Cusco Peru Residency and Visions/ Visiones Exhibit

All posts are in chronological order, so please scroll down for the most recent.

Day 1 
December 18th

Donna Dodson, Nora Valdez and I flew from Boston to Atlanta, then on to Lima Peru where Dona and I spend the night, hiked about the airport, then continued over the mountains to Cusco Peru the next morning.

We are traveling to Cusco to make work for the next 4 weeks. In February 2014 members of the Boston Sculptors Gallery together with a group of Peruvian artists will present Visions/Visiónes, in Cusco, Peru, in the Qorikancha Museum, Santo Domingo Convent. This Peruvian Convent and Museum are built on the foundation of one of the most important Inca temple sites near Machu Picchu. This show will be curated by Argentinian artist and Boston Sculptors Gallery member Nora Valdez.  

 Several of the Peruvian artists reference mythology from the Andean Culture (Cultura Andina) as well as cosmic symbols and mysticism in their work. The stylistic approaches of the Boston artists range from references to classical mythologies to abstract and conceptual sculpture.  Together we will create an installation that echoes the historic architecture of the site.  Much of the art will be created by hand, a tradition that the Boston artists celebrate and share with the Peruvian artists.
The present culture that has been built upon the foundations of the past, including the tourist culture, is a mix of local and international customs. We look forward to learning more about Cusco and Peruvian culture as a result of the research we will conduct to create work for this exhibition. The stone craftsmanship and elaborate metallurgy are awe inspiring, and the natural fibers and dyes are legendary. These techniques and materials will be inspiring to explore. We look forward to exploring Cusco’s historic and contemporary cultures, exhibiting at the museum, and sharing experiences with  our Peruvian artist colleagues.  

This magnificent site which embodies Cusco’s unique Incan-Spanish culture is an ideal space for a contemporary art exhibit of American and Peruvian artists. Cusco and nearby Machu Picchu conjure up images of a fascinating and complex history that we understand is very much alive in present day Cusco. Many of our artists hope to visit your city and the sacred sites on the Inca trail that form one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Since we are all visual artists, our impressions will be translated into visual images and objects that we would like to send to this group show or create on site while living in the country prior to the show. 
Art is always good far from home! Our Lima Peru Hotel room had a fun hand painted pseudo-Lichtenstein.
 We are staying in a quaint guest house in the old city, just a block from so many sights.

The Plaza des Armes has a fun  light show. Last night we went to the MUSEO Convento de Santo Domingo QORIKANCHA (hereafter the Qorikancha Museum) to see the lay of the land. The evening service was just concluding and the place was amazing! It was as lovely as any of the great churches we saw in Italy. 
We stumbled upon an interesting gathering in an upstairs room. A service or performance was happening with several leaders who played flutes, blew conch shell horns, chanted and sang. It was a passionate service presented by some indigenous leaders and here contemporary cohorts. It was hard to follow in Spanish, but the reverberating horns, drums and flute, chanting and singing, the apparent variety of ages, classes and ethnicity all made for an enchanted introduction to this unique sacred space where we will be showing our work in February.

Day 2
December 19,

I woke up with an uncomfortable elevation headache, but coffee, Tylenol and hearty breakfast cleared all.  We visited the Art School where we expect to be making art soon, went to the market for food and then returned to the house to make a great lunch of cheese, tomatoes, avocados, on a fine slice of Peruvain bread, topped with a sauce of fresh cilantro, garlic in soy, vinegar and olive oil.

The art school!

Market mangoes to die for! 30 cents. We bought one... now we go back for a kilo!

 The evening markets were wild! We met a few new friends. Dinner was a fine night on the Plaza des Armes. We enjoyed an excellent crayfish dinner.
 We are staying in the dolphin room, color scheme orange! Small but bright and comfortable and a nice kitchen where we have been making most our meals.
 Donna came with Condora, her walnut carving, inspired by the Andean Condor, that she carved for the Milton Academy show and the exhibit here in Peru. She is lovely here on our end table.

Day 3
December 20th

We had a quiet morning , felt a lot better and retraced out evening steps about the city, hitting some of the highlights without the blast of the flashing holiday lights.
 The creche was decorated with fine craft by a renown local artist.

 The Inca warriors are well celebrated.
 Donna seems to be finding pumas everywhere!
 EVERYWHERE!                                                        And snakes.
And Condors! It was a great day of hiking about the city of Cusco. We spent a long deep visit in the Mueso de Incas. It was a bit rough, the work loosely labeled mostly in short Spanish text, but the collection was rich with some exceptional examples of ceramics, bronze tools and my favorite was a cluster of mummies ranging in size from babies to adults.
We scooted home just as the rain started.

