Summer Solstice Celebration for Litha

As the wheel of time turns again we found ourselves at Summer Solstice. Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way. On this date, Jun 21 this year, the sun reaches its zenith in the sky.

It is the longest day of the year, and the point at which the sun seems just to hang there without moving (“solstice” is from the Latin word solstitium, which means “sun stands still”). The travels of the sun were marked and recorded by almost every civilisation.

Lots of folks joined us for an evening of celebration in Barb’s fabulous back yard. We made a communal altar celebrating Litha, the Solar goddess, created painted and collaged solar symbols to toss in the fire pit, enjoyed video projections and music celebrating fire and water, sipped beverages and nibbled tasty goodies.

Thanks to Ty who set up the sound and projection system in Barb’s back yard, I was able to screen my videos Fire Ceremony II: Metamorphosis and Fragile.

Litha celebrates abundance, fertility, virility, the beauty and bounty of Nature. Early societies celebrated Litha with Fire rituals. In the Aegean islands on the night before the Summer Solstice, hoops were set ablaze, and the villagers would guide the Sun’s return by jumping though rings of fire. Early European traditions celebrated this time of year by setting large wheels on fire and then rolling them down a hill into a body of water. Early Saxons in Britain marked Midsummer with huge bonfires that celebrated the power of the sun over darkness.

Our three-tiered altar was installed in Barb’s garden and dressed in red, topped with a ceramic head of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and craft. Each participant brought offerings to adorn the altar, including incense, candles, sheaves of grain, and other symbolic elements. Ty, Barb, and I planted red flags in the garden and swathed the altar in a Balinese sarong. Around the yard Barb added floating and stationary candles to bird baths and garden ornaments. A large orange sun pinata graced her gigantic magnolia tree. After a feast of tasty food, Randal entertained the assembled crowd with folk songs from his repertoire of guitar favourites.

As the sun grew low in the sky we painted and decorated solar offerings and later, when the sky was dark, and Venus, Jupiter, and Moon hung bright in the night time sky, we formed a procession, made wishes for the coming year, and offered them up to the Litha fire pit.

Midsummer Symbolism:

Symbols: Circles and discs are the most basic sun symbols; fire to celebrate the power of the sun, sun wheels, god eyes, mother goddess, ripening fruits, sun dials, feathers, and swords, blades. Goddesses Aphrodite, Astarte, Freya, Hathor, Ishtar, Venus and other Goddesses who preside over love, passion and beauty. Other Litha deities include Athena, Artemis, Dana, Kali, Isis, Juno, Apollo, Dagda, Gwydion, Helios, Llew, Oak Holly King, Lugh, Ra, Sol, Zeus, Prometheus, Ares, Mother Earth, Father Sun, the fey, fairy folk and Thor.

Tools: drums, rattles, bonfire, mirrors for reflecting the sun or bonfire, Earth circles of stone energy.

Colors: white, red, maize yellow or golden yellow, oranges, fiery reds and golds, green, blue and tan.

Stones: all green gemstones, especially emerald and jade. Tiger’s eye, lapis lazuli, ruby, diamonds, amethyst, malachite, golden topaz, opal, quartz crystal, azurite-malachite, lapis lazuli.

Animals: Robins, wrens, all Summer birds, horses and cattle. Mythical creatures include satyrs, faeries, firebirds, dragons, thunderbirds and manticores.

Herbs: chamomile, cinquefoil, elder, fennel, hemp, larkspur, lavender, male fern, mugwort, pine, roses, Saint John’s Wort, honesty, wild thyme, wisteria, oak, mistletoe, frankincense, lemon, sandalwood, heliotrope, copal, saffron, galangal, laurel, ylangylang, Basil, Betony, Dogwood, Oak, Rue, vervain, trefoil and verbena.

Incense: frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, lemon, pine, jasmine, rose, lotus, or wysteria.

Foods: fresh vegetables of all kinds and fresh fruits such as lemons and oranges, pumpernickel bread as well as Summer squash and any yellow or orange colored foods. Flaming foods are also appropriate, barbecued anything, (barbecues represent the bonfires….) but especially chicken or pork. Midsummer is also the time for making mead, since honey is now plentiful. Traditional drinks are ale, mead, sweet wines, fresh fruit juice of any kind and herb teas.

Element: fire

See more photos here.

Passenger Pigeons at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, UBC

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Currently, I am working on a new project involving species loss. For part of it, I wanted to photograph a Passenger Pigeon, the one hundredth anniversary of whose extinction was mourned in 2014. I discovered that the Beaty Biodiversity Museum had two of the beasts in their collection and the curator of birds, Ildiko Szabo, kindly allowed me to come and photograph them, as well as some of the other related species and creatures in the “bone room” and lab. Interestingly, I learned that scientists in the US are right now working on bringing the passenger pigeon back to life by “de-extinctioning” it. I’m not sure if I have that terminology right, but apparently they will be taking the DNA of the pigeon and by some magical process creating pigeon sperm and eggs and implanting these into chickens. The eggs thereby produced will not be chicken eggs, but Passenger Pigeon eggs. Fascinating but not without ethical issues … I am not sure how far along in this reclamation process those individuals are.

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The Passenger Pigeon is the brown-breasted bird in the bottom left corner of the image above.

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The second Passenger Pigeon is contained in a glass case within the Victorian Curiosity Cabinet display in the Museum itself, along with many other tetrapod specimens. “Wunderkammern, or cabinets of curiosities, arose in mid-sixteenth-century Europe as repositories for all manner of wondrous and exotic objects. In essence these collections—combining specimens, diagrams, and illustrations from many disciplines; marking the intersection of science and superstition; and drawing on natural, manmade, and artificial worlds—can be seen as the precursors to museums” (MOMA).

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Ildiko removed a tray of pigeons from their enclosure in one of the Museum’s cabinets, which she carried out to the hall underneath the gigantic whale so I could photograph them in better light. These were the Passenger Pigeon’s closest living relatives, brownish banded pigeons from the Transval in Africa and the larger wild pigeons we see everywhere around us today; I also photographed their bones and eggs. In addition, I photographed two specimens which looked plucked and semi-skeletal, preserved such that they demonstrate the way the birds’ feathers grow.

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While in the bone room I took many photographs of the Passenger Pigeon from many angles, as well as closeups of its head. I was also able to access the drawers of similar bird species, including a very large white Rock Pigeon. I find it fascinating to compare the sizes and colours of these related birds, some of which are very small and others quite large, the latter used by poultry aficionados for pigeon pie.

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In the bone room was also several other specimens of tetrapods (four legged species), including a Canadian Bison with a tiny squirrel beneath its stomach,

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some large-horned goat-like creatures (they were not labelled), and a fantastic group of colourful birds, including several beautiful pheasants from the collection of Plato Mamo.

I was invited to take a look at the lab, a “wet room” where specimens are prepared in various ways. I saw a number of aquaria containing recently-obtained bones and skulls, upon which beetles are crawling and feasting. These bugs do the work of cleaning the bones very efficiently (although Ildiko did mention that they initially turned their collective noses up at a crocodile head).

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Many thanks to Ildiko Szabo and the Museum for allowing me access!

See more information about the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

Read about my earlier visit to the Museum here.

 

 

Painters at Painter’s, Campbell River

Every year art aficionados gather at Painters Lodge in Campbell River on Vancouver Island to rub shoulders with local artists. This year, the 21st year of the Painters at Painter’s art extravaganza, saw yours truly and seven of the Turkish Ten converge on Campbell River for this event.

The Lodge is very nice, situated on several waterfront acres facing Quadra Island, with gorgeous gardens (and flowers blooming several weeks ahead of schedule – global climate change, anyone?) and several buildings worth of rooms. Another nice feature is the pool, a real sun trap on what turned out to be a fabulous hot summery weekend.

Lidia was kind enough to invite us over for drinks and nibblies to her waterfront room on Friday night and we convened at Kathy’s home on the hill overlooking the ocean on Saturday night. While the art work on display at Painter’s was mostly not of interest to me, I did appreciate the skill evidenced and some of the technical info dispensed at the various workshops.

The weekend consisted of presentations, demonstrations, and panel discussions by painters, mostly local and mostly associated with the Federation of Canadian Artists, held in several different venues around the grounds. First up, in the big tent on the tennis courts, was “Face to Face”.

Four artists demonstrated their varying approaches to portrait painting, with fellow artist Rick McDiarmid the willing model and Andy Wooldridge the MC. Kiff Holland opted for pastel, while David Goatley & Catherine Moffat used oil paints and Alan Wylie acrylic. The tent was very well set up, with two large screens on either side of the stage displaying close-ups of the paintings as they progressed.

It was very interesting to see how each artist began the project. It was obvious watching David that here was a man who does this for a living. He very quickly drew out and blocked in the bust of his subject, using swift and sure brush strokes.

Catherine was more tentative and worked from the outside of the face in with light, grey strokes.

Kiff’s pastel portrait began with what looked to be a not very promising sketch of the model’s features but soon resolved into something finely realised. From my vantage point it was not possible to see much of what Alan was doing.

Master of ceremonies Andy Wooldridge was both amusing and informative as he commented on the proceedings and answered questions from the audience. In fact, the commentary seemed to me like that heard while watching a snooker championship or a poker game.

That this event continues to get such a large audience every year is testament to the abilities of these folks to engage onlookers in their process.

Up next was Country Mouse, City Mouse, an account of the careers and studios of Nanaimo artists Grant Leier and Nixie Barton, whose work I do enjoy.

Nixie works in encaustic, executing semi-abstract images of flowers and patterns. Grant’s work is unabashedly decorative, highly detailed and colourful; his intent is to give pleasure and that obviously works for the many people who buy his paintings.

Ten of us convened for the famous brunch in the main building and consumed quantities of seafood, roast lamb, salad, roasted veggies, and a vast array of sweets – fabulous.

The afternoon saw several of us poolside, baking in the heat and dipping in the water, after checking out a few minutes of Keith Hiscock’s still life demo and before a panel discussion with six of the artists moderated by Nicholas Pearce.

Since I have heard, and participated in, these sorts of discussions about art more times than I can count, their conclusions didn’t particularly grip me. However, the rest of the audience seemed to appreciate what these artists had to say and gave them a warm round of applause. It must be very satisfying for these folks to have such an enthusiastic following of art lovers.

On Sunday morning three of us took the water taxi across to the April Point resort and had a stroll around the grounds, with a nice view of the islands and mountains of the coast, before another fabulous feast, after which we rolled back down the highway and onto the ferry.

In the waters around April Point orange sea urchins are very plentiful, but very few starfish, only a couple of ten-armed orange seastars clinging to the rocks.

See more photos here  Painters at Painter’s.

Walking, rolling and owling in Stanley Park

“APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain …”

Invoking the memory of TS Eliot, our April was a mix of torrential rain and glorious sunny blue-skyed cotton-cloudy days, all the better to stroll with Brubin along the seawall,

or skate with Barb and Christine.

Ty and I spent a sunny Saturday riding our bikes through the Flats Arts District, so-called, on the former Finning Tractors industrial lands between Great Northern Way and Terminal. The Capture Photography Festival is still on for the next weeks and we caught the last day of Colin Smith’s show at the Winsor,

I loved these camera obscura works in which the artist made the interior of his Boler trailer into a gigantic pinhole camera, recording  the external landscape projected upside down onto the walls of the trailer and rightside up through the windows. I also enjoyed the infrared images in the west gallery of Los Angeles’ canals (example below) by Jason Gowans.

and the photo shows at Monte Clark and the Equinox.

Our first Friday night roll of the season was a windy evening around the seawall, enjoying the bright yellow sulfur piles against the deep blue of the North Shore mountains.

This week is Bird Week in Vancouver and we took in the Night Owl Prowl sponsored by the Stanley Park Ecological Society.

After waiting for a bit at the Lost Lagoon Nature house, and intuiting that the event would not be taking place there, given the dearth of people, we hoofed it up past the Rose Garden to Pipeline Road, lost in space with a number of others who were looking for the owl venue.

We finally found it twenty minutes late upstairs at the Stanley Park Pavilion, where we joined about 70 others for an illustrated talk on the owls of the Park and a night walk down to Beaver Lake to try and locate some of the birds.

The bird specialist described the technique for the scientific study of owls currently being conducted: first one transcribes the weather, using a scale of 1 to 5, then the noise level, using the same scale. Then, one fires up the owl recordings and blasts the sound of virtual owls out into the forest, hoping to get an answering call and/or a visit from said bird.

On alternate evenings one calls in only the big birds, then only the small ones, since the small owls are prey for the big ones and one would not want to see a pygmy owl devoured by a barred owl.

This evening all 70 of us stood quietly in the dark and listened as the recorded call of a barred owl was wafted over the forest three times – no reply and no sign of any barred owls. Then we walked to a different part of the forest for one last kick at the owl-calling can. We waited while a birder held the recorder aloft and projected the call of a screech owl into the trees – amazingly, we received a call back.

A screech owl is alive and presumably well in Stanley Park! The bird experts were ecstatic because this was the first time since 2011 that a screech owl had been heard in these parts and only the third time in 20 years. Yippee!

See more photos here.

Turkey Art Adventure Sept 27 to Oct 10, 2015

I am really excited to have been asked to lead a small group tour to Turkey this Fall with Finisterra Travel. See the itinerary here.

See my blog posts here for my 2014 painting trip to Turkey here.

Read about my month as artist in residence at the Babayan Art House, Ibrahimpasa, Turkey in March 2009 on the blog here.

Read about my month as artist in residence at the Gumusluk Academy on the Bodrum peninsula in Turkey for May 2009 here.

Some of my favourite things …

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A few of my favourite Puerto Vallarta sights: colourful balloons on street food stands, this one on Insurgentes at Basillio Badillo,

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the bougainvillea bushes on Olas Altas and Basillio Badillo, day and night,

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the gorgeous, gigantic trees in Lazaro Cardenas Park,

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skulls and skeletons,

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street art,

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Art VallArta, the fantastic art studio run by the fabulous Nathalie Herling in which I created these two masks, with the great help of Mexican maestro Froylan Hernandez, worn below by Patricia Gawle and Nathalie. In the foreground you can see some of the works made by Patricia, a ceramic artist who has a studio and gallery in the old town on Basillio Badillo.

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I hope to add more colour to El Diablo at home, perhaps a brilliant red and some shiny green for the teeth.

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Amazingly, these pieces made it home intact. Ty did a wonderful job of packing them in styrofoam and several layers of bubble wrap. Below are pictures of the vessels that Froylan created.

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The red tagine is not completed yet; Froylan is going to add highlights in darker colours with probably a couple more layers of glaze.

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Moroccan Cooking in Mexico

Ty and I joined Nathalie and eight other food lovers to create a wonderful Moroccan dinner, led by clay-cooking Maestra Nathalie, in the kitchen high in the sky above the Art Vallarta studio. Photo below by Debbie Berlin.

Here’s the description from Nathalie’s website:

Food is Art when prepared with heart and soul. We will explore every aspect of la comida international. Down to the vessel it is prepared in, selection of ingredients, how the sauce is stirred and the moments of presentation & enjoyment.

Cooking Classes and Events will be held in an handcrafted Mexican tile ART Kitchen in the Romantic Zone. Puerto Vallarta on the 8th Floor of the San Franciscan complex over looking the fabulous Bay of Vallarta. 213 Calle Pilitas, Emiliano Zapata, half a block off Olas Altas in the heart of the Romantic Zone.

Holy Mole Moroccan Cooking Class – The Menu:

Pomegranate Mint Cocktail

Moroccan Meatballs with dipping sauce

Chicken Almond Bastilla


Dried salted tomatoes, olives, preserved lemons and vegetable fish Tagine

Traditional Vegetable Tagine with Lamb Merguez Sausage and Ras El Hanout spice

Preserved Lemons and Pomegranate Molasses

Rose water and spices steamed couscous grain

Traditional Yogurt Cake, orange blossom ice cream with fruits (Photo below by Debbie Berlin)

Wine, Mint Tea and Coffee

Each of us contributed to making the dinner, from slicing the tomatoes, to grilling the meatballs and chicken, to preparing the fillo pastry, to slicing the fish and preparing the shrimp, to grinding the spices with mortar and pestle.

While we worked the multi-talented Froylan Hernandez serenaded us on his guitar.

All the dishes were cooked on the gas stove-top in clay vessels, including a beautiful tagine made by Froylan, topped with a delightful little ceramic blowfish.

After everything was prepared and cooked, we sat down to dinner on Nathalie’s delightful terrace overlooking Banderas Bay to enjoy the fruits of our labours – fantastic!

See more here.

For more info about Art Vallarta click here.

More Art Walkin’

Artists Austin Young and David Burns from Los Angeles are in PV to work on a collaborative art project entitled Fallen Fruit. The project is designed for people to reimagine their communities as “fruitful places”: “to collectively re-imagine the function of public participation and urban space, and to explore the meaning of community through creating and sharing new and abundant resources. Fruit Trees! Share your fruit! Change the world!”, as their write-up describes it.

We participated, along with dozens of others, in helping to create a Fruit Magazine in one night in the garden of the Oficina de Proyectos Culturales; it is entitled “¡Estás Como Mango!” and features collage images of fruit-inspired art and original texts and images about fruit and the history of Puerto Vallarta. Contributors were asked to bring photographs, stories, poems, drawings, recipes, and other visual material that connects with the subject of fruit in Vallarta.

When we arrived, several white tables and chairs were set up and people were already in the throes of creation to the inspirational sound of jazz music. Each table was decorated with a centrepiece of fruit and art supplies, including piles of magazines and advertisements to be used as collage material.

Ty enthusiastically jumped in to create a “fruit taxi” from the material provided, while my piece featured female figures, many with fruit heads. Fun! For more information on this project, click here. For information about the OPC Cultural Centre, click here.

After completing our offering, we visited some of the Art Walk galleries that we had not made it to last time, including the Mata Ortiz Ceramic Gallery (incredibly delicate and detailed small vessels)

and the Loft Galeria,

as well as a majolica shop selling many multi-coloured and costly ceramic vessels.

Our walk home to us back along the Malecon, where we saw a pirate ship floating on the bay, several sellers of spray can paintings, many crepe vendors, and the colourful lights of the boardwalk bars and restaurants.

Back in the ‘hood, and feeling a hankering for grilled shrimp, we wound our way through the streets to El Brujo, a restaurant well-reviewed on Trip Advisor, to sample some seafood.

The grilled shrimp was tasty, the octopus, not so much.

See more pics here and here.

Ceramics and other Fun in the Sun

While I wait for El Diablo to be dry enough to fire and glaze, I am working on a new creation.  This piece began life as an alien with three eyeballs and five tentacles, inspired by the octopus piece Froylan is helping Andy build.

First El Maestro threw a pot on the wheel which then became the rock on which the octopus sits. Then he and Andy crafted a hollow head for the beast and eight curling tentacles which I greatly admired.

I decided that my alien, too, would have curling tentacles; however, I didn’t have the skill to create as beautiful ones as those on the octopus.

The first two smaller tentacles I adhered in place of eyebrows, while three others were attached below the nose. These ended up looked like moustache whiskers. A further larger couple I initially intended to attach below the mouth but, upon further thought, I decided against it.

After asking me whether my creation was a predator or a vegetarian – vegetarian – Froylan had an idea for the mouth, based on a trumpet fish he’d seen while diving. He crafted me a very nice small mouthpiece on the wheel; subsequently, we decided that one of the smaller tentacles would be best placed coming out of the mouth for feeding purposes.

As I continued to work on the piece, it mutated from an alien into the Vegetarian Sea Santa you see here. The shape of the mask suggested a beard, so I carved wiggly lines into the clay to indicate wavy hair.

Scales were cut into the cheeks and algae into the area around the forehead; if I had time, I’d probably have made the algae hair more three dimensional by attaching separate fronds and leaves. Given that there’s not much time left to complete the piece, that will have to wait for another opportunity.

The other night Ty and I made our way down to the Sea Monkey beach bar to watch the pelicans swim and wait for the sunset.

While there we enjoyed watching a pair of golden long-haired dachshunds play on the sand, running and digging holes.

Other than that, we have drunk cups of coffee at various outdoor cafes – Caffe del Mar, also an art gallery containing the ceramic work of Rodo Padillo and the paintings of Angie McIntosh –  is a good one,

as is A Page in the Sun, a combo bookstore and coffee shop,

played a few games of pool at the Crowbar in our neighbourhood, run by a woman from Chilliwack,

had a few lunches at Mi Cafe, a fantastic spot around the corner from us,

and spent Sunday evening at a potluck film fest put on by Nathalie at Art VallARTa, watching Birdman and Gone Girl, while sampling some spicy chili, pasta salad (made by me from scratch), pizza, and lots of baked goodies – fun!

I really love the colourful streets here, with fabrics of many colours and stripes, beautiful flowers, and vibrantly painted cement buildings.

See more here and here.

Centro Art Walking

Here I am wearing the approved art opening outfit, on the foot bridge over the Rio Cuale on the way to Angeline Kyba’s art studio opening in Gringo Gultch. Her place is the last house on the street that runs right along the river and has a commanding view out over the town and mountains south of it.

There are many beautiful houses, and especially beautiful bougainvilleas, in this part of the world.

The studio is accessed up a fairly long, steep set of stairs to the top floor. Below is a photo of the artist.

After spending a bit of time inhaling the ambience, we headed back down the road to Centro for the Wednesday night Art Walk in the area past the main Cathedral.

I really love photographing the Cathedral, but its odd location makes it difficult. Unlike other cities here, in which the main Cathedrals are situated in expansive plazas, PV’s is off on a side street in a position that hides it from being seen in its totality.

We passed an interesting looking restaurant/ bar on the way and so stopped in for a glass of vino on the balcony. Florio’s is its name and it also has a lovely little brightly-decorated patio in the back.

Our first stop, just around the corner, is a new artists collective gallery operated by a woman from Vancouver, Nina I think is her name. I really like the painted wood free-standing devils and masks from Oaxaca made of wood and boar’s bristles. Fabulous! Now that I am a ceramicist (ha!) (not), I can really appreciate the skill that it takes to make these pieces.

Galeria Corsica, billed as containing “museum quality fine art”, was next on the route. This place, on several levels, occupies the former house of a famous old-time Puerto Vallarta artist.

It has a lovely sculpture courtyard, which looked beautiful in the light of the early evening.

Kitty-corner to the Corsica is the Galeria des Artistes (at least I think that’s the name), which had an interesting juxtaposition of abstract steel sculpture and semi-surrealist painting.

Ty always manages to find a good place to sit while indulging me in my art fetish.

One of the galleries that I find most interesting is the Galerie Omar Alonso; it often has good installation and contemporary sculpture.

This night they were setting up the work of Ireri Topete, the printmaking maestra I met last year. She runs the studio on Isla Cuale. Her beautiful mixed media works on paper deal with the environment and the sea and sky scapes of Puerto Vallarta.

Galerie Whitlow features the work of Michael Whitlow, a realist painter of still lifes.

Calle Aldama was partially blocked off for a piano recital by local teenagers, presided over by the ubiquitous skeletons found around here.

The Pacifico was one of the more crowded spaces, possibly because the drinks and nibblies are more lavish here than in some places.

This puppy dog, exhausted from a strenuous art day, could barely move to acknowledge visitors.

See more here. More information about the art walk can be found here.