Sign for Nopalry

Sign for Nopalry

Palm mat tube incubates impregnated cochinilla

Edgar Jahir Trujillo describes process of raising and harvesting cochinilla insects

Edgar Jahir Trujillo describes process of raising and harvesting cochinilla insects


Edgar experiments with cochinilla color variations

Edgar experiments with cochinilla color variations

It was a pleasant surprise to me that a visit to del Río Dueῆas nopalry had been added to our tour group’s itinerary at the last minute, as the book I’d bought along to read during the trip was ABOUT the natural dye that was originally only grown in the valley of Oaxaca MX, and is the reason for the existence of this nopal cacti plantation. The book, A Perfect Red, by Amy Butler Greenfield, Harper Perennial, 2006, was recommended to me by paper marbling and calligraphy artist, Anne Wood, when she heard we were about to visit Oaxaca. It gives a wide perspective of the global importance of the red dye developed from a cacti parasite in Mexico, which first came to the attention of the Spanish conquistadors. At one time cochineal granules were as valuable as gold or silver for trade amongst countries. When synthetic dyes were finally invented, the competition was too great for the cochineal market to survive, so this special nopalry exists now as a way to bring back some of the important history of Oaxaca, and also to provide local crafts people with organic and natural materials to work with. They are certified organic growers in the state of Oaxaca, MX. A cochineal museum was the beginning of our tour, followed by the green house, and then the artist studio, where artist interns experiment with the dye in their artworks. Our guide through the nopalry was artist and architect, Edgar Jahir Trujillo, and he sold his painting of a mosquito to a member of our group. A technique he used involved dried nopal paddles, dipped in the red dye, to print texture on the mosquito wings. What follows is a narrative I wrote up from some notes taken during the nopalry tour, and later tour notes about a weaving workshop and a handmade paper co-op, both which use and appreciate cochinilla dye.

The cacti variety grown at the nopalry has no needles, and only paddles from the highest quality plants are used in the special greenhouse where cochineal is nurtured. There the parasitic insects are protected from too much sun and micro predators are controlled as well as possible, and the cacti are protected from breezes that might blow the tiny insects away. The fertilized eggs of the female insect take 90 days to mature, then the insects on the nopal paddle is carefully moved with a fine bristled brush into a bowl (about 3 grams of insects per paddle) where the ones that are best for further breeding are separated from the rest that get used for dye. The ones to breed are the fat females, separated out by a sieve and put into a little woven palm mat tube. Both ends of the tube are blocked with netting to protect the cochineal from predators like spiders, then the tube nest is hung on a fresh nopal paddle which is control dated with an innoculation date. This date tells workers when the 3 month hatchling development period is up, but also when to empty the females from the nest. After the females are in the nest for 15 days, they are emptied out, dried up, and used for dye. The old emptied nopal paddle is fed to animals or composted. There is a small orifice in the mat tube where baby bugs come out and populate the nopal paddle like the parasites that they are. Each female insect builds a white webbing around itself on the cacti, which also helps protect it, and it doesn’t move around. (An aside: Indian mythology about the protective white webbing was that “The Cloud people surrounded blood from the gods with white fuzz.”) The males are tiny white flies that only have a 3 to 5 day life span. The male’s probiscus breaks off after coming out of the mother so it can’t eat, and it must mate with a female within its 3 to 5 day life span. It can fertilize more than one female before it dies. The female insects that were in the palm mat tube for a couple weeks, plus others that were separated out from the brushed off paddles (and not used for breeding), are killed by setting them out to dehydrate in the sun, or heated by other means.

The cominic acid in the insect protects it from viruses, but is also the important element used in the dye. 140,000 of the dried insects equal one kilo of chocineal. 30% of the chocineal powder is pure coloring agent (pure pigment) that will last forever, and will not react to the PH of different surfaces. If you squish a cochinilla insect in your palm, the dye reacts with elements in the skin… turning the color of blood. To get the carminic acid from the powder, water plus alum are added to make a liquid, the liquid is boiled, then it is put through filters.

Some of the chemical additives to achieve variations in color are: Citric acid from lime for less scarlet and more pink or bicarbonate of soda for mauve (dark purple). The artist interns working at this farm are encouraged to experiment with the cochineal granules/powder in their art works. A few products are sold in a small gift shop, like lipstick, dyed T-shirts, and books about the history of cochineal. Note: Ignacio del Río Duῆas is author of Grana Fina Cochinilla, pub. State of Oaxaca. He is one of the main shakers and movers to revive the chocinilla industry in Oaxaca. However, until the nopalry gets more investors they can’t create huge batches of product. An investor would provide money for the advertising/merchandizing efforts needed to move products quickly, but right now the product dye is only sold to local artists and craftspeople. Edgar pointed out to us that artificial dyes can be health hazards, though I’ve also read that there are also individuals who have bad allergic reactions to cochinilla. Another side note: Cochineal is too organic for tattoo inks.

Our group was graciously welcomed into the workshop of Isaac Vásquez Garcia & his son, Jeronimo, who are Zapotec weavers from the weaving town of Teotitlán del Valle. They spin and dye their own wool and many family members work on looms weaving beautiful rugs that sell well to the tourists in their shop which is called “The Bug in the Rug”. When dying wool yarn red using cochinilla (the bug!), alum and acacia fruits and freshly squeezed limes & their juices are added to fix, darken, and intensify the deep red. They also use Tehuantepec indigo, dyes derived from lichens, the acacia tree, and other natural sources. We saw examples of all these natural materials and the dyes made from them as demonstrated by Mr. Vásquez Garcia. My book, A Perfect Red, especially mentions Isaac Vásquez Garcia as having “helped to breathe new life into Oaxaca’s age-old textile arts, allowing them to pass to a new generation.” And…”when the craft of natural dyeing had almost vanished from Oaxaca, a few artisans like Isaac Vásquez… sought to revive the old techniques. Coloring wool with cochineal…”

We also visited a paper making co-op with a separate workshop for silkscreen printing, a gallery, and a gift shop. El Taller Arte Papel Oaxaca was begun in 1998 in San Agustín, Etla, Oaxaca. Francisco Benjamín López Toledo is a famous Mexican artist who helped establish this paper making co-op and he commissions their paper to use in his art practice. He got them a grant to create paper from only renewable sources and materials. It took 8 years of learning and organizing to establish the co-op. Today, artists come from China, Finland, Arab countries, and Japan to give paper workshops. They grow and use natural fibers from the Kapok tree (the green variety, as the black kapok tree is more rare) which is also known as the sacred Seiba tree (Tree of Life). Also used are the natural fibers of Chichicastle, agave, Majahua, white cotton, cotton Coyuche, and lion’s paw.


Fibers used for papermaking (Photo credit: John M. Bennett)

The fibers are boiled first with bicarbonate of soda. A big machine – Hollander beaters – is used to further break down the fiber pulp. Lots of water is used for soaking the fibers and water also helps with the swishing of the pulp when it is screened. The used water is filtered and strained and treated so it’s fit to consume and arrives in Oaxaca City via tank transport. Another part of their goal to leave a low footprint is met by not using catalyzer agents and using only natural fibers. The pulp screening involves a technique of swishing the liquid from side to side and then up and down in order to cross stitch the fibers, thereby evening out and strengthening the paper. This workshop has their own watermark embedded in the screen which leaves its mark in either base or high relief; Its design is a heart with a swimmer approaching. After swishing in the boxed screen, they press the water out with big sheets of felt (using synthetic/industrial felt as its easier to peel off, doesn’t decompose as fast, and it gets reused). Then the pressed pulp is turned out onto a big zinc tin-sheet to dry. The tin-sheets are cut from recycled materials like construction siding. In this step you can press decorative indentations into it, add decorative leaves or shiny mica bits. We also saw molded paper hanging to dry which were portraits of historical Zapotec or Mixtec leaders we’d seen at one of the archeological sites we’d already visited.