At 6 we met up with Peru artist Jose Luis Morales Sierra. He is curating a international exhibition Transcripciones / Transcripts, which will be held in the city of Cusco in January 2014 in the Art gallery at ICPNA, Instituto Cultural Peruano Northamericain del Cusco. This organization was created to promote understanding between Peru and the U.S. through educational and cultural programs, this center puts on some of the most varied cultural offerings in the city. The art gallery presents new shows every month. This show of wall hung work will run concurrently with Visions/Visiones. Jose has invited Donna and I to participate in this show of notable South American and International artists.  We were as excited to meet with him, as he was to get to know us.

Jose, Donna and I had a great evening. We made a dinner and worked hard over Spanish/English dictionaries in an effort the get to know each other. Even google translate was only a little help and we had a great time seeking word we all knew and funding a common language of art and friendship.

We parted with the plan to hike the archeological wonders above Cusco in the morning.

Day 4 
December 21
We began our excursion with a bus ride up the mountain overlooking Cusco. Cusco has been growing up the mountain sides at a frantic pace for the past few years. It is listed in google as 350,000. Our friends say the city is at 500,000 and projections are to bust a million in five years. It is an impressive and bustling city is a growth oriented Peru. People are arriving here from all over South America because of the stable democracy and hearty economy. Farmers too are moving into the cities following work and better lifestyles.

 The roosters were patient in their canvas bags as they are transported to some holiday feast.
 We visited four sacred sites and hiked through several others that Jose knew about.

 Jose and Donna and I are becoming the best of friends as we stroll through sacred places, seeing structures that represent the riches and labor of an ancient society we can only imagine. The scale and stone work was immense.

The largest of the stones were over 60 tons. Many were hauled from over 30 km away. Natural fiber ropes, logs, soft bronze or stone tools. It all just seems like such a sacred effort. An advanced and developed society of perhaps half a million people contributed to these monuments of architectural grandeur.

As we walk past simple adobe homes we see lovely embossed Inca imagery: owls, humming birds, condor, etc. The attachment to fine home decorations that represent a 5,000 year tradition is inspiring. We are experiencing a culture that has a depth and uniqueness that we surely did not sense in our travels over Switzerland and Europe.

Day 5
December 22

Up and ready to work at the crack of dawn. Enough of being a tourist. We went to the market.
We stopped at a bookstore to see if we could find more inspiration. We visited the Pre-Columbian Museum -- simply the best collection we have seen yet in these past two years of preparing for this residency. WOW! We went to the contemporary art center and saw more fine local artists work. Finally we settled down to several hours of work:

I have been looking closely at the sacred feathers and the mummies of Peru. The owl is an Inca God of the night, a harbinger of luck, a messenger of death. The snake Uqhu Pacha, represents the lower or underworld. The mummy is a preparation for the afterlife. I am considering the act of flight from this physical present. I am mixing an alchemy of sacred media in the hope of understanding an art that can free us from the petrochemical Demise I see as so imminent.

Nora Valdez and Persi Narvaez finally arrived after a grueling 26 hour bus ride from Lima. Jose and a friend joined us for another excellent meal. Tomorrow we go to the art school and see our work space, we will meet with the Gallery Director, see the second space where the drawing show will take plac, and finally we will go see a "lumber yard" where we hope to find substantial logs for our carving adventures. Tuesday will be a jolly day of REAL work!

For further reading see Donna Dodson's response to this exceptional adventure:

Day 5
December 23

It was a VERY full day with Donna Dodson, Nora Valdez, José L. Mosie and Persi Narvaez Machicao. We saw the art school where we will be working for the next three weeks (and more...) the Museum where we will be showing our work for February and March, we bought wood to carve, and had a grand time as a team!

 We continue to see condors everywhere!
 At the ESCUELA DE BELLAS ARTES "DIEGO QUISPE TITO" DE CUSCO, the art school where we will will be working, we were greeted by the Director General Prof. Carlos Larrea Garcia.
 Then we went up the hillside to meet the sculpture studio director and see their excellent working space.
 On the street Donna and Jose engage in endless banter and fun.
 We took a stroll through the black market seeking a less expensive camera.

We arrived at the MUSEO Convento de Santo Domingo QORIKANCHA to meet with the curator of the art space, Gestura Cultural, Mabel Allain.

