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A story of a factory turned into an art school.

June 9, 2012


We are off for a few days in Oaxaca City, Mexico. It is a beautiful colonial city in a state that shares the name.

Oaxaca is the birthplace of Benito Juarez. He was the first and last indigenous president of Mexico.

Today we met Juan.

He works as a guard at the Institute of Arts in San Agustin Etla, about 35 minutes north of Oaxaca City.

The Institute is an art school founded by the famous Mexican artist, Francisco Toledo.

It is housed in a former textile factory, built in the 1890s.

The factory went bankrupt in the 80s. A workers cooperative was then attempted but failed.

And in the 90s the Institute of Art came, rehabilitated and reclaimed the structures.

It is beautiful.

Signs of the old textile factory remain.

Juan once worked in the factory. He told us that many tourists come and he listens as the guides tell the history of the place. But they get it all wrong. Some guides will tell the tourists that it was once a hacienda.

But it was a factory. Juan knows this because he worked in the factory.

He doesn’t correct the guides.

Get him talking about the old factory and his eyes light up and he goes into great detail about how the machinery worked,  how the diesel and steam worked that ran the looms and the whistle that called the towns workers to work after breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nearly everyone in the town of San Agustin Etla worked in the textile factory.

He has not much to say about his work as a guard.

He is proud that besides being a guard he also runs the photo labs where they still develop film, have dark rooms and enlargers. Nothing digital, he smiles at my camera. He doesn’t usually let visitors into the photo labs.

He made an exception for us.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. John Dillon permalink
    June 9, 2012 6:24 pm

    Hey, Fred! Enjoy that fresh air and big, relaxing breath before returning to battle. Hope you get a chance to visit a friend of mine in Oaxaca who takes wood and makes it into something mysterious in its spiritual call to the observer. Look up Jacobo and Maria Angeles if you have time. Please tell Maria the cinnamon was wonderful in our coffee, and I will see Jacobo this fall.

    Be well, celebrate, and take it all in, my friend.

    JD

  2. Joan Kramer permalink
    June 9, 2012 6:27 pm

    Great find! Ustedes hablan español? Does the Art Institute make use of the textile materials that are left? What an interesting story. Some friends are going on a tour of the cooperatives in Basque country – started in 1941 -Mondragon Corporation. Seems a great solution in so many ways – worker coops.

  3. bklynjak permalink
    June 9, 2012 6:28 pm

    Great story! So glad you went there. No art exhibit at the moment it looks like. My photos from San Agustin Etla are here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150252311517399.334343.570372398&type=3

  4. Fred Klonsky permalink*
    June 10, 2012 8:02 am

    Thanks for the suggestion. We loved it. And thanks for the names, John. But our time is so short here and our schedule so tight, we may not be able to look up your friends.

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