Tree bark might decompose in water for 5 years before its ready to use, so this paper is pricey. Today’s cost is 300 or 400 pesos for a 2’x3′ sheet of handmade paper, though the strength of the US dollar made it very affordable for us to buy, so I brought back a rolled up indigo blue sheet in my suitcase. There is a kind of Japanese seed that is made into gel that uses less fiber and makes a thinner, yet very strong paper. They can’t get it directly from Japan because of customs limits but a seller in Santa Anna, California, makes it available to them in powder form. That lighter weight paper is the kind I bought from their shop. Other items in their shop included paper kites and blank paper journals with screened prints, many of the designs made by Francisco Toledo, and also jewelry made from rolled paper beads. You can see photos of the paper making process and some of the gift shop items at:

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Remnants from one of my Fluxfest Chicago event scores (Fluxfest Chicago is an annual event organized by Keith Buchholz)- rearranged in various compositions on one of the glass block lights in the floor of the Rotunda Room at the Chicago Cultural Center, Friday May 27, 2016.

The original performance score happened in a gallery on Staten Island NY many years ago. I wore a fabric belt – same material as my shirt – took it off and swirled it into a spiral on the floor – then cut it up with grid-like cross cuts and offered the pieces to the audience. This was during NYC Fluxfest (2011), organized by Keith Buchholz, with additional Staten Island events organized by Mary Campbell and Viv Dey Dada.

At the Chicago Cultural Center event, I wore a long black scarf with gold metallic dots on it around my waste over a black T-shirt. Again, I swirled the material into a spiral then cut it up, but this time I wanted to incorporate the glass block floor light instead of sharing with the audience. I made one arrangement and called it the end of the event, and then a break was called. While everyone else went to an adjoining room, I took the opportunity to rearrange pieces into various compositions, documenting with a photo each time.

19MailArtMinneDaDa84 2016Tom Cassidy will be sending out documentation to all the mailart pARTicipants, but in the meantime, I can show you the photos I took on Day One of MinneDaDa1984 at Eat My Words Bookstore. Click on an image to view large. Ryosuke Cohen, of the famous 30+ year old BRAIN CELL project, was in attendance at MinneDaDa84!! I even got to sit for a bust version portrait by Ryosuke on Day Two of MinneDada84 at The Black Forrest Inn banquet room. A full body portrait of Ryosuke and a notebook of Tom Cassidy’s collected Brain Cells was displayed during an interview of Ryosuke on Day Three at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA). More of my MinneDada84 photos are at: MY FACEBOOK PHOTO ALBUM or at MY FLICKR MINNEDADA84 ALBUM, though these don’t represent but a fraction of all the performance events, films, and PEOPLE of the event.


Image  —  Posted: April 20, 2016 in artistamps, collage, drawing, mailart, Mailart Call, travel, Uncategorized
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The Peeps Photo Project book: published 2016
by Jack Lattemann (aka Cascadia Artpost of Olympia, Washington USA) with his co-editor, Colin Scholl (presently living in a California correctional facility, with future plans to live in Washington state). Both are part of the international mailart network.

Wow! Talk about project documentation! This blog entry is my tribute to both of these guys for going above and beyond what I’ve come to expect from participating in a mailart project…. and as a book object, it is truly a labor of love. The day I received it in the mail I almost immediately started reading it to find out how every else had photo-documented their peeps with their own creative take, often letting the miniature PEEPS share in their own life circumstances, and I could not put it down until I’d perused most of it.

Of course, right from the beginning (January 2015) quite a bit of thought and care was taken by Colin and Jack to formulate the PEEPS project: Jack first solicited participants among 30 of his mailart contacts (27 followed through to completion), and he painted hundreds of miniature 1:87 scale plastic people that came in a variety of races, ages, and social classes, etc. He made up 30 packets with 15 to 25 peeps, a toy vehicle, and a little bench or other prop. Jack and Colin created 30 beautiful mailart themed boxes (sized like a cigar box) in which to mail the project elements to us. Examples of complete street scenes in an urban setting were constructed by Colin with little peeps on the set, going about the miniature life as usual, and photographed to give us all inspiration. We were given full reign of how we, ourselves, might choose to pose our peeps; and to construct whatever environment we might conceive, with a September 2015 deadline to submit photos of our scenarios.

Three seasons passed before the September deadline, after which we were to wait for a handmade book documentation of the project. What a surprise it was to me that Jack Lattemann had taken a few classes with aspirations to become a book binder! The long awaited book turned out to be hard bound in gold fabric covered boards (burgundy fabric on the spine), astutely edited (Jack consulted with Colin via mail on editorial decisions), designed and laid out, with fine paper and type choices, full color photographs, etc. all of which makes it a treasure to hold and to have on my book shelf. Using archival quality materials and lots of toner cartridges for the copier, he exceeded $1,000.00 in personal expenses (and didn’t ask us to contribute anything for our book!) So now, Jack Lattemann is truely an experienced book binder after spending over three months on the process: cutting fabric, covers, hinges, and endpapers; hand sewing nine signatures together for each of 35 hand numbered books of the original printing; gluing the block and endpapers onto the cover; and finally placing this block lettered title on each book with a fine sparkling green glitter – “THE PEEPS PHOTO PROJECT”, subtitled, “LIVING THE MINIATURE LIFE”.
The book’s introduction details many of the project details I’ve already mentioned above, and is signed by both editors, Jack Lattemann and Colin Scholl. The book was larger than they both first expected it would be, and perhaps that was why they omitted photo scenarios from their own staging of PEEPS. The editors generously include six chapters by Jennifer Weigel as she had kept a diary about her peeps characters and adventures, submitted as dated entries between January and October 2015. The editorial decision to break up this diary as six chapters interspersed amongst the rest adds a sense of continuity between everyone else’s individual visions, as various peeps story lines string us along until the end, when a kind of collaboration happens between Colin Scholl and Jennifer Weigel.

A special addendum chapter was added after the books had already been bound, due to an unplanned life event with a participant from Lviv, Ukraine. Jack told me he’s considering a small revised edition (a dozen or more) that will incorporate the Lubomyr Tymkiv addendum and a new afterword. He did not receive Lubomyr’s emailed photos until late February, 2016, after Lubomyr had finished almost a year of military service. The peeps traveled with Lubomyr to the front, and were captured in photographs posing with tanks, military tents, machine guns, and the natural elements in the countryside. He included a photo of himself leaning on a camouflaged anti-aircraft weapon. The contrast of the miniature life with the surreality of war, along with Colin Scholl’s sobering account of life in prison, adds a whole other level of substance to The PPP.

International list of mailart pARTicipants:

ARGENTINA: Samuel Montalvetti, CANADA: Reg Cộté, Adrienne Mason, Stewart Charlebois, Mailarta, Carolyn Oord (Kerosene), GERMANY: Eberhard Janke, Jörg Seifert and Jorn Michael, Patrizia (TIC TAC), GREECE: Katerina Nikoltsou, HUNGARY: Torma Cauli, LUXEMBOURG: Fraenz Frisch, UKRAINE: Lubomyr Tymkiv, UNITED KINGDOM: Mail Art Martha, Andrea McNeill, and the U.S.A.: PJM, Gina di Grazia, buZ blurr, Bethany Lee, Jennifer Weigel (including one collaboration with Jonathan Stangroom), Kenneth Brown, Carol Stetser, Sally Wassink, C. Mehrl Bennett, Tallie Jones, Jennifer Utter, John Held Jr., and last but not least, Colin Scholl and Jack Lattemann.


MTS CMB artistamps 2nd Edition

Sometime in 2014 or 2015, Matthew Stolte of Madison, Wisconsin, created a TRASHPO collage and mailed it to me as mailart. [More of Matthew’s work, which also includes paint and stencils, or found objects coated with paint and used as stamps, can be seen at his blog by clicking HERE.] Matthew often advocates in his artwork for less plundering of our oceans and less water pollution, and this message comes through in many parts of his TRASHPO piece and other mailart and smallpress leaflets/books which he publishes.

After a long period had passed, this trashpoem resurfaced and caught my attention as something ripe for collaboration. I wanted to focus in on smaller areas, and dividing the sheet into a grid seemed the way to go, which meant to me that it was good material for an artistamp sheet.

This is actually a SECOND (revised) EDITION, date stamped today by hand on each stamp, and it is a LTD Edition because I only had FIVE perforated sheets to put through my inkjet printer. (Side note: I spray my inkjet printed sheets with UV protection.)

The FIRST edition was fifteen artistamp sheets and did NOT include the rubber stamped words I added to each image — only two of those sheets had the hand stamped words/phrases. Matthew may have made copies of the one I sent him that had my rubber stamped words/phrases, but those copies were not perforated sheets.

Reformatting each stamp enabled my rubber stamped word/phrase to fit within the block and a few visual composition details were added along the way, also MTB CMB are noted on each individual stamp. A third and larger edition may be in the offing later this year when I have more perforated sheets. Darlene Altschul (a California mailartist around my age) has been perforating a ream of A4 sized blank artistamp sheets for me for awhile now, as time permits, mailing them to me in small batches at a time. Physical perforations vs. graphic perforations are kind of a luxury, but they really add class, plus I’ve figured out a system for the printing my square format stamps on these A4 size sheets sheets.

The above posted scan is a low resolution image of the entire sheet, and unfortunately has a pink/gray color cast. In an effort to show you more detail, here is a slideshow of the individual stamps. There are 24 different artistamps and the slideshow gives more detail at larger than actual size against the actual white background. They feel like mini-abstract paintings to me, though the different forms of text (scribbling, found text from advertisements, rubber stamped words) add a poetic dimension.

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Mailartist, Lynn Britton Radford, and I have exchanged bubble pack mailart this week.


Mailart bubble pack from Lynn Radford March 2016Mailart from Lynn Radford March 2016

You can read more about this special piece at Lynn’s wordpress blog:


Below is an image of the “Trash Bubble” I created as mailart sent to Lynn earlier this week, which she will most likely receive by Monday.  It is so cool that the trash bubble mail I sent Lynn and this piece both feature prominently a RED SHINY THINGY… plus love that she used a red TWIST’EM to top of the assembly in her packet. On another note: the plastic red crystal in the TICK ICK trash bubble was given to me by Jennifer Weigel… she used them in a menstruation art installation piece in Xenia OH, where five of us met up to do flux performances last year.



Fluxfest Chicago 2016 will be happening around and on Memorial Day weekend at the end of May. What sort of performance scores would one might experience there?  Well, here is a good definition I found today via a Facebook post that referenced this wordpress site:

fluxus street theater.jpg

Photo and Maciunas quote below are from the INTRODUCTION post at

“Art-amusement must be simple, amusing, unpretentious, concerned with insignificances, require no skill or countless rehearsals, have no commodity or institutional value.” George Maciunas, Fluxus Manifesto (1965).

Here is a link to download a publication of fluxus scores that came mostly from participants at the 2014 Chicago Fluxfest – kindly assembled, edited, and produced by Mary Campbell, with some contributions from the art community that gathers annually at this event.

For more information on Fluxfest Chicago as it becomes available, look for the Fluxfest Chicago page on Facebook.