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Messages on alternatives to slash and burn cultivation will be photosilkscreened and kiln-fired on eco-sustainable household items.




The project is a grassroots endeavor that melds art with climate change messaging to the indigenous of Yajalón, Chiapas, México. It will be the initiator of the Mission Teaching Foundation’s Yashalúm Ceramics Studio (YCS) at their prep school facilities there. The program will use the art of ceramic photosilkscreen in the fabrication of eco-sustainable household objects such as fire-wood reduction stoves, potable water filter pots, ecosan toilets, compost containers, or any other earthen-based object that can be fired and embellished with artistic glaze. Small trading-card type tile pieces will be made in the thousands to put across alternative cultivations ideas. They will pass from hand-to-hand, with comments reinforcing opinions and thoughts.

The fundamental idea is to catch the attention of the people by artistically embellishing common items with art. The Yajalón municipal area is a classic tropical cloud forest with some of the world’s highest flora/fauna diversity. This diversity is being challenged by the increased semi-annual slash and burn of corn plots, and the consequent deforestation. It has been accelerated by the failure of the coffee crop due to coffee rust by the Hemileia vastatrix fungus. With the area’s 25,000 Tzeltal and Chol, our task is to communicate ideas of alternative crop harvesting and the use of eco-sustainable household items. Outreach systems of information from pamphlets to audio-visual Q & A have not worked on the marginally educated indigenous population. We would use art as the messenger.

The concept of communicating ideas through art is not new. From Madison Avenue to the great Mexican muralists and the US Works Progress Administration, what is artistically unique engages the population and focuses their attention on ideas. Indeed, the English ceramicist Josiah Wedgwood distributed abolitionist tile cameos in the thousands leading up to the successful 1808 anti-slavery parliamentary initiative. That is our aim.  

What actions do you propose?

In informing the people on sustainable ecological practices, there is a basic problem of communication. There are very good ideas in sustainable alternatives to corn plots (milpa) slash and burn, and sustainable household techniques. There are outreach systems of information with the indigenous population from pamphlets to audio-visual Q & A. The Chiapas government’s Educar con Responsabilidad Ambiental (ERA) ecological education program is farreaching as far as it can reach. But the area’s 25,000 Tzeltal and Chol Maya have little access to this system. Pamphlets are disposable and rely on literacy; audio-visual Q & A are expensive and ephemeral: and the ERA program does not go home and stay with the 60 or so villages.

As artists and environmental engineers, we are interested in communicating new eco-sustainable ideas. For a people steeped in tradition, this can be a problem. How do you present alternative plant cultivations few people have seen; methods of cooking that their parents and grand-parents never knew; UDDT ecosan toilets; or worm composting. Ironically, the Aztecs had a waste disposal and fertilizing system, low-wood cooking, and composting in their hydroponic chinampas.

With the MTF Yachalum Ceramics Studio, we will be using traditionally majolica and new photosilkscreen glaze techniques to create a message. It’s the basic Madison Avenue dictum that a picture is worth a thousand words and that a unique possession is a valued possession. That’s how we will carry our eco-sustainable message. What the students will create in the future, how they will react to knowledge of their own history, and how they will meet the future within the threat of global warming, that is what our program is about.

The 250 Tzeltal and Chol young men and women of the YAC prep school will be the immediate beneficiaries. The practical record keeping, tracking, interviewing, digital still and video recording, and the on-the-job-training (OJT) associated with the design, fabrication, delivery, and installation of an artistic ceramic product, will benefit everyone. The long run outcome will be that the 25,000 indigenous of Yajalón will be better informed, and better supplied with uniquely artistic eco-sustainable household items. Over time, the students will measure the usage per the unique cultures of their 60 villages. These can vary even within the two groups, with variations of color and form distinct in the dress and housing design. These will be resourced for our ceramic glaze designs. Distribution of the thousands of hand-size tiles or cameos, their design and message, destinations, and reaction from the people will be tracked. At the same time, the distinct household objects will be noted as to destination and reaction, with digital photo records of each. We will have the students interview on a quarterly basis a representative group from each village and area. This survey will serve to map the efficacy of the program on an ongoing basis during the five year period.

The psychology of this is as old as coinage and as recent as Madison Avenue. Indeed, Josiah Wedgewood, the British ceramicist know for his fine China, made thousand of small ceramic cameos for the cause of slave emancipation that eventually led to the British Empire’s abolition laws of 1809. Similarly, trading cards started with neighborhood and then city sport clubs in New York and London. The cards are still going strong and there is the phenomenon of the cell phone as a unique personal item that incidentally you can communicate with. This is the simple base for our messaging “cameos”.

As an idea for serving the people and their environment, it started simply in 1974 when Loren Riebe, a priest from Los Angeles, volunteered for a mission in Chiapas, Mexico. He served for 21 years as pastor of the parish in Yajalón. In 1990 he formed the Mission Teaching Foundation in the US to offer college prep scholarships to Mayan youth. From that, the idea for the MTF Yachalum Ceramics Studio evolved from artist Roberto Delgado and Dr. Hugo Alejandro Guillén’s longstanding belief that melding art and art education with eco-sustainable ideas can become a vital synergy.  

