Monday, December 29, 2014

FOLK ART OF IBEROAMERICA: Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Embroidered tablecloth from Mexico
From masks to nativities, hats to tablecloths, musical instruments to carved wooden chests, more than 1200 works of the Great Masters of Iberoamerican Folk Art are currently on exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.  Glowing with colors that are a feast for the eyes,  they fill four large rooms. The artists come from all the Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries of Central and South America plus Spain and Portugal.

In the clay section is this wonderful tree of life candelabra with the pineapple jar behind it.
As a member of the museum, I had a chance to view the exhibit on the day before it opened to the public.  The rooms are organized by the materials of which the objects are made: clay, wood, metal, natural fibers, textiles.  Within each room the objects are clustered in groups, with a touch screen video adjacent to each area with identifying information about each object. I had many favorites, including the giant clay jaguars greeting visitors at the entrance to the exhibit.
Nearly life size clay jaguars
I especially liked this painted Peruvian drum with its lively village scene in the section of musical instruments.
Two Andean condors fly overhead in the scene painted on this drum.
Many of the items, like these Mexican skulls, are associated with the celebration of the Day of the Dead. (You can read more about the Day of the Dead in Ann Stalcup's guest post on this blog 10/27/14.)
Clay skulls
This diorama from Brazil made of painted wood depicts a June fiesta.  The artist is Tarcisio Jose Albuquerque de Andrade.
Diorama from Brazil
The pieces in the exhibit are from the collection of Fomento Cultural Banamex.  The exhibit will be at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles from November 9, 2014 through September 13, 2015. It requires tickets for reserved time entries.

With more than a thousand pieces in the exhibit, my pictures are just a sampling. For more photos of some of the amazing pieces in this exhibit, click HERE.

Monday, December 22, 2014

HOLIDAY GREETINGS! Nativities from Iberoamerica

Nativity Scene, by Sara Marquez Gonzalez, Mexico, Wheat stalks, in exhibit Great Masters of Iberoamerican Folk Art

Every year at holiday time I get out our collection of creches, or nativity scenes, that we have accumulated over the years.  They come from all over the world and often have memories of travels associated with them. We have no new nativities this year.  However, I have photos of some amazing pieces currently on exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in a terrific show, Great Masters of Iberoamerican Folk Art. They are among more than 1500 items in an exhibit of crafts ranging from clay and wood to fibers and textiles. The exhibit is from the collection of Fomento Cultural Banamex.
Nativity scene, in exhibit Great Masters of Iberoamerican Folk Art
       I am looking forward to celebrating the holidays with family and friends.
                                    With very best wishes to you for a
                           HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON!

Monday, December 15, 2014


Reindeer, Talkeetna, Alaska
Everyone knows that Santa’s sleigh is pulled by eight tiny reindeer that fly through the sky.  But in the real world, reindeer are large animals that live on the ground.  With sturdy bodies, thick coats, and broad feet that keep them from slipping on snow and ice, they are perfectly adapted to the harsh climate of the far north that is their native home. We had a chance to see a small herd of domestic reindeer on our trip to Alaska in 2002. It was summer and the reindeer were contentedly munching grass and leaves inside an enclosure.  (In the wild, reindeer feed on mosses and lichens that grow on the tundra.) So, even though the weather was mild, we could imagine what it might be like in winter.

Traditionally, the Sami of Lapland and other native peoples of the far north hunted wild reindeer and tamed them. They used them to pull sleds, as pack animals, and for meat and milk. They made clothes, shoes, blankets and tents from reindeer hides. They shaped reindeer bones and antlers into tools. They followed the herds of reindeer as they went between their summer and winter homes. Today, most Sami stay in one place year round. They no longer follow the reindeer herds but some keep reindeer on farms and raise them for their meat and hides.

If you live in Los Angeles you can see reindeer close-up at the Los Angeles Zoo during the holiday season at the annual Reindeer Romp.  This year the reindeer will be visiting from November 28 to January 4.

Monday, December 8, 2014

FESTIVALS OF MEXICO, A Mexican Christmas, Guest Post by Ann Stalcup

Procession with men carrying a platform with figures of Mary and Joseph
My friend and fellow author Ann Stalcup has been fascinated by Mexican customs and culture for many years. She has taken numerous photographs in the Mexican communities of Los Angeles where cultural events are celebrated frequently throughout the year. She has also visited areas of Mexico where she has observed many of the traditional festivals including the Blessing of the Animals, the Day of the Dead, and Christmas. Here are a few of her photos of Mexican Christmas celebrations.
Children dressed as angels
MEXICAN CHRISTMAS celebrations begin with parades held from December 16 to December 24 that re-enact how Mary and Joseph searched for a place to stay when Jesus' birth was imminent. Each night, costumed shepherds led by angels visit a different store in the community and plead in song for shelter. In Los Angeles, California, many people gather in Olvera Street to take part in the celebration.  After a short prayer, children dressed angels lead the way in the Las Posadas procession. On the last night of Las Posadas, the Baby Jesus will have been added to the manger scene or nacimiento.
Three Kings Day is celebrated on January 6th, the traditional gift-giving day.  Two thousand years ago, the Three Kings journeyed to worship the baby Jesus and bring him gifts.  In memory of this, on Epiphany Eve (January 5th), children put their shoes on the ends of their beds, in their windows, or on their balcony.  In Mexico, as Los Tres Reyes pass through each village and town on the way to see the Christ Child in Bethlehem, they leave gifts in each child’s shoes.

Children dressed as the Three Kings
The Christmas festivities end with Candelaria, a day when Mexican families bring elaborately-dressed Jesus dolls to be blessed in church.  Choosing an outfit is not easy.  Some are embroidered, others are decorated with lace.  Some dolls have gold crowns and bishop’s hats and white doves. Not only does the baby need clothing, He needs a special chair too.  He will sit in it until the Christmas season starts again.
Jesus dolls

For more information about Ann and her published work, visit her at her website: 
You can look for Ann's earlier posts on this blog on Mexican celebrations:  The Blessing of the Animals 9/8/14, and the Day of the Dead 10/27/14.

Monday, December 1, 2014

VISITING POLAR BEARS--NOT AT A ZOO! Guest post by Sara Louise Kras

Polar Bear, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
My friend and fellow writer Sara Louise Kras went to Hudson Bay to research her recent book, The Hunted: Polar Prey, and has graciously written this article about her trip.  You can find out more about Sara and her many other books and travels at her website, . All of the excellent photos of polar bears in this post are by Sara's husband, Joe Kras.

For many years I fantasized about seeing polar bears in their natural habitat.  But our travels took us to other places – mostly warm – to do research on the various book projects I had been hired to write.  Finally, in 2008, I decided to take the icy plunge and fly to the Arctic to see polar bears.  I was working on a fiction book about a polar bear, so I thought it would be great to see them firsthand.  After very little research, I realized that the most optimum place for viewing these elusive creatures was in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.  This tiny town bordering the Hudson Bay is inundated with polar bears from October and November.  Polar bears wait there for the Hudson Bay to freeze so they can go out on the frozen ice to hunt seals. 

Polar bears don’t eat much during the summer – just what they can scrounge up – so they are literally starving.  This hungry state actually makes it very dangerous for the people who live in Churchill, including children.  Polar bears don’t have a problem with eating humans.  To them, food is food.  Also, given that they are the largest bears in the world, at eight and a half feet long and more than two thousand pounds, these bears can cause some serious damage.  I heard stories of polar bears breaking down front doors and rearranging the furniture--including knocking over a refrigerator!  

Again, doing more research on the internet, I found two companies who seemed to have the same exact itinerary in Churchill – except one was about $1,000 cheaper per person.  The difference is one was based in the United States and the other was based in Canada.  After thoroughly interviewing the Canadian company, I decided to go with them.  The name of the company is Churchill Nature Tours.  

My husband and I normally do not travel with groups.  We are very independent travelers.  But traveling to Churchill is completely different.  You can’t rent a car and drive out to see the polar bears.  You must travel with other people in tundra buggies, bus-like vehicles with wheels six feet tall. 
Our package tour was five nights long.  The first and last nights were in Winnipeg, but the middle three nights were in Churchill.  When we arrived in Churchill in the early morning, I was shocked at the size of the airport.  It was only as big as a small house, but it was literally stuffed with tourists, all searching for their tour company or group.  Once we found ours, we were whisked away to the helicopter company and taken up to see polar bears from the air.  It was an amazing beginning.  We saw a polar bear with an elk kill.  We saw a moose slowly making its way through the deep snow.  We saw a mother and baby polar bear.  On Hudson Bay, icebergs floated, looking like giant chunks of Styrofoam.   Later we visited the Eskimo museum where I got an invaluable contact for my fiction book.  Several weeks after the trip, the owner answered many questions via email about the Inuit, which brought an interesting twist to my story. 

The next two days were spent out in the tundra buggy.  Because our tour company only allowed eighteen people on their tours, there were plenty of window seats for everyone.  We were on the buggy all day – both days.  For comfort, there was a toilet on the buggy and we also had piping hot lunches and snacks.  We saw many polar bears even though throughout the second day there was a blizzard!  I credit the wonderful guide who was in charge of our group.  He seemed to know where to look, even when there were few polar bears at times.  If you’d like to see polar bears, I highly recommend traveling with this company. 

By the end of my trip, I had a firsthand knowledge of the depth of cold in the Arctic.  I had firsthand knowledge of how to attach a carrybag to a helicopter to transport a polar bear.  I had firsthand knowledge of how polar bears move and swim.  All of this was used in my book.  Now my book, a fiction story, The Hunted: Polar Prey has been published through Speeding Star.  It is about a boy who has to save his mother.  She is floating on an iceberg and is being hunted by a polar bear.  It’s a quick read and plot driven.  If you’d like to check it out, you can get it at