

The bigger lesson is: I am reminded minute by minute during this trip that we all do reap the seeds we sow. This trip that will last a little less than 3 weeks is like walking into a garden I planted 8-9-10- even 20 years ago. Perhaps forest is more apt than garden since I see these teachers as towering trees in their local forests.

As a teacher of creativity and art techniques  I discover daily  that what really matters is the process, not the product. Seeing the work these teachers are doing in Central America is not seeing their work in a museum, it's not seeing an exhibit, rather it's an amazing exhibition of talent and dedication on the ground, often in situations that would daunt the most dedicated U.S. teacher. (I know I have complained bitterly about situations, classrooms and resources that are far richer and more supported than the day-to-day schools that many of these teachers experience.)

For example, many of those who teach in rural schools teach large classes (30 or so 4 year olds at a time). Schools here are just making the transition to full days, so most teachers teach two 5 hour classes, often of different grades. Primary teachers have three different classes a day. Supplies are often basic; in rural areas many students drop out before grade 6 because they are needed for work in order for their families to eat and keep shelter over their heads. Many schools have no potable water, pit toilets and bare walls. 

But the teachers are resourceful, and we feel (as do they) that the CASS experience has made them more resourceful, able to develop curriculum appropriate for their worlds and for the future to come, for the best education possible for their students, far beyond the rote learning/teaching models that most of them started with.

I challenge all of us in the "first world" to make careful use of our so abundant resources, to recycle, to stay focused on creative work rather than creative consumption, to live as lightly as we can, with the knowlege that our wealth is riding on the barefeet of many children and adults in other situations. The world is small, and our "neighborhood" is growing more crowded and more diverse. You can't get on one of the planes to El Salvador without realizing that we are all Americans, dispite political borders.

If you'd like to know more about the educational work here and in Guatemala, check our the What can School Be? blog at