Vermont Open Studios 2019, Part 2

Meet the Artists

We visited the studios of about 13 artists during Fall Vermont Open Studios Tour weekend. We met artists who crafted using a large variety of media, including potters, wood workers, painters and a digital artist who combined computer art with oil, markers and other media. Below is a list of the artists we visited, grouped by type of art. I have included addresses, phone numbers and websites in case you have any interest in visiting their studios or purchasing their products.  Meet some of the amazing artists we encountered!

 
POTTERY/CERAMICS
 
 
Diane Echlin
Diane favored blues and greens that she created for her pottery, and attached decals from a US artist to some of her pieces.
428 S. Wardsboro Rd
Newfane 05345
(802) 365-7874
 

 
 
 
 
Walter Slowinski
Walter’s specialty was teapots and vessels, and he often attached found pieces of wood and even beads to his one-of-a-kind pieces.
658 Orchard St
Brattleboro 05301
(802) 257-1030

 

 
Maya Zelkin
Maya worked out of an unheated barn off the grid to create pottery for the home in earth tones.
116 Coldham Rd
Shrewsbury VT 05738
(802) 492-2045

 
Naomi Lindenfeld
Naomi crafted unique jewelry and pottery for the home using swirling layers of colored clay.
330 Meadowbrook Rd
Brattleboro VT 05301
(802) 258-6475

 
David Stone
David created simple, affordable, useful pieces for the home, including coffee mugs, soap dishes, sponge holders, and bright orange ceramic jack-o-lanterns.
1735 VT Rte 103
Cuttingsville 05738
(802) 492-2301

 
 
 

WOOD

 
Rich DeTrano
Rich’s turned bowls and vessels, often accented with sticks, were the highest quality we saw. His dragons were amazing, but alas, not for sale.
488 Andover Rd
Ludlow VT 05149
(802) 228-8894

 
Gerry Martin
Gerry handcrafted spectacular bowls while celebrating the natural imperfections of wood, often leaving live edges.
998 Lincoln Hill Rd
Shrewsbury 05738
(802) 492-2244

Gerry with his optician’s stand-turned-tool holder
 
Gene Felder
Gene Felder use a noisy lathe to turn his wood, preferring instead to create artistic bowls with hand tools.
149 Adams Rd
Shrewsbury VT 05738
802-558-9068

 

GLASS

 
Zachary Grace
Under the watchful eye of his caged parrot, Zac created copper and glass pieces using a hand-made furnace.
446 Williams ST
Brattleboro 05301
(802) 251-0402

 
Contemporary craft gallery and open studio experience featuring live glass blowing by Randi Solin and the open ceramic studios of Natalie Blake. Randi demonstrated how to create maple leaves out of hot glass.

(This wasn’t part of the Open Studios Vermont circuit, but we dropped in and got a wonderful glass demonstration.)

 

METAL ART

 

Stragnell Art

R Sanford Stragnell
 
Sanford, a former electrician, used castoff tools and electrical parts to create metal sculptures of animals and nature.
PO Box 394
Castleton 05735
(802) 468-2327

 
 
 

 Vermont Rocks, Original Sports Sculpture

John Davis
John, a triathlete, created unique pieces comprised of native rocks and stainless steel figures of athletes, including rock climbers, runners and fishermen.
442 S. Wardsboro Rd.
Newfane VT 05345
(802) 380-9773
 
 
 

 
 

PASTELS

 
Lesley Heathcote
Lesley used pastels to create bucolic images of animals and birds.
32 Larkin St.
Brattleboro VT 05301
(802) 257-0951

DIGITAL ART

 
Michel Moyse
Michel, a former film editor, created unique digital art projected onto an interactive screen.
81 Pleasant Valley Rd
West Brattleboro 05301
(802) 257-7605

Vermont Open Studios 2019, Part 1

Incredible Artistry in the Green Mountain State

We recently spent a peak fall foliage weekend visiting artists’ studios and workshops around southern and central Vermont. The quality and variety of the craftsmanship that we discovered on Saturday, the first day, was so enthralling that we repeated the expedition in a new region on Sunday.