The museum is an archeological treasure that is visited by thousands of visitors each day. The gallery where we will be showing our work is a well lit and professional space overlooking the court yard.

We closed out our day at a row of lumber yards full to the rafters with some of the finest hardwoods in the world. We climbed into the rafters and poked through a wide selection of wood seeking the perfect pieces. Donna and I each purchased more than we perhaps should have. We are so very excited to begin carving! Once the holidays are over I expect this nightly blog post will shrink.

May the best of holiday cheer be upon you and all who love you!

Day 6
December 24

Feliz Navidad at midnight! We had a long fun day! We started at our favorite place: the market. Food choices still amaze us. The fruit is varied and a surprise. Donna is unafraid and every day we discover an odd new fruit or vegetable sensation at the market. All proportions shift: brazil nuts are so cheap, cashews so expensive.  We spent an hour or so doing internet writing. Then out to the market for a real experience with the influx of local hill families who have descended into Cusco for this huge holiday gathering.

For the evening we had a lovely gathering with artists, arts enthusiasts and dear friends at the home of curator and art historian Vera Tyuleneva.


GREAT NEWS! The Qorikoncha Museum Cusco Peru has invited the Myth Makers to do a fire sculpture! Jan 10th is looking like a likely day. Most the usual materials we need appear to be available. They seem to be willing for us to do our event in the main plaza. How very exciting! What a very exciting way to create energy and buzz around the upcoming shows! Fingers crossed. More news to follow.

Day 7
December 25

 Feliz Navidad!

We had a lovely morning of studio work (after a bit of party recovery). Midday we went for an adventure. We hit the black market stalls again and the sprawling marcado.

We made plans to meet friends and move wood early in the morning. Hopefully I'll smell dust this time tomorrow!

Day 8
December 26

Off to the gather up our wood! What a huge event. We got to the lumber yard and they had not been able to get our largest wood cut, so we went to another shop to get things cut to fit (and move!) All the loading is done by strong guys!

Then off we go, up the steep narrow streets. Lots of hard work hauling HEAVY WET EXOTIC woods to our hillside studio.

Day 9
December 27

We get a day to work in our new digs!
See a fun video of our amazing day here:


 We both made huge progress in a hard days work. LOTS AHEAD!

Day 10
December 28

A Saturday... STUCK without entry to the studios. We spent a lovely day seeing more of the city,
drawing, and an evening modern dance performance at the Qorikoncha Museum where we will be exhibiting. Amazing place, fun day.

 Drawing on mummy ideas...

Day 11
December 29

Sunday! No studio opportunities. We caught up on house work, did some drawing, then took a lovely walk above Cusco.
 Everywhere we go the symbols of myth and power are evident: corn, the serpent, the condor and the puma.
 Over looking the city after hiking out to the fringes of civil economy.
 The paired bulls, cross, flag, condor and corn can be seen protecting most homes.
 What a fine view we climbed up to. Daily hikes are making us feel so strong.
 A lovely yucca type plant.
 Everywhere we come upon unique portals. What appear to be homes along the roads often open to courtyards where many homes face into.

Ah... The rewards after our workout. The best chocolate cake (with caramel frosting layered in...) this side of my mom's house! Donna enjoyed the flaky caramel horn pastry with the brisk blast of very solid Peruvian coffee.

Day 12
December 30

Back in the studio! What a day. Donna and I carved like on fire. I am still unsure of the direction this "bird skull" is going. The woodpecker comes to mind as a bird that has a vivid story and a dramatic character. My work today ended with perforations that I was not convinced by. Donna made stunning progress getting her shapes defined. We had 12 hours straight and were worn out but happy.

Day 13
December 31

Another GREAT day in the studio.

My struggles with perforations and the exact nomenclature of my bird became clearer to me as I tossed and turned last night. No need for such specificity. The pins used to close Peruvian woven shawls are an inspiration, and the abstract forms of the skulls I have studied for years made the wood shapes come about almost on their own.
Peruvian Lliklla Shawl Tupu Pin

I cut the head hollow then added more perforations and shape to the head. PROGRESS!

The powerful Puma is emerging.

Day 14
Happy New Year

We were awake at 3:45 to take a bus to the base of Machu Picchu. We arrived at the bus station and the gates were locked. The station master and bus driver were outside the gate with us calling the station. Finally the station master climbed over the fence, the door was unlocked and the sheepish (asleep) security guard unlocked and we were on our way!

Donna and I had a great very early bus ride to Ollantayambo where we saw some fine restored buildings and stepped gardens and enjoyed a short walk in our layover before getting on the train for the run down the Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes, where we would spend the night so we were staged for a sunrise bus trip to Machu Picchu.

