Saturday, February 24, 2018


México’s incredible tradition of Mexican folk art and handicrafts makes México a country like no other. Mexican arts and handicrafts are collectively called “artesanía” in Mexican Spanish. This term was invented during the 20th century to distinguish merchandise made by traditional methods versus those made by industrial or assembly line methods. México’s artesania tradition is a complex collection of items made with various materials and fashioned for utilitarian, decorative, and cultural celebrations including festivals and religious ceremonies.

Mexican craftsmen and craftswomen are heirs of a tradition which goes back to the Aztecs. Their pre-Hispanic skills included, but were not limited to, cutting and setting gems; making exceptional pottery; dying and weaving their own natural fabrics: and making musical instruments of exceptional quality.

After the Conquest of México by the Spanish in the 1500’s the Spanish introduced, among other things, skills and techniques which they had brought with them from Spain. Included were new materials such as wrought iron, the potter’s wheel, woolen fabric, and textiles made on the looms used in Europe at the time.

Every state in Mexico has developed its own history and customs depending on natural and cultural influences. Mexicans have a strong link with ancestral art. Traditional arts and crafts such as pottery, jewelry, woodcarving, and masks all come from their pre-Hispanic heritage.

Despite a rising tendency in industrialization, Mexican craftsmen continue to create new art and handicrafts (artesanias) often with the same tools and techniques developed hundreds of years ago. The merging of the Spanish and indigenous Mexican traditions has resulted in the wide variety of wonderful art and handicrafts that can be found only in México.

Mexican handicrafts range from common trinkets to masterful works of art and everything in between. The types of handicrafts which predominate in each region usually reflects the natural materials available locally such as woods, metals, textiles, leathers, yarns, clay, etc.

A good place to search for art and handicrafts is in the rural towns and villages where local people, known as artesanos, make their living by creating artwork. And when that is not possible, one can find an amazing selection of arts and crafts in any of the larger cities and, of course, in popular tourist destinations such as México City, Guadalajara, San Miguel de Allende, Oaxaca, and Puerto Vallarta.

The following are examples of Mexican art and handicrafts which I particularly admire:


The Wixárika (Huichol) people are amazing artists. Inspiration for their fascinating and spectacular artwork and handicrafts comes from their complex belief system and the rituals that are part of their very existence.

Their fantastic yarn “paintings” and other ceremonial objects, including masks, are covered in tiny glass beads called chaquiras. I find their creations truly outstanding. The following link will take you to one of my previous blog postings on the art and culture of the Wixárika (Huichol) people.



Pottery in Mexico dates back to the pre-Colombia era although it was not until the Europeans arrived that techniques like the potter’s wheel were introduced. Ceramics is still the most practiced handicraft in México.

Regions tend to specialize in different materials. For example, Oaxaca is famous for its black clay and Puebla for its durable and very attractive painted Talavera. Diverse and present everywhere, pottery was linked in Pre-Hispanic times to the ritual celebrations and also to the needs of the everyday life.


Clay had been used for many years to create pottery, but it wasn't until the 1950s when a woman named Doña Rosa discovered some very unusual characteristics about the brown clay located in a mine in southern Mexico. What was so unusual about the clay was that it turned different colors, including black, when fired in different ways. The above photo is of Doña Rosa at 93 years of age who spent 83 years of her life making these beautiful ceramics. With our gratitude, gracias Doña Rosa!

This pottery technique has survived in Oaxaca since the pre-Columbian Monte Albán period. Originally just different kinds of pots were made from black clay. Now you can find other objects created from black clay which are also very attractive. The black color of the ceramic pieces comes from the soil which takes about a month to be cleaned and processed before use. Everything is done by hand and a single piece can take up to 20 days to complete.


I consider the ceramic pots from the town of Mata Ortiz in the state of Chihuahua to be the "Rolls Royce" of the Mexican ceramic world. The entire town makes a living from their gorgeous pottery. Each piece is handmade with clay endemic to Mata Ortiz and then painted by hand with natural dyes from the region using paint brushes made from natural hair. Their work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and I considered it simply superb.


In the 16th century, a group of European artisans arrived in Puebla. They combined their own pottery knowledge with that of the pre-Hispanic locals and created refined earthenware that is known as Talavera. Talavera ceramics are known for their colorful baroque style of design which is highlighted by applying cobalt and tin to the pieces giving it texture. Talavera can be found as both tiles and dishware and is very popular in traditional style Mexican households.

The pottery from Puebla was called Talavera de Puebla because it was intended to rival the Spanish pottery from Talavera de la Reina, a city near Toledo, Spain. The pottery from Puebla belongs to the majolica type having an earthenware body that is covered with a white lead glaze that is then painted with colored glazes. Established in Europe by Islamic craftsmen in Spain, this technique is the same for Italian majolica, French faience, and Dutch delftware.


I consider one of the most unique handicrafts in México are the alebrijes which are handmade figures depicting fantastical animals and creatures. Each alebrije is an original and created with painstaking detail and amazing color.  Pedro Linares López was the creator of alebrijes as an art form in the early 1900’s and which he continued creating until his death in 1992. The tradition of alebrijes has been carried on in Oaxaca as his legacy by Miguel Linares, Paula García, Blanca and Elsa Linares.


The small alebrijes are hand-carved from pieces of copal wood in Oaxaca and painted in bright colors. The larger alebrijes are made by sculpting metal wires which are then covered in papier-mâché and beautifully painted in astonishing detail. Each alebrije is unique and extraordinary and definitely a collectors item.

A "flying" alebrije about to take off in the City of Oaxaca!


The use of masks and costumes was an important part of Mesoamerican cultures long before the arrival of the Spanish. Masks had various uses, but always in connection with ceremony and ritual and especially in dance and processions. Masks were also used by high priests to incarnate deities. Funeral masks were reserved for the burials of the very elite and were works of art made of jade, shell, obsidian, hematite, and other precious materials of the time.