As far as our directorial relationship, Roberto Delgado’s accomplishments in new ceramic photosilkscreen techniques in public art coincide with Dr. Hugo Guillén’s distinguished accomplishments in ecological engineering. We have known each other since 1977 when Delgado first arrived from UCLA to paint murals in the parish hall and the facade of the Church of Santiago Apóstal. Guillén went on to his Ph.D in ecological engineering at the University of Florida, Gaineville. Our careers have come full circle back to Chiapas and the project. From the Everglades 20/20 Project during his doctoral days at the University of Florida, to his current ecological endeavors with the sustainable ecology NGO PRODESI-CECODES (, Dr. Guillén has focused his energies on saving the disappearing biodiversity of Chiapas.

As far as our roles and responsibilities, Roberto Delgado is the professional artist with 46 years of experience in public art and will handle the design and fabrication OJT. Dr. Hugo Guillén is distinguished professor of ecological engineering at UNACH and will oversee result tracking, statistical data, and records. Both will work together to identify the eco-sustainable household items, the designs and messages, the distribution target communities, and the tracking system.

Below are photos of Yajalón's current slash & burn problem and some of our work in ceramic tile.

Who will take these actions?

The project will use art as a communicator of ideas. It will be the initiator of the Yashalum de Santiago Apóstal AC (YAC and the Mission Teaching Foundation’s (MTF Yashalúm Ceramics (YCS). This will be a Studio Program at their prep school facilities in Yajalón. The MTF is a US 501(c)(3). The YCS will be under the direction of artist Roberto L. Delgado ( and The schools are under the direction of Yashalúm de Santiago Apóstal AC, a Mexican non-profit affiliate of MTF. The overall coordination will be under Dr. Hugo Alejandro Guillén and the University of Chiapas (UNACH) Center for Ecotecnologies and Sustainable Development (CECODES Dr. Guillén is UNACH professor of ecological engineering and the Center’s director.

Yashalum de Santiago Apóstal A.C. has a staff of 23 and administers from Yajalón the coeducational prep schools. President of YAC is Carlos Cruz Encino; Secretary is Jorge Jímenez Castañeda; Teasuror is Marcelino Cruz Gómez. Contact: Tel: 01.919.674.0442/045.919.136.4174

The Mission Teaching Foundation is administered from the US by Fr. Gary Riebe-Estrella, S.V.D., Director; Lawrence D. Triesch, CFO; Tyra Kennedy, Financial Director; Mrs. Virginia T. Nelson, Secretary; Loretta Mondragon, Webmaster; Contact: info@missionteachingfoundation Tel: 310.398.3964.

UNACH CECODES is administered in Tuxtla Gutíerrez by Dr. Hugo Alejandro Guillén and the UNACH Department of Engineering staff. Contact: Tel: 9611773304

Roberto Delgado is the professional artist with 46 years of experience in public art and will handle the design and fabrication OJT. Contact: and Tel: 323.273.3059

Where will these actions be taken?

Yajalón is located in the highland area of central Chiapas, México. It is in a cul-de-sac reached through a side road midway between the capital of Tuxtla Gutíerrez and the Mayan ruins of Palenque. The towns of Bachajón, Chilón, Yajalón, Petalcingo, and Tila continue from the side road. Future plans call for a continuation road from Tila to Villahermosa, Tabasco. There are plans for a modern highway from Palenque to San Crístobal de Las Casa near Tuxtla Gutíerrez. Although one of the poorest areas of rural México, it is also one of the fastest growing urban areas, with Tuxtla and Palenque experiencing record growth. Water and energy are plentiful and foreign investment from Europe and China is increasing. The indigenous population however, continues to be marginalized.

How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?

As is the case where art intersects social action, objective measurements are difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. As indicators of world-wide climate change, these towns and villages are on the cutting edge. They define a rural population that is found throughout the world, and the project would be part of the metric for agro-forestry information and dissemination in tropical montane regions. We feel that our project will not only have an impact on Mexico’s ecological efforts, but will be a world-wide model for innovative approaches to GCC mitigation and new cost-effective delivery practices for ideas that address GHG mitigation efforts. 

What are other key benefits?

We feel that as a program based on ideas, gender barriers are of primary importance. When 50% of the population is not used as a resource for opinionating and analysis, there is a problem. The milpa is tilled by both sexes; why shouldn’t alternative crops that save the trees be voiced by the woman. If they know that a Kenyan study by the World Agroforestry Centre ( with a similar agricultural region to Chiapas, found a number of crops that could be options to the slash and burn corn milpa, why shouldn’t they voice it? Indeed might they not mention organic bananas, cassava, coconut, rust resistant coffee, vanilla, beans, finger millet, rice, tea, Triticum wheat, sweet and Irish potatoes, yams, rhubarb, and sugar cane for the lower altitudes. Adobe Photoshop is a basic tool of design; why shouldn’t it be part of the knowledge of Tzeltal and Chol women? These will be the unavoidable cross-cutting side effects of our program.

What are the proposal’s costs?

We see no negative effects in introducing ceramic art to the population.

Whether it has reached the objective of process and utilization, will be a follow-through with tracking by the YAC/MTF prep students under the guidance of Dr. Guillén’s CECODES and its graduate program. All will be paid prevailing wage and the information that we will impart will be per the UN Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

Time line

First order of action is to equip the Yashalúm Ceramics Studio (YCS) with a 27” Apply iMac and the latest Adobe Photoshop for design purposes. Next would be a kiln 7 basic furniture for fabrication. These are basic requirements. The prep school infrastructure is in place as far as utilities and studio space. The YCS will function as the general art program for the school with an emphasis on the design, fabrication, and installation of ceramic on the current built environment. With the advent of public art interest in México, we see the program as being self sustaining within a few years. 

Related proposals

We could not see any link.


The Kenyan study by the World Agroforestry Centre (