Vermont Open Studio Weekend is a fascinating event organized twice a year by the Vermont Crafts Council, a nonprofit comprised of artists that seeks to nurture public appreciation for “the quality, beauty, and history of Vermont crafts and artwork in order to encourage and sustain the creation of original craft and art work in Vermont.”
 
Vermont is amazingly welcoming of artists, and they return the favor with a fierce devotion to their craft and by generously welcoming people into their studios and even their lives.
 
Open Studios Map and Guide
We found nests of artistic production and inspiration on Main Streets and at the ends of dirt roads. We saw price tags in galleries ranging from $10 to $1,200. We often found the cast-offs, pieces discounted because they were not deemed high enough quality, to be as interesting as the finished pieces. Unfortunately, as wanderers whose possessions need to fit in the back of our truck, we are not in the position to acquire art right now, but we saw many pieces that we wanted. In the end, I bought one colored-clay necklace.

The Tour

We spend the first day around Brattleboro, a city in the southeast corner of the state that attracts a disproportionate percentage of artists, many of them New York transplants. The second day we visited a studio in Ludlow, where we’re staying, and then headed west toward Shrewsbury, Castleton and Rutland.
 
 
The Studios
 
We discovered that most Vermont craftspeople work in
studios located in or close to their homes. Some were near downtown areas (Brattleboro) or even on the main street (Castleton), but many more were in remote areas, far off the beaten path. We drove many miles up narrow mountain roads and around bends, through gold-and- red dappled fields and past squawking wild turkeys, to find studios inside barns surrounded by trees and fields. These were places we never would have discovered on our own, but bright yellow “Vermont Open Studios” signs directed us to each new discovery and beckoned us in.
 
The artists’ studios were amazingly diverse and told part of the story about their residents – whether it was a basement transformed into a woodturning workshop, a drafty wooden barn, a retrofitted garage, an upstairs bedroom or a large, beautiful dream studio made of barn wood and giant windows. A former film editor who had worked on major studio films in New York had built a huge, slick studio barn for his oversized digital art.

Diane Echlin’s studio
Nature’s Turn’s studios
Maya Zelkin’s off-the-grid studio
 
Orchard Street Pottery studio in Brattleboro
Michel Moyse’s Digital Art studio

The Tools

 
The artists’ tools, often self-crafted, showed real ingenuity.
 
One woodturner had retrofitted an optical stand he bought for $5 at a local fireman’s auction into a tool holder. Another created an electric hammer because his hands got so sore from hammering metal. Several had designed and built wood kilns or stoves out of bricks and mortar, sometimes even dismantling them to move and then reconstructing them in a new location. Most of the potters, not satisfied with any commercial product, created their own glazes.

Maya Zelkin’s handmade wood-fired kiln
Sanford Stagnell’s Hammer Machine

The Effort

Not one did anything the easy way.
 
They labored painstakingly to produce the detailed result they wanted, even if meant waiting a year while wood cured before carving it, rebuilding an entire kiln because it didn’t heat right, or disregarding wood-turning machines in favor of the rougher precision of hand tools and elbow grease.

 
 

Next up: 

Vermont Open Studios 2019, Part 2: Meet the Artists

Author: Lisa By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Messy Suitcase Video: Why Guadalajara?

Beto (Bob) is developing his video editing skills, and working on putting the many videos he has made over the past year of traveling in Europe and then Mexico up onto the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel! 

After toting his GoPro all over Mexico, and now Vermont, plus the drives back and forth, he’s just learning how to edit the footage, so please be patient, and feel to comment with words of encouragement.  Each video will get better, and they will be packed with fascinating info and our illuminating comments and observations.

We’ll hope you’ll follow our the Messy Suitcase YouTube Channel,  and ring the bell to be notified as we put more videos up. We are also open to new ideas!

Enjoy the video Why Guadalajara? 

Why Guadalajara? video

 

Two Days in Montreal – A Couple of Foodies Drinking Tequila – Part 2

Old Montreal and the Port

We enjoyed walking around Old Montreal, with its parks, old building, art galleries, shops with Canada-made items and Native American crafts, ice creameries, outdoor restaurants and friendly Canadians. At the bottom of the hill is a waterfront park with a busy bike trail, which we crossed to get to the bustling old port. There we boarded a Bateau Mouche (fly boat) for a 1½ hour tour of the Saint Lawrence River. Unfortunately, the acoustics were bad inside the boat and we couldn’t hear the bilingual tour guides information about Montreal. But the wine was decent and the views were excellent. Some of it was very industrial and reminded me of the Port of Hamburg. 

Bateau Mouche selfie
View of the Montreal skyline from the boat
We embraced the tourism and spent a lot of time at the Old Port of Montreal, taking a 1.5-hour river tour on a Bateau Mouche (flyboat), and then taking a few turns in the Grand Roue (big ferris wheel).
 
 
 

Notre Dame Basilica

Of course, we had to visit the Roman Catholic Basilica of Notre Dame on the Old City, Montreal’s premier attraction, and it did not disappoint – except that Bob was annoyed that they charged an entrance fee, unlike any other of the more than 100 churches we have visited around Europe and Mexico. Still, the majestic space was amazing, and the free brochure explained what we were seeing. Around the central alter were four scenes from the Old Testament that foretold the birth of Christ. 
 
Above the cross was a scene of God crowning Mary the Queen of the Heavens. The Priests lectern rose above the congregation on the left side, and the organ in the rear was enormous. We could have taken an earlier tour and touched the organ, or a later tour for a light show. It felt more like a tourist attraction than a church.
 

That’s the giant organ behind me

The plaza out front, with its buskers changing shifts every half-hour, offered a welcome surprise when we emerged from what felt like Rome to a woman singing a glorious Italian aria.

More Booze

We finished our visit at a liquor store, where we purchased a bottle of Wayne Gretzky Reisling (in case you’ve been wondering what Canada’s favorite son has been doing since he retired from hockey) and a Maple Cream Liquor.

Wayne Gretzky Reisling

We’ll Be Back

In the end, we only had time to partially explore a couple of neighborhoods in Montreal over less than 48 hours. We didn’t have time to go for a run, or a hike, or to ride a bike. We didn’t get to experience the subway system. So we plan to return for a longer visit next month with Aryk after we drop Lex off at college in Burlington. 
 
Next time we will visit the Olympic Museum, the Science Museum, the neighborhoods of Le Plateau and Gay City, Mont Royal, and so much more.
 
So watch for more from Montreal!
 
 
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Two Days in Montreal – A Couple of Foodies Drinking Tequila – Part 1

We just spent a whirlwind two days in Montreal, a visit that was barely long enough to get a taste of this fascinating, bilingual city and want to come back for more. We loved it!

Montreal is just a two-hour drive from Burlington VT, where we dropped our youngest, Lex, off for a college orientation weekend and then headed north. We met a surly Canadian at the border crossing, who ordered Bob to turn off the video camera and unsmilingly peppered us with questions.
 
And then we were off, driving north through cornfields and flat farmland that presented a striking contrast to the lush green mountains we had just passed through in Vermont. After an hour or so, Montreal swallowed us up rather suddenly as we entered the city, which is actually an island. We crossed a long bridge that seems to still be under construction. (In fact, much of Montreal seems to be under construction – the city is clearly experiencing a building boom.)
 
 

A European-Feeling Capital

Despite a large crop of green glass apartment buildings at one end of the downtown, there were enough majestic old buildings to make us feel we were visiting a European capital. All the signs are in French, the official language of the province of Quebec, and everyone in Montreal speaks both French and English. 
 
Montreal, Canada’s second-most populous city and host to the Summer Olympics in 1976, is clearly a growing city with a kinetic energy. A lot of the architecture was interesting and cutting-edge and construction was going on everywhere. 
 
We used a few credit card miles Bob had accumulated to treat ourselves to two nights at the Marriott Chateau Champlain, a luxury hotel with breathtaking views of the downtown and Mont Royal from our arched 28th-floor window.

Night view

Alas, all the walking we did made our legs too tired to run, or even
walk, to the mountain, so we had to be satisfied with the view.

Ideal Weather

 
The weather was perfect, warm and summery each day with just enough clouds to keep it from feeling oppressive. (Bob kept reminding me that winter would be a far different story.)

First-Class Food

 
The reason I started with the weather is because I want to talk about the food, and to us, the two were intertwined: we ate almost every meal outdoors while enjoying perfect weather. I had read that Montreal is a true foodies’ city, and we definitely found that to be true.
 
We found genuine Mexican food at Escondite in the Old City, where we sat at a corner table of the fenced in sidewalk dining room. I had tacos with crisp fried cauliflower, black bean paste and chipotle cream, so tasty! The guacamole was genuine Mexican, which meant no tomatoes or onions but lots of lime and cilantro. Que rico! The chips were fresh-made, light, crunchy and perfect. Bob enjoyed tacos al pastor, lots of meat the way he likes it with pieces of pineapple.

I had cauliflower tacos with chipotle cream and spicy black bean
Bob had tacos al pastor
We wanted to enjoy jazz music at Mondavi, across the street, but the weather was just too glorious to go inside. (That was OK, though; we enjoyed wonderful buskers in the parks – a cellist, a singing guitar player, a violinist and even an opera singer.)
 
We had a mouthwatering French breakfast at Maggie Oakes on Place Jacques Cartier, where I had Le Santé (the healthy one; maple oatmeal, fresh berries and organic yogurt) with perfect café au lait and Bob chowed down on eggs benedict with fresh fruit and perfect fried potatoes. That experience was made even more delightful because we sat at a corner of the outdoor patio and watched the artisans and vendors in this popular pedestrian square set up for the day. The highlight was the bagpiper and a mini-squad of men in Revolutionary War-era costumes who marched down the street with rifles and a drum.
 


Our last dinner was a Paradiso in the Old City, where we
enjoyed lasagna and pesto while watching the world go by.

In the morning we set out from our hotel in search of breakfast and found it to be mostly a shopping and business area. But a few blocks away, we stumbled into an underground mall and food court with a spectacular array of reasonable prices, delectable choices. Bob enjoyed a coffee-flavored muffin and I had one of the best chocolate croissants I have ever had the privilege to experience, as well as coffee from a coffee bar that offered about 20 flavor choices and an additional four cream choices. The bagel place across the way also beckoned tantalizingly, but a girl has to make
choices sometimes: I took the French option. Oh, la la!
 

Gifted Bartenders

 
We discovered a couple of choice rooftops for imbibing in alcoholic beverages while enjoying the view. At the Observatoire, we took the elevator to the 44th floor, sunk into a couch and indulged ourselves while looking at the downtown in all directions. (We declined to pay for entry to the actual viewing observatory, two floors up, and instead invested our money in a couple of well-made drinks.)

Rum and coke at the Observatoire, 44th floor
View from the rooftop bar
Afterward, we wandered toward Vieux Montreal and stumbled upon a tequila bar. Realizing it was actually July 24, International Tequila Day, we went in and ordered a couple of reposados. Mine was white when it should have been light gold from aging 18 months in oak barrels, but I drank it anyway. Salud!
We also enjoyed at a rooftop bar over the St. Lawrence River, where Bob and I enjoyed palomas while visiting with a friendly Canadian couple, Luc and Patsy.

Drinking palomas, overlooking the Old Port
 
Recipe for palomas
Luc and Patsy
Coming next: Part 2, The Old Port and Notre Dame
 
 

By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Hiking on Vermont’s Long Trail

Did you know the Appalachian Trail was inspired by Vermont’s Long Trail? Beto and I discovered this after a couple of recent hikes on the Long Trail, the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States. Known as Vermont’s “footpath in the wilderness,” the 272-mile Long Trail runs from Massachusetts to Canada, with 166 more miles of side trails.

Built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930, it follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains and crosses Vermont’s highest peaks. The Appalachian Trail coincides with the Long Trail for 100 miles in the southern third of Vermont, including around Ludlow, where we are staying. It is not for the faint. Crossing high peaks means a lot of up and down. And we have discovered it can be tricky.

 
Long Trail Hike 1
Last weekend we drove north to Killington and got onto the trail across the street from the appropriately named Inn at Long Trail. We hiked three hilly, strenuous miles through amazingly lush, green woodlands – especially coming from dry, high desert ecosystems in the mountains of Colorado and Mexico! As it was our first hike since arriving in Vermont, we turned around after a mile and a half, just .6 miles from the peak of Pico Mountain, which we will attempt to scale another time.

 

 
Long Trail Hike 2
This morning we embarked on the combined AT/LT along Route 103 between Mount Holly and Clarendon. At the beginning, we had to cross a beautiful, shaky suspension bridge over a glorious gorge, and I remembered bringing my kids here for a walk about 15 years ago, and they were terrified.

 
The Long Trail is marked by two-by-six-inch white blazes (side trails are blazed in blue), but when we got into the woods on the other side, we couldn’t find any. We followed the unmarked trail along a wide, rocky creek, then turned right to follow a second promising path straight up the mountain. But there were still no markers, and eventually we encountered a US Land Boundary Marker, and the trail petered off into nothingness. It was a weird, vulnerable feeling to be standing there in the middle of the woods with no trails in any direction.
So we went back down the hill and continued the creekside hike, passing several camping groups – one a young family with a small tent and two smaller children in swimsuits getting ready for an icy swim in the creek, and the other a group of adults with two large tents cooking over a big breakfast fire. Again, no markers.
Idyllic Discovery
When the trail suddenly ended, we saw a large flat rock at the edge of the creek with a red heart painted on it, and took a break. That break turned into an hour-long siesta during which we just let go and enjoyed being in nature. Bo laid back and snoozed. It was warm but cloudy, and the cold water kept it refreshing. I just drank in the bright green leaves on the trees across the creek, the trickle of the water, the patterns on the rocks, and the play of light on the surface of the water. Several small planes flew overhead (we were not far from Rutland Airport) and we listened to the rumble of a train approaching, passing and departing, just beyond visibility through the trees.

 
We sat quietly, talked about life and the kids, and just breathed. It was idyllic, and we will definitely return with a picnic.
On the way back, Beto found the turnoff to the Long Trail not far from the suspension bridge, so we will be back next week. It starts straight up, so I anticipate a challenging hike.
Learn more about the Long Trail here.
 
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Casa Estrella: Our Hillside Home in Guanajuato

It’s a shame we ever stayed at Casa Estrella: We will never be happy anywhere else again.

Thanks, Donna

My friend Donna Bryson recommended we spend time in the World Heritage city of Guanajuato, where she and her family enjoyed a vacation a couple years ago. Since Donna was my favorite partner in exploration when were young, single and living in NYC, I trusted her advice and we decided to visit for five weeks or so on our way north from Tlaquepaque.
 
Lodging proved to be a little bit of a challenge, though.
Guanajuato is a colorful, astonishingly well-preserved city of 150,000 with narrow cobblestone alleys and winding underground tunnels carved out of rock, neither of which was very welcoming to our wide black Tacoma Toyota truck. Hotels and apartments in El Centro (the historic center) don’t have convenient parking, if any at all, and guests have to navigate narrow, steep  pedestrian walkways to get to their entrances – hardly practical when you have as many possessions as us, in addition to
three cats and two bikes.
 
So we widened the search beyond Guanajuato City, and ended up at Casa Estrella Vacation Rental Homes in Valenciana, a village about two kilometers up the mountain from Guanajuato. And although it would have been nice to be able to step out of our lodging right onto one of Guanajuato’s nine plazas and walk a block or two to a restaurant, Casa Estrella offered unique benefits that made it the perfect choice for us.
 

Car- Friendly

 Casa Estrella was one of the only places to stay in Guanajuato that offered secure parking for the truck, though because of the hillside location, getting the vehicle out the couple of times we used it was a spine-tingling tight, logistical challenge. So once we parked the Tacoma, we left it to collect dust, and used buses, cabs or Uber to get around. Buses only cost 7 pesos (37 cents) a ride, and Uber or a cab cost 60-70 pesos ($3.65-$4.20) per ride. 
 
Once we got down into Guanajuato, we used our feet for transportation.

Pet-Friendly

The staff at Casa Estrella happily welcomed our three cats and considered them part of our family. And the cats loved our two-bedroom apartment, Casa Estrellita, from the moment we opened their traveling cages and released them from their travel confinement. Ellie swiftly took over a round blue chair in the living room, though all three cats alternated through at one time or another. Kaylee liked to hang out high up on the second-floor landing, regally surveying her domain. Noxy ambled from bed to bed, and eventually befriended a corner chair in the dining room. He managed to escape one day when the cleaning crew came, and relished the opportunity to amble around the little courtyard below our apartment before coming back to our door and waiting for someone to notice he had been gone.
 
Kaylee
Equinox and the Monk statue
Smoitie in the kitchen

One day, Casa Estrella’s resident cat Toby, who was the spitting image of our old cat Jiji  who died in 2012) except for a scarred right eye, came to the door and meowed loudly, as though asking our cats to come out and play. Lex and I did just that, hanging out on the stairs petting Toby for a long time. Toby belonged to Inge, a Dutch retiree who  dispensed wellness advice, astrology readings, and essential oils from her little apartment across from the fountain below us. The cats never met him.

People- Friendly

 We knew Casa Estrella was going to be people-friendly from the moment we parked our car. First, the manager, Javier Salazar, greeted us warmly. Then three male staffers swooped upon the truck and rapidly carried all of our heavy suitcases, duffle bags, musical instruments, and other assorted paraphernalia up the stairs to our apartment before we even had a moment to breathe. What service! By the time we could blink our eyes, our stuff was in our rooms and we were ready to settle in. 

Casa Estrellita

Our two-bedroom apartment, Casa Estrellita, was absolutely stunning. With a warm pallet of many-shaded oranges and royal blue, with bright pink accents, its warm glow enveloped us. The dining room had a bar with a wine rack in one corner, and a domed brick ceiling with a chandelier hanging over the handmade round wooden table. A newly-constructed breakfast patio overlooked the city of Guanajuato below and awe-inspiring mountains beyond (and Javier brought a lounge chair when he saw how much I enjoyed spending time there reading).  
 
My favorite breakfast spot

The kitchen was large and well stocked. The dinnerware consisted of individually crafted, hand-painted ceramic plates, bowls and mugs from the local Gorky Gonzalez Pottery Studio. The rest of the house was also filled with decorative pottery – on shelves, walls, the bar, along the steps and even on the fireplace mantle—from Gorky Gonzalez, Mayolica Pottery of Santa Rosa, and other local artists.

 
Both bedrooms, on the second floor, were generous, with sliding doors and balconies showcasing the incredible view of Guanajuato and the mountains. Beds had heavy, hand-carved headboards.  The master bedroom even had a fireplace and a changing room, and the master bath had a sunken jetted tub, which Aryk enjoyed, and a hand-painted sink, which Noxy occasionally napped in. 
 
Master bedroom with fireplace
The volume and quantity of the artwork throughout the apartment made my jaw drop daily. A brightly-painted, skeletal, smiling Catrina statue stood inside the front door, next to a small painting of a Lucha Libre warrior. A handcrafted wooden monk statue looked down from a lighted alcove at the bottom of the wide stairway. There were painted ceramic serving platters, a full-length copper lamp, a basket crucifix over the bed in the master bedroom, a Diego Rivera print in the main hallway, hand-woven rugs, and tapestries.

Catrina
 
Mayolica

Mayolica
 

Diego Rivera print

The Grounds

 And beyond our apartment, there was so much more to explore and enjoy! Casa Estrella’s public space was beautiful and comfortable, with leather couches, a huge solid wood dining table with a tile-covered wall over the banquet, a large covered deck, even a big double-kitchen for use by guests staying in rooms without kitchen facilities. (Casa Estrella also provided a delicious, healthy daily breakfast for an additional fee, consisting of yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, tamales, and coffee.)
 
Yoga with Blanca
Beyond the main building, there was a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi. Down the steps, the Fiesta Fitness Room offered an elliptical, complete weight set, free weights, Bosu, exercise ball, barre and more, as well as a large patio for weekly outdoor yoga classes (by Blanca of Casa Quatro in Guanajuato) offering the mountain view as the perfect “dristy.” There was also a spa room for massages, a botanical garden, a tennis court, an RV park with a beautiful bathroom and shower, an organic garden, and other public spaces.
 

Wellness

 I mention all these things because Casa Estrella’s focus is on wellness, and I left feeling so relaxed and serene. Javier, the manager and concierge, gave us exceptional service to made us feel truly pampered. If you ever decide to visit Guanajuato, you can learn more about Casa Estrella here. Tell Javier that Lisa sent you!
 
Saying goodbye to Javier., the manager and concierge at Casa Estrella.
Hasta luego!
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Torture and Death in Mexico

We visited three morbid museums that reflect a certain
obsession with death and torture in Guanajuato, Mexico.

El Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato 
(The Mummy Museum)

 
The one that attracts the most tourists is El Museo de lasMomias de Guanajuato, or the Mummy Museum of Guanajuato. This underground museum tucked into a corner
of the old city displays scores of naturally mummified bodies found to be in surprisingly good shape when they were disinterred to make room for new bodies in the cemetery above.
 
The mummies were discovered in the late 1800’s after the government instituted a perpetual burial tax on the cemetery. If the families of the buried did not pay, the bodies of their loved ones were exhumed. It was during this process of evicting the dead for back taxes that the mummies were discovered, beautifully preserved.
 
 
 
 
After exhumation, the mummies were stored in an ossuary beneath the cemetery, where they are displayed today. Each mummy has a tag with a little information about them and theories on how they died. Many of them are still wearing the clothes they were buried in.
 
The most interesting to me was the mummy pair of a mother and her unborn child, advertised by the museum as the smallest mummy in the world.
 
Mama
Baby
In addition to the mummies, the place is full of existential quotes such as the following:
 

“Man must open himself to death if he wants to open himself to life.
The cult to life is also cult to death.
A civilization that denies death ends up denying life. “

–Octavio Paz
 

La Casa de Los Lamentos
(The House of Wailing)

 
La Casa de Los Lamentos is a cheesy House of Horrors located in a historic 18th-century mansion where serial murders occurred in the 1890s and early 1900s. The story goes that the owner, Tadeo Fulgencio Mejia, was obsessed with trying to contact his dead wife, Constanza, and committed an unknown number of murders as human sacrifices to perform rituals in an attempt to reach her. Human bones were supposedly found in the mansion’s basement.
 

 

 

 
The museum uses red and flickering lighting, slammed doors and other sound effects, a Hitchcock-style video in a picture frame, and ghostly holograms to scare the BeJesus out of the unfortunate who walk in and pay the 45 pesos admission. We stumbled upon it while exploring the Valenciana neighborhood and it was a hoot!
 
But we were the ones wailing at the end, because we came out of the museum to a colossal downpour. We had walked half a mile down the hill from Casa Estrella and had to wait out the tormenta before we could walk back. But what a diverting hour or two!

El Museo Casa del Purgatorio
(The Purgatory House Museum)

We stumbled upon El Museo Casa del Purgatorio, tucked innocuously into an alley near the Templo de San Cayetano (Saint Cayetano Church), while walking around the little village of Valenciana, down the road from our lodging. Aryk and Lexie were with us for this exploration of a museum that turned out to be about methods of torture and killing during the 18th century Spanish Inquisition in Mexico, when people were persecuted and killed for being Catholic.
 
Methods of torture we experienced through our guide included a spinning wheel into excrement (sort of an extreme sort of water boarding), the stretching table, the guillotine, and of course the gallows. The museum even featured a small cemetery with a replica of the tomb of El Pipila, the hero of the Mexican Independence movement – despite the fact that this iconic miner hero wasn’t even caught and tortured, but apparently lived to the ripe old age of 83 before dying in his hometown of San Miguel de Allende.

 

 

 

 
This museum was so gruesome that Lex had to leave and waited outside. The rest of us enjoyed it in a perverse way.
 
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt