The Mixtec and Aztec cultures of the Mexican state of Oaxaca view the world from the ground up, literally, according to South Texas College Associate Art Professor Rachael Brown, who studied the cultures’ ancient codices in the region this past summer.
“The Mixtec culture has flourished for centuries because of environmental, cultural and artistic diversity of the region. You have to look at things from the ground up,” she said.
Brown will share how these cultures have endured for centuries during a presentation titled, “The Environment, Arts, and the Economy: Interdependence and Success in Ancient and Modern Mexico,” on Thursday, March 12th at 5:30 p.m. at the Mayor Joe V. Sanchez Library’s Braught Theater (525 S. Kansas Ave.) in Weslaco. The event is sponsored by Frontera Audubon Society and the Mayor Joe V. Sanchez Memorial Library, and is free to the public. For more information, call 956-968-3275.
She was selected among 24 professors nationwide for a program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities to study the ancient codices at various sites. Sites such as churches built on top of ancient ruins, a cultural arts center with a vast ethno-botanical garden, and of course, the markets where all types of wares are sold, showed the interplay of how diverse disciplines contribute to the local economy.
“When you have environmental diversity, that feeds into cultural diversity, which then inspires artistic diversity,” Brown said.
Brown remembers visiting the market and seeing simple, yet beautiful, displays of corn for sale.
“There must have been 20 different varieties,” she said.
Brown explained that the diverse bounty of the environment produces benefits the economy, culturally and artistically, and the destruction of the environment is directly correlated with its success.
“When you lose environmental diversity, you begin to lose the cultural and artistic diversity because they are uniquely interdependent on each other,” she said.
When Brown returned from her trip, she relayed her experiences to Frontera Audubon’s Executive Director, Sarah Williams-Salazar.
“I immediately asked her to make a presentation because I think we can learn from how these ancient cultures continue to thrive, and especially how today they use these ancient, historic sites to create centers for the arts while taking inspiration from nature,” Williams-Salazar said.
“I was especially drawn to her recount of an ethno-botanical garden at the site of an old monastery-turned cultural center,” she added.
Brown says she studied in Oaxaca to bring further understanding to many of her students’ heritage and inspire their art.
“One of the reasons I was chosen for this program was for my desire to be a better instructor and use my experiences to give a context to what we cover in art classes related to their cultural backgrounds.
“When students have a better idea of who they are, the ground is more solid underneath them,” she said.
Rachael Freyman Brown has been teaching with STC’s Art Department since 1997. Her background is in an MA in Art History, certificate in Museum Education, and BA in Archeology, to which she added an MFA, 2-D concentration in 2006, and a certificate for Creative Journal Expressive Arts in 2009. She has a strong interest in guiding her students in their discovery of creative talent and practice of artistic discipline.
Frontera Audubon, the oldest environmental organization in the Rio Grande Valley, is located at 1101 S. Texas Blvd. in Weslaco. Frontera Audubon’s 15-acre nature preserve is a haven for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife that thrive among its Tamaulipan Thornscrub habitat, orchard butterfly garden, wetlands, and ponds. Frontera Audubon also houses a Visitor’s Center and the Skaggs House, a Texas Historical Landmark, built in 1927.
The mission of Frontera Audubon is to preserve and promote the natural and historical environment for the education and enjoyment of the community. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. The preserve is closed Mondays.