Dec 14, 2015


In my very Catholic family and in the convent school I attended, the nativity scenes were some of my favorite images. Those glorious golden halos around the heads of Jesus, Mary and Joseph enchanted me. They even had golden threads in some of their clothes, sometimes at the necklines and the edges of the sleeves. And the Holy Family all glowed from within, shining with a miraculous light. 

There wasn't a time in my young life that I thought about them having white skin, blue eyes or light hair. The subject never came up, and besides, a good Catholic girl in the 1950's didn't question things like that. 

As an adult, I recognized that people in the Middle East could not possibly have the "light" qualities represented in these images. Today, as thousands of people are seeking refuge from danger and terror, my meditation becomes: 

May their skin color cease to be an issue. 

May we know that we are all one people.

My we find room "at the inn" and in our hearts. 

In truth, we are all afraid of the changes that would bring....  we might actually welcome “the other.” And if we did, how would our lives have to change?  

The legacy of my ancestors feeds me in these times of mass migrations, with tales of asylum seekers who either will or will not make it to the shore of their dreams. 

pages from The History of Roberson County

“They came by varied means and were willing to suffer for a new life. The suffering endured as a result of the Russian Revolution of 1863 was the impetus for their migration to freedom.” 

In his journal, Joseph Bartula writes: 
“As a cartwright, I left my home in Pilzenski, Galacia, in 1873, and together with wife and five children, sailed for America….. In the course of the trip, I lost three sons and all the possessions I had.” 
(excerpts from A History of Robertson County, Texas, 1970) 

This capsize of an overcrowded boat in my familial imagination and cellular memory has become a classic image of our world in transition. When I saw the first reports of the Syrian refuges, I began folding paper boats.

A day of folding paper boats, during the Syrian crisis.

Boats stitched onto an old painting

Sending blessings of hope and strength to those on the journey, was as much as I could think of to do. A few days later I created a huipil, a container for their story, and for the deep emotions I had about their story that is in some way, also my story. 

 The current story is much larger than Syria itself, and I have used world maps of long ago, when all the countries were different than they are today. Everything changes, everything always has, everything always will. As wretched as these earth changes, political changes, historical changes are, I am deeply grateful to be here to witness them. 


Nov 15, 2015


The original PATHMAKER huipil, mixed media

Workshop organizer Rebecca Brooks is a passionate traveler, a deeply inspiring people gatherer, and a bubble of loving energy who I'm happy to call a friend. We met this year at the home of dear friend and former Pathmaker huipil workshop participant, Patricia Smith. 

Rebecca Brooks
Rebecca was here in San Miguel presenting an art journal workshop with Orly Avineri. As part of their own San Miguel journey, they invited me to join them for a gathering at Patricia's house, and there the story of this workshop began. We hit it off so well, it was decided that we should stir the cauldron together and whip up some magic.

 "The Way of the Huipilista" is scheduled for next March, during Semana Santa in San Miguel. She invites you to come away with her, this time to play in the fields of contemporary huipils with me as your guide and facilitator. We'll also be offering a private guided tour of my solo exhibition "HILOS" (Threads) at El Nigromante Bellas Artes.

Check out Rebecca's post here for info on

I hope you'll consider joining us. Space is limited, for San Miguel residents as well as travelers to our fabulous city, so early booking is encouraged.  

Pathmaker Antigua
Pathmaker Oaxaca

Pathmaker San Miguel

Pathmaker Oaxaca - Group shot of finished works by organizer and
 photographer Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator

Oct 30, 2015


Ni Una Mas / Not One More!

Traditionally at this time of the year, I invite friends over to help build an ofrenda, the altar for remembering departed souls during Dia de los Muertos. Building an ofrenda has been a custom for me from the days I lived in Santa Fe to now, living in San Miguel de Allende in the heart of Mexico.  These ancient traditions stir my soul and have captured my heart. This year, the altar took a different turn, and instead of a gathering, I decided to create a smaller version, and not so personal as they were in the past. 

My heart has broken open so often lately. We are living in a time of so much violence on our planet, that when I began to contemplate who I would choose to remember, the idea of it became much larger than family, friends, and community. The huipil featured above is one I made years ago. NI UNA MAS! represents the pink crosses made by the mothers of the young victims of feminicides in Ciudad Juárez. The slogan demands action, from the government, from those responsible, and from all of us, that NOT ONE MORE of their daughters be murdered. 

