Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Dual Perspective: Doña Estela

Marie's sketch from The Art of Travel with a Sketchbook

A s many of you know, I made a promise to Marie on her death bed that I would do something with her sketchbooks. I was not sure what, but the wealth of images they contained deserved to be shared. I like to write, and the sketchbooks are incredible visual stimuli. However, that has not been so easy. I have spun my wheels for three and a half years. I have numerous starts on the book, none of them getting very far along before I "caler" (freeze up). The only success I have had, has been in my blog, where my words and Marie's images seem to blend together painlessly and naturally. There is no editor that will be looking things over with a critical eye, no judgement to be passed, no acceptance or rejection, just my writing, Marie's images, and our friends' choice to read on or not.

Last summer, My friend Dee Curwen, offered me the space at the Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center to put together an exhibit of my photographs from Mexico. I decided to combine Marie's sketches with my photographs. It was entitled: Portraits of Mexico: A Dual Perspective. Below is an extract from my statement concerning that exhibit: The images exhibited here are my attempt to combine our ways of seeing the world around us. They are images of people who entered our lives, places that caught our eye, and the bountiful, colorful tradition that defines Mexico. They all reflect our journey through life together, our love of travel and crossing cultural borders. They are part of my journey to fulfill my promise

Doña Estela, Vendedora de Pan - 2002
 I start with the story of Doña Estela, a bread vendor in Oaxaca that Marie sketched in 2002. She had gone to the Mercado Hidalgo several times to sketch and had asked Doña Estela permission to draw her twice. Both times she refused. The image to the left is the result of her third attempt. Marie wrote on the bottom of the page, "not only did she accept, she even posed!"

In 2012 I returned to Oaxaca and decided to try to find Doña Estela. Upon arriving at Mercado Hidalgo, I found three women selling bread, but none that looked anything like Doña Estela. I had a copy of Marie's sketch with me, so I approached one of the woman, showed her the sketch, and asked her if she knew the person on the page. She replied, "Claro que si, es mi suegra" (Sure, it is my mother-in-law). She then told me the sad news that she had died the previous winter. When I told her what I was doing, she immediately offered to bring me a photo of Doña Estela. I thanked her, but told her I would rather photograph her selling bread in the same spot that her mother-in-law had. She agreed.
Doña Rosa at Mercado Hidalgo - 2012

"But if you really want a good photo, you should photograph my husband, Fernando. He makes the bread. He is a spitting image of his mother," she went on to tell me.

The next morning I went to Fernando's bakery. He was waiting for me, offered me some freshly baked pan dulce, and took me in back where his house and oven were. He went inside and came back out with a portrait of his mother. Doña Rosa was right, the same lines in the face, the same expression, even the clothes they were wearing seemed to match!
Don Fernando & Doña Estela - Panaderos

We sat and talked for a long time. Fernando told me the story of his life and his mother's. He was just getting ready to light his wood-fired oven and make bread, and asked me if I wanted to stay and watch. Of course I did.
Fernando was proud of his oven and his traditional way of making pan dulce. He used no chemicals or high tech equipment, just good ingredients and the skills passed down in his family. The fruits of his labor were also very pleasing to the eye, not to mention the taste buds!
Freshly baked Conchas

Right before leaving, I asked Fernando when his mother passed away. His answer gave me carne de ganso (goose bumps). She died on January 9, 2012, exactly one year to the day of Marie's passing.

Perhaps Marie and Doña Estela are now happily breaking bread together somewhere in the universe and their crumbs are falling as snow on Mount Hood. Marie may even have Doña Estela sketching! I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised!