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thoughts from spainJust over a week ago I was on a plane to Madrid. So much has happened since then it seems it was longer ago, but travel has a wonderful way of concentrating experiences and stretching the sense of time. I am sharing this trip with my dear friend Janice Mason Steeves, and after meeting up at the airport, we got our jet-lagged selves onto a train to León, a city not far from our ultimate destination, Castrillo de los Polvazares, in the northern part of the country. León was a perfect place to rest up and enjoy our introduction to the culture of the region, which for us involved a lot of great food and wine, wandering all over the historic part of the city, attempting small interactions in Spanish, visiting the Saturday market, and soaking up the beauty of the old buildings. As planned, we got our rental car on Saturday at noon, and made our way to Castrillo.
market in León
Here at Flores del Camino, our home until the end of the month, we've set up our studios and are getting to know our gracious hosts, Bertrand and Basia. They established this retreat center to serve pilgrims walking the Camino several years ago, and manage the nearby village albuerge, or pilgrim accommodation, as well. Bertrand and Basia also make stained glass and hold retreats on subjects such as Sacred Geometry and Rose Windows. They are extremely knowledgeable about the area and generous in the sharing of their insights into its history and culture. Along with their two little boys, they have provided us a warm welcome, and have taken us on a few short trips into the countryside. The village itself is very beautiful, with stone buildings dating to the 16th century (the location goes back further, but the original town was destroyed in a flood.) Everything is built of similar iron-rich quartzite, creating a unity of color that glows in the sun, accented by weathered doors in shades of blue, green, and gray.
The ancient pilgrimage route across northern Spain known as the Camino de Santiago runs nearby, and many people on its path take the side trip into Castrillo. A few mights ago we had dinner with three of them, from Québec, Paris, and Germany. They talked about why they chose to walk the 500-mile Camino and what they are learning along the way. Later we shared a ritual bonfire into which we dropped personal messages.
What is clear in this place is the power of the Camino, its long and sacred history, and the passion of those who walk it-- whether for specific religious or spiritual purposes or for their own inner desires. Many people seem to walk the Camino at a time of transition in their lives and the long, rigorous journey often brings clarity and a sense of possibility for moving forward. In this amazing setting, we've been working for several days now. A few days ago Basia brought us some lovely red dirt she had collected nearby as well as a small amount of ground verdigris from corroded copper. She uses both in her own work, mixed with gum arabic as a binder. Since then we have also collected and ground stone into pigment and filled jars with the colorful soil of the area, and have found that clear gesso also works well to mix and spread these natural pigments.
making natural pigment from stone
Here is one of my works on paper using natural pigments:
We are looking forward to the time ahead, to more adventures and lots more painting--and to the arrival of our students next Friday.
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