We are all one people, breathing the same air and living on our Mother Earth. May we all learn to live and let live. May we all hold peace in our hearts. May we remember to dance while we're still here, and celebrate those who have left us.

 Here's to life and death 
and everything in between. 

Sep 28, 2015


In my May 12 blog post, I had just begun working with slide transparencies, imagining the huipil shape I would copy. Well, art is a lot like life itself, sometimes it has other plans for us. 

We love that, don't we? OK, some of us don't. But I actually do. I love it when a piece continues to speak to me until it's complete, and this one spoke volumes. Out loud. Every day.
That interests me because huipiles are known as the "garments that speak." The connection between text and textile is one of the most appealing aspects of this art form  so I can't pretend to be surprised when they tell me what they want to be and the direction in which they wish to go. 

The theme of this work is no longer Acceptance/Rejection, but Transparency. It's a large issue these days, i.e.. truth /impunity/ corruption in politics, in religion, you name it. We're living in a time in which nothing can be hidden, at least not for very long. If you wish to check out the original post, please do so now, before moving on. 

So, to follow along the circuitous path to completion, we'll start here, where we left off:

Slides drilled in each corner, for tying.

I began by drilling holes in the corners  of the slides, 
so that everything could eventually be tied together. 

Next I painted some of them and used thick cotton threads to hold them together.

Adding acrylic paint and colored threads.

At some point, I had laid them out... enough lengths to know that the original shape was not what I wanted to use. 
Adding more colors, more colored threads, more slides, I listened to the voice within and began to see the possibilities.

At first more vertical, it looked like that would have to 

change, due to the large 
horizontal walls at the Bellas Artes, the destination for this work.

There was also something about the straightforward 
colors that no longer suited me. To the art store for gold leaf. Not able to stop there, I returned to the art store for silver leaf and copper leaf. What a gift it is to have an art store just down the street. 

TRANSPARENCY 1, slide transparencies, acrylic, thread, gold/silver/copper leaf, 72"x67"

Light coming through reflects on the wall behind.

The ultimate challenge will be 
to find the perfect distance from the wall, to see how lights can create a shadow effect of the huipil on one or both sides of it. 

These images of earlier paintings are what I consider my "then truths." This exposure of them is a metaphor for my light and my shadow, my way of reflecting back or shining through, all inextricably connected, tied together and inseparable one from the other.

Exhibition at Bellas Artes El Nigromante: February 11 - April 24, 2016! 

Aug 17, 2015


A chance collaboration ignited when Mexico City artist  Marisa Boullosa knocked at my door this summer, armed with two large plasticized exhibition banners. She had moved away from San Miguel about the time I was moving out of MARIPOSAS, a women's project I engaged in between 2009 and 2012. After first positing the idea that the seamstresses create bags out of the banners, she graciously granted me permission to recycle them as I see fit. My first inclination, not surprisingly, was to create a huipil from them. 

Let me say that I'm a longtime fan of Marisa's work, as she tackles issues of migration, border issues, women's rights and human rights, imbuing them with truth, beauty, justice and compassion. This led to my second inclination: to collaborate with her on this material she had gifted me with. One banner was a detail of her work as seen in her 2014 exhibition, Frontera en Memoriam, at the Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato. The other was a smaller image alongside a lengthy exhibition statement by Blanca Gonzáles Rosas.

Having met and spoken with so many Central American migrants working their way north, I had already been contemplating a huipil to speak about their journey. Many of these young people jump off the train, La Bestia, as it passes through San Miguel. Here they find a tourist town full of compassionate and helpful people, but also corrupt police who take their meager possessions, threatening to turn them in to immigration officials. Their tales of danger and desperation, losing along the way all traces of their lives, melt my heart and sometimes threaten to dissolve my belief in humankind.

Marisa's regalo that day provided the impetus and the materials I would need to artistically speak about this crisis.  After many emails back and forth, what emerged is an open huipil with poem in Spanish, created from the exhibition statement, as one would do with refrigerator poetry magnets. 

LAS TRAZAS, huipil by Lena Bartula, 2015

Visually assembling words and phrases before cutting them out, then checking translations, grammar and punctuation online with Marisa led me to the question of how to apply them to the huipil. In her own work, red thread in a zig-zag stitch is both a symbolic gesture and a prominent feature that I chose to incorporate here.

Then I needed something for the center, where a traditional huipil would be folded and fitted over the head of the wearer like these traditional huipils:

Taking a word from the statement-turned-poem, I went shopping for scapulars, escapularios, at the religious items stand in front of the Oratorio church. 