After the Spanish Conquest, mask makers began to incorporate symbols and stories from the Catholic Church. Today masks can be found in a vast and wide range including traditional Purepecha designs, Christian images, and political caricatures. There are also pre-Hispanic masks symbolizing death and the underworld.

Masks are a reflection of the creativity and imagination of the local mask makers who have been practicing their trade in Mexico for centuries. Today masked festivals and dances are most prevalent in areas of México with large concentrations of indigenous peoples. With the arrival of the Spanish and the Christian religion this tradition, far from being lost, has been revived especially as seen in the Day of the Dead celebrations.  LINK TO DAY OF THE DEAD POST


Along with pottery, weaving is one of the oldest handcrafts in México. Although woven items can be incredibly utilitarian and practical, weaving is an art which also produces incredibly beautiful carpets and wall hangings. Today folk arts such as weaving are a living tradition in Mexico and a link to their ancestors.

Mexican weaving probably began with weaving grasses to form baskets. Weaving fabric using native fibers such as cotton, cactus, yucca, agave, and maguey was a widespread practice before the arrival of the Spanish. The indigenous people had learned to cultivate and process cotton to make cloth. They made dyes using insects, plants, minerals, shells, and animals such as the cochineal and shellfish.

The textile traditions of Oaxaca are centuries old. People settled in the Oaxaca Valley at least 6,000 years ago, cultivating maize, growing cotton, and weaving it into cloth after it was pulled and cleaned, spun and dyed. Today, all forms of textile art are found in and around Oaxaca city, her valley villages, and mountain hideaways. Traditionally, weaving especially on the backstrap loom, was considered to be women’s work.

Two types of looms are employed in the making are handcrafted fabrics, the pre-Hispanic backstrap loom and the introduced European foot pedal loom.  Indigenous Zapotecs and Mixtecs weave and embroider extraordinary cloth from wool and cotton on the fixed frame pedal loom and the backstrap loom. Teotitlan del Valle produces extraordinary hand woven wool rugs and should definitely be on your itinerary when visiting Oaxaca.

This incredible textile "portrait" was woven on a foot pedal loom which we saw in Oaxaca and which I find simply fantastic.

A Frida Kahlo woven wall hanging as seen on a recent visit to Oaxaca City, Oaxaca.


Gourds have a long history of being used for the creation of cups and other dishes especially those for the drinking of chocolate by Mesoamerican nobles of Pre-Hispanic Mexico. Gourds were also used to make storage containers and decorative items. Today lacquered gourds (jícaras from the Nahuatl language) are still popular, either as a decorative object or as an eating or drinking device.

Oaxacan folk art gourds are decoratively carved and often brightly painted or lacquered. Lacquering is one of Mexico’s oldest crafts. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, lacquering was known in all of Mesoamerica from central Mexico into Guatemala including the areas of modern Oaxaca, Veracruz, Yucatán, Chiapas, Guerrero, and Michoacán.

In parts of Oaxaca, gourds are still decoratively incised by Mixtec people. Craftspeople carve gourd bowls from the rind of the fruit of the calabash tree which grows in the coastal areas of Guerrero and Oaxaca. Gourds are left to dry and then cut in half and placed in water until the interior rots. The hard rind is then cleaned out and smoothed before being carved, polished, and sometimes painted or lacquered. Quite an honor for the lowly and common gourd!

A Huichol beaded gourd bowl.  How perfect is that!

And gourds with shells make for great music at your next fiesta.


The huipil is a kind of sleeveless “blouse” made of cotton or wool in a rectangular shape with an embroidered neck opening and armholes. Weaving remains very much influenced by its indigenous origins in the colors as well as in the making.The huipil is traditionally waist length in the state of Oaxaca and calf length in the states of Chiapas and Guerrero.

Traditional huipils, especially ceremonial ones, are usually made with fabric woven on a backstrap loom and are heavily decorated with designs woven into the fabric. They may also be embellished with embroidery, ribbons, and lace for a very special and spectacular effect.

Although huipils may often look similar to the untrained eye, they exhibit great variety according to the weaver's ability and the arrangement of specific groups of motifs and color. Contemporary Mayan women continue the tradition of fine weaving in the lovely huipils of Chiapas and Oaxaca in Mexico and in Guatemala.

The ancient art of backstrap weaving is still thriving and an entire contemporary industry has now developed around weaving and textiles. Numerous cooperatives and individuals produce shawls, bedspreads, bags, and clothing that have become popular with visitors and collectors from around the world.

The stunning huipils and trajes (a huipil and skirt ensemble) are beautiful as is this lovely senorita as seen in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca. 


The following are a few of my favorite artists in Puerto Vallarta whom I have admired since moving here in 1996.  I consider their art iconic of this beautiful area.

Evelyn Boren

Evelyn Boren

Marta Gilbert

Marta Gilbert

Manuel "Lepe" Macedo

Manuel "Lepe" Macedo

Lee "Lencho" Chapman

Lee "Lencho" Chapman

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Ada Colorina

Image result for the art of ada colorina puerto vallarta mexico

Ada Colorina

When purchasing art works in Mexico it makes good sense to be prepared with some knowledge about how to spot genuine Mexican art in order to take home something that embodies the elements of a true art piece and not a mass-produced reproduction masquerading as true Mexican art.

The Puerto Vallarta "welcome" on its malecon boardwalk has been created in the artistic style of native born Manuel "Lepe" Macedo (see his art above) who painted in the Naïve style.

I think it an appropriate background to say thank you for visiting and I look forward to seeing you again in the near future.  Until then, wishing you happy travels and great art finds!   Laura


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