Since we had the entire day at Aguas Calientes, we found a local trail that sent us up a small mountain. Four hours later and many steep ladders and cliff clinging steps we found ourselves on the top of the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. It was a brutal but exciting jaunt, and a great lead up to the day ahead.

Day 15
January 2


One of the best possible days! With one of the best possible partners! (Donna Dodson)

Day 16
January 3

A good studio day! Both Donna and I made good progress. I spent most my efforts getting my perforations more precise and the inside shapes smoothed out a bit. The basic design is done... now I have a week of detailing and sanding ahead... ugh!

Donna is in a similar situation. She spent the day making the sweetest feet for her Puma Goddess. It was good and steady progress for us both. 

We had to quit a bit early, and meet with the Qorikancha Curator. It seems our fine plan for a workshop and fire sculpture have collided with the holidays and our exit date. We have a warm invitation to return any time and present a collaborative Myth Makers effort, but this year, planning and advertising were just not going to meet deadline. We were sad for the missed opportunity, but relieved to have the work days added back into our full schedule. From the museum we taxied over to the Mall and got tools, finishes and food. Back home we had a lovely dinner with good friends of Joseph Wheelwright. A great spread. Donna and I contributed roasted plantains with my mother's delicious homemade recipe for chocolate sauce. It was a huge hit!

Day 17
January 4

I was slow yesterday. Today I am hit by the fearsome bug. I am working but linger near a bathroom. Maybe it will pass swiftly...

We were at the studio at 7, but they would only let us stay until 1pm. It seemed like I was standing in place all day, but I am confident I made good progress. I got the head holes mostly done and the skull top design better balanced and more precise. It is very hard wood with a strong grain so shaping takes sharp tools and a steady hand. Too often it seems I was carving too deep on one side, going to the opposite shape to make symmetry, and then over-cutting only to come back and do it again and again... Such is the work I do. Overall good work!

Keeping with a wood pecker theme, I am very much considering red paint on parts of this piece of exciting wood!

Donna was on fire. She is such a delight to carve beside. Each day I get to observe closely the skills of a master carver. I see ideas and techniques I am sure she has discovered on her own through experience and that she puts to effective use. She is a proficient artist who does not waste a moment. Her Puma is coming about with exceptional speed and stunning grace. 

See the fun ruffles at the bottom of the dress.

Joseph Wheelwright also spent the day carving stone in the studios with us today. He is making great progress on a series of several of his signature heads, created from river stones collected from the Sacred Valley.

Joe has several done already! See what the Boston Globe is saying about Joe's idea to carve a MOUNTAIN!!

News about this residency and subsequent exhibit at the Qorikoncha Museum are sure to come fast soon! 

It is still midday. It is pouring rain at the moment. We never leave the house without our rain gear. It has rained everyday, but mostly it is lovely out. The showers come in with speed, dump a sprinkle of a delluge and leave as quickly.

Off to drawing! I'll post more if possible tonight... Pending my guts...

We cannot get into the studio on Sundays so Donna and I have a great trip planned to Pisac. This quaint town is home to one of the biggest and best crafts fairs in the area and has many exceptional archeological sites within a mile or two (and 1500- 3000 ' of climbing!) My calves feel mostly recovered. Since I cannot ski, we will hike! Not a better partner in the world to share this work/play time with.

Day 18
January 5

It was a hard night last night, a slow day today. I was not in good shape. Donna was patient. We hung around and did drawings. Donna has fallen in love with the downstairs dining room. It has great light and she cranked through a series of fun drawings.

I finally got to my drawing. It is 32 x 36" colored pencil on Japanese Mulberry paper. It was a real challenge for me -- such a large figurative piece.

Drawing on the wall in our bedroom in the guest house.           Cusco Owl Mummy
The Owl. The Serpent. Me and the mummies. My hope is that the human race will continue for eternity. We need wisdom and belief or survival is unlikely.

This drawing will be in TRANSCRIPTIONES, a show addressing the concept that drawings are both studies, (works in progress) and a language that is as old as human society. The exhibit space is exceptional - the INSTITUTO CULTURAL PERUANO NORTEAMERICANO DEL CUSCO (ICPNAC) has a small but reputable gallery. It will be really exciting to know that two February shows in Cusco Peru will be featuring my work the same time I have my solo show at Boston Sculptors Gallery! Whew!