For Catholic migrants, this important talisman holds the promise that the wearer will escape the flames of hell if he or she dies with it on. It's part of nearly every traveler's necessities, whether crossing las fronteras or walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I chose to use a variety, creating the collar of the huipil.

Neckline of scapulars in Lena Bartula's huipil LAS TRAZAS

"Traces of a life in transit
materialize in photographs, crucifixes, clothing, 
documents, sweaty scapulars,
feet lacerated by the roads, 
like wounded footprints..."

" is a place deported from 
everyday life, where ephemeral witnesses remain.
Barbed borders the constant reality
a disturbing presence." 

- excerpts from "La Traza" by Lena Bartula, written in Spanish from statement for "La Frontera en Memoriam," an exhibition by Marisa Boullosa.

Jul 20, 2015


This morning as I was working on enlarging BEHIND THE LABEL, the huipil homage for the garment workers whose lives were lost in the collapse of Rana Plaza, I was just doing my normal thing. Stitching while sending love, blessings, hope to the women in India, Bangladesh, Colombia, Mexico, China, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, and on and on. It's an "art as meditation" practice I developed many years ago, and continue to this day.

But today as I tuned in to them, I recognized not only empathy, compassion, connection, but also a renewed gratitude for my own life. In all these countries, women are sitting at sewing machines today, making the clothes we wear. They are not sewing in the way I am sewing, i.e. making art of their design, in their joy, from their hearts; they are in desperate situations, most often slave labor conditions. In this moment, I know they don't quit to go make an espresso when they want one, to go to the bathroom when they need to, to check their emails and Facebook when they get tired of sewing. 

Then I looked up at Judith, the woman who helps keep my house clean so that I can dedicate more time to my art. I told her how much I appreciate her, for doing my work / the work that I could be doing. She literally burst out laughing, but when the conversation turned to the awesomeness of having her here to help me, we both ended up teary-eyed. 

We always seem to be working side by side when Judith is here, yet for so many reasons, my work is not like her work. She does make a decent wage, she gets paid for 4 hours even when she only works 2. She gets perks like pay when she wants to go watch her kids in a parade instead of come to work here. She can come and go as she likes, with a key to my house rather than a barred door. She will not have to jump from a high window if a fire breaks out, and in fact, I'm confident that if a fire did break out, she would find me and make sure we both get out.

Today I find myself comparing her life with mine, then comparing it with the women in the garment industry. And I know there is no way to compare. So I return to sending them all love, blessings and hope, Judith included. May everyone be happy, may they be well, may they be protected,  may they be free from misery. And may all of us stand for fair labor laws, justice in the workplace, and equal pay. Have an excellent day!

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Jun 17, 2015


I thought about One Day at a Time for the title of this post, but it's so overused. At this point, it's been almost 6 months since my 365 Huipils Project was born, a commitment I made for the year 2015. Right here and now I will confess to you that I don't actually get around to making one each day, but I do plan to have 365 by December 31. This commitment was  inconceivable, to me at first. Never have I been very successful at goals like this, I usually like to see what life brings me, I live very organically, and go into the studio each day without real or rigid expectations. But now look at me, who would have guessed I would actually develop discipline? 

I did hang some of the Jan-Mar huipils - until I ran out of wall space.

What changed? On a whim, I signed up for Lisa Sonora's 30-day Journal Project in 2014. I knew I would be traveling for those weeks, and thought it might be fun to keep a record of time and space in a new journal. I've been making art journals and art books for years now, and I thought it would be interesting to try out Lisa's methods. 

It proved more difficult than I thought, because at first it was great fun and super challenging, but the more I moved around by bus, car or airplane, the less I was tempted to get my book out and work on it. I did get to Day 21, which I think would be called "my personal best." That said, I will tell you that Lisa's daily prompts, quotes and encouragement took me to places I might have never ventured, and the work that came from them was courageous, bold, and different from my norm.

The next step was to take Lisa's idea and challenge myself to another daily practice. Because my current art form is contemporary huipils, I decided to create a small one each day for a full year. I know, right? Big commitment! If you are unfamiliar with "huipils" you can look at other posts on this blog, or at my Facebook page, La Huipilista to get an idea.

So, almost 6 months since New Years Day, I actually have one for every day. The first two below are made from one of the pages of my 30-day Journal Project ... re-visioned, re-purposed, re-mixed. I think Lisa would approve. 

A page from the 30-day journal combined with a remembrance of los 43.

Another page from the journal, I love the quote by W.H. Murray.

And here are a few others, jumping around in media from found objects to travel ephemera to whatever I find in my stash of treasures. THANK YOU, Lisa Sonora, for you inspirational gift, and if I need a kick in the pants to finish the next 6 months, I'll be calling you. 

Postcard from Nepal visit in 2010, embellished with
prayer flag, a prayer for the earthquake survivors.

A daily huipil can be a journal as well, recording those
feelings as I feel them. This day was a tough one. 


       Want to be inspired? Join Lisa for the 30-day Journal Project, right here: 

Embellished page from a trashed book, on
a page from an old journal.

A Valentine huipil, Fall In Love With Something Everyday!

May 12, 2015


If you are an artist, curator, gallerist or in some way you worked in the art world before the electronic age, you probably recognize these: SLIDES. Or perhaps you called them transparencies. They were the format used by artists to submit our work to those whose decision it would be to accept our work, or reject it. 

Lena Bartula's slides from 1993-1999

They were clearly better than looking at photographs, even though they had to be viewed through a loop, or on a slide box. Digital cameras had yet to become the norm, iPhones were but a gleam in Apple's eye. We actually photographed the art, took the slide roll to be developed, came back to the studio and labeled the slides, according to the criteria of a particular curator, exhibition, competition, etc. Once labeled, they were sent out in the mail... yes, the mail, as in, postal service.
Wading through the bulk of them  churned up all kinds of memories, and also realizations. I remember that once they were sent, I would be on pins and needles, waiting to hear if I, ie. my work, was accepted or rejected. It was always personal back then, and I didn't share my trepidation with many people. It was another hidden emotion I carried. 

The realization was my current satisfaction with myself, my art, and all that I have achieved and experienced in my life. Even if I don't feel it 100% of the time, it's something I strive for.

So naturally, a huipil is in the works, one that will speak about all these beautiful metaphors:
Acceptance, Rejection, Transparency, Submission, and because the slides are tied together,  it will also represent the Threads that bind us together, because I believe we all have issues surrounding at least some of the themes.

Huipil from Aguacatán, Guatemala, satin, applique, metallic ribbon

Above is the huipil I am inspired to create, although mine will be quite a bit larger than life-size. I have a start on some of the colors, which will be a bit different. Right now, it's all about drilling the holes, tying the strips, painting the slides..... the tedious part of a potentially fabulous piece! It will be on exhibition at Bellas Artes, El Nigromante, here in San Miguel beginning February 4, 2016.

Apr 9, 2015


In February, I received an email from Trish Snyder, a well-known and well-loved feminist, activist, and a voice for women's rights and social justice. An advocate and friend of the midwives program here in San Miguel, she is committed to helping them help women to give birth in a non-violent, respectful way. Along with a group of Mexican and expat women, birthed this new idea in San Miguel - Ser Mujer, about what it is to be a woman. 

She had been speaking with Georgeanne Johnson, another San Miguel activist who for many years has stood strong for women's rights, the environment and our food supply. They had in mind a month-long celebration for March, the month of the woman, which encompasses International Women's Day, March 8. Knowing that I had plans to be out of town the entire month, I still wanted to participate, to celebrate and commemorate this important event. Trish mentioned that there might be a mojiganga, San Miguel's name for a giant puppet, to be created by Julie Zipp. 

That's when I offered my Rainbow Goddess huipil, in case there was an interest in dressing the giant woman in something special. Because, well, Rainbow Goddess is so giant herself, that she needs a venue like this in order to do  justice. So she went to work! 

She adorned the beautiful puppet which ended up having two faces, like the two faces of San Miguel.... one side a Mexican woman and the other side, a foreigner with blond hair. She became part of the Ser Mujer programming, occupying the jardin space in front of the Parroquia for a gathering/dance/tribute.

I love it when my huipils can speak, perform, teach and yes, even dance, taking on a persona that can spread the love! If you'd like to spread the love too, please consider donating to the midwives program. They're students from Mexico, Guatemala and Panama, and when they graduate in July, they'll go off for a year of "servicio social" delivering babies in all parts of Mexico as their final year of becoming  professional midwives. Trish is raising money for their living expenses, and can really use our help. Please be in touch with her at if you have lots of love to share with these gifted young women. 

Spreading the love, from me to you and out into the world.