Day 19
January 6

A LONG day of finish work in the studios. It was hard to imagine that I am doing the final shaping and sanding. It was lots of filing and hand sanding. Final decisions about details. Both Donna and I returned to the guest house late exhausted but happy.

Day 20
January 7

My Mom's Birthday!

We did another LONG HAPPY day together in the studio. Curator Vera Tyuleneva joined us for lunch, so our day was delightfully broken up. Donna added claws and made her last decisions. 

I applied color, did some surface studies and began a new piece. Based on the sacred feathers Inca rulers wore I am developing a wood feather. One story that caught my imagination was recorded in Inca lore: "When they demanded our treasures, we offered our sacred feather cloaks and our finest woven wool. They saw no value there and slaughtered our leaders for gold." I am captured by this idea of divergent cultural values.

Great progress as I move into the last days of the exceptional residency experience.

Day 21
January 8

Another long lovely day in the studio. Both Donna and I feel we have greater ambitions for work to do than our final days here allow. It has been an exceptional residency. We have had great times together, exceptional opportunities to experience this fine country, as well as some serious studio time. It was a great gift to be given such a focused work time and space.

I applied the first coat of finish on Spirit of the Forest.

Now I have a few days to consider the volume of wood we purchased in anticipation of future work. We know we will not be able to complete the pieces we had ambitions for, but with my Boston Sculptors exhibit ahead of me, if I get them roughed out and the wood reduced to transportable weights, I can do finish work in NH.

I was eager to continue my bird icon skull studies. The Owl has legendary significance here in Cusco. A myth says that Ayar Auca came to Cusco as an owl. He flew to the site of the future city and  was transformed into a rock to mark possession of the land by his lineage. I grew up with an injured but healed owl in my kitchen. Owls have been a huge presence in my life of country living. Many a night i have been awakened by the booming hoot of a Great Horned Owl, or a New England Barred Owl, or the odd squawk of the Screech Owl. This seems a great symbol to connect my identity to this place of cultural and spiritual significance.

Day 22
January 9

We raced up to the studio as usual at 7am after a quick review of emails and some quick responses to the details of our lives back home. Donna has added some great details to her work and I have finish coated my piece - just waxing remains. Midday lunch was shared with the curator of the Qorinkancha Museum. She enjoyed previewing our work and we had a free ranging discussion of art in Cusco, family traditions (she grew up in the city and was educated here at the art school), and the art world at large.

Donna continued to make daring progress on her Puma, and then applied a finish coat to seal her decisions. It is a sparking and exceptional work.

I moved on to one last chunk of wood. Inspired by an evening talk with Jose about wildlife in Peru he spoke of the endangered eagles. They are still hunted for taxidermy trophies in rich homes. The visual link between the massive Harpy Eagle and my childhood "art education" in Alaska's culture of Native American carving made the eagle my next conceptual target.

A note about our studio spaces. It has been exceptional! We walk ten minutes straight up the hill from our guest house each morning. It is a lovely wake up. The windows of the studios are high and show a grand view out over the city and the changing sky. The sculpture studio furniture is sturdy and varied. We have several different table and stool heights to choose from so I can sit, stand and arrange an entire variety of configurations to suit the task at hand.

Day 23

Our LAST day in the studio. Final coats of wax on finished work.

 Spirit of the Forest 2014 Andy Moerlein 82" tall x 12 x 16

 Puma Senorita 2014 Donna Dodson 36" tall x 9 x

Final opportunity to lighten the eagle skull so it fits into my suitcase for return to my Boston Sculptors exhibition.

I take a LOT away to make a piece. The assembled tools do much work for me, but still I spend most of every day carving so I have better control of details and can get into spaces unreachable with machines.

Finally we pack up. We say sad farewells to Donna's dear friend Sara, the shop Senorita, who so adored the Puma.

Hauling our pieces to the Museum so they are staged for the exhibition in February entailed several trips with suitcases full and then my piece traveled on my shoulder:

Such a fine conclusion to a grand adventure!

Day 24
January 11

We sleep in! (Ha - 6am!) Then enjoy blogging, chat with our colleagues. The house is filling up with more artists and tonight we have 18 guests showing up for American mac & cheese and a send off party for Donna and me. The rest of arriving artists will be coming and going up through the exhibit time and closing.


  1. Looks amazing. How's the local cuisine?

  2. what a great trip! Looks wonderful! Hola a todos Feliz Navid y feliz ano nuevo!

  3. Great to get this overview. I will join you soon. This is inspiring.

  4. great blogging!
    Looking forward to going THIS week! Yikes!