A Colorful Exploration of Mexican Folk Art
Traditional Mexican folk art is a colorful and creative reflection of Mexican culture through handcrafts or artesanías. They are a blend of native and Hispanic art traditions that continue to inhabit local homes as objects for daily use or decoration purposes.
Today, Mexican folk art is an essential part of the Mexican identity and indigenous tradition. Tourists feel attracted to them for their colorfulness, beauty, and originality.
Read ahead to find the most representative forms of Mexican folk art, their origin, and their meaning. Enjoy this window into Latin American culture and the beautiful country of Mexico!
World-Known Mexican Folk Art and Where to Find it
Artesanías are all forms of folk art and handicrafts that native people make using traditional methods. You can find paintings, vases, textiles, plates, clothes, toys, religious and celebration items, leatherwork, pottery, and ornamental objects. The Spanish used this word to set aside the traditional items from the industrial ones.
Mexican Folk Art uses a wide variety of forms, shapes, colors, and materials. This is due to the abundance of metals, clays, fibers, stones, paper, wood, and dyes that exist in the different Mexican states. Some of them are highly specific and world-known for their uniqueness.
If you want to learn more about Mexican culture and get close to its distinctive identity you can start by learning that the next items come from the imaginative minds of the people from these native groups:
1. Huichol Art
States: Especially Nayarit, but also Durango, Jalisco, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí
The Huichol people have been beading for centuries with pieces from seeds, clay, and shells to make different kinds of items. The most famous ones today are yarn masks, Mexican folk art paintings, and shapes of animals like birds, jaguars, and wolves.
They have distinctive, colorful symbols and patterns in them that once were the way the Huicholes represented and communicated with the Gods.
Alebrijes are artistic pieces made of cardboard or of copal wood that you can find anywhere in Mexico, especially in Oaxaca. They represent creatures made of parts of different animals.
Artists decorate and color alebrijes by hand, and depend economically on selling them. They are an essential part of Mexican folk art, but they are also the main pieces of renown galleries and museums around the world.
3. Tree of Life
State: State of Mexico
The tree of life is an elaborate piece of Mexican folk art made of clay. Artisans represent many colonial images that the evangelists would use to teach natives about the creation.
While the clay tree production started in Puebla, this specific one is only associated with Metepec, State of Mexico. Also, modern versions can have any kind of figures and represent not only biblical passages like Adam and Eve.
4. Mazahua Textiles
State: State of Mexico
The Mazahua people knit textiles to provide for their community’s needs and to promote their culture. The majority of the artisans are women and they use wool and cotton for this form of Mexican folk art.
The most common pieces have patterns of plants, people, animals, and families pass it on from one generation to the next. Most of the time the artisans themselves sell their pieces on the streets. Mazahua textiles make beautiful blankets, bags, backpacks, ponchos, tablecloths, belts, and much more.
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5. Silver Jewelry and Art
State: Guerrero, especially Taxco
Taxco, Guerrero is a beautiful pueblo mágico and colonial city on a hillside. People consider it the silver capital of the world. The history of this tradition goes back to 1593 where goldsmith techniques from the indigenous people and the Spanish combined to give birth to the beautiful pieces we know today.
Originally, people used silver to make objects of religious nature. Today we see it in the form of jewelry, accessories, mirrors, and even statues. The Taxco silver is unique and has a purity of 925 grams per kilo which is impossible to obtain in other countries. Around 15,000 artisans dedicate their lives to this form of Mexican folk art.
6. Yucatán Hammocks
Hammocks originated in the Antilles but the Yucatán people perfected it. The temperature in Yucatán can go as high as 124 ºF (51 ºC) so sleeping on a bed is very uncomfortable. Locals adopted the fresh hammocks instead.
The fabrics artisans use are threads of hemp, canvas, and hilera, the finest you can find in Yucatán. Modern pieces of this Mexican folk art for sale also include cotton, silk, and nylon.
7. Talavera Pottery
State: Puebla and Tlaxcala
Talavera pottery or talavera poblana is Mexican folk art that came from the Talavera de la Reina from Spain but found its own way in Puebla and Tlaxcala. This tradition started due to the need of clay and tiles to coat cathedrals and churches.
The talavera industry expanded to a point that artisans had their own guild, increasing the quality of their creations.
The many techniques that influenced the final result came from China, Italy, Spain and native cultures. The base color is ivory and the multiple designs are traditionally blue but can also be pink, green, violet, yellow, black, and orange.
8. Blown Glassware
State: Jalisco, especially Tonalá and Tlaquepaque
The technique of this Mexican folk art is over 500 years old. Artisans use simple tools such as a hollow pipe and recycled, led-free glass. Tourists do not only go to Jalisco to buy these art pieces that go from drinking glasses to small decorative figures like animals but also to watch the craftsmen do their art in no more than mere seconds.
9. Leather Goods
State: Guanajuato, especially León
The city of León, Guanajuato has the title of “The Capital of Leather and Footwear” or Capital de la piel y el calzado. The different leather goods you can buy from the many plazas and family businesses throughout the city are bags, belts, portfolios, wallets, jackets, hats and most importantly, shoes.
10. Paper Craft
States: all of Mexico’s
Chiseled paper and paper flowers are the most iconic of this form of Mexican folk art. Hand made, with bold colors, and displays of creativity, these artistic pieces are the perfect souvenir from Mexico.
The material of the paper flowers is paper mache and people use it as decorations and for specific celebrations like the Day of the Dead. On the other hand, cut paper flags or papel picado are chiseled paper pieces with diverse patterns that people hang from ceilings for celebrations exclusively, like Independence Day or, again, Day of the Dead.
11. Oaxaca Textiles
Many people consider Oaxaca as the center of Mexican folk art and for good reason. Their textiles include handmade embroidery which is highly valued. Their variety is due to the different naive groups that inhabit the state of Oaxaca. You can find many products like bags, clothes, accessories, and rugs. The most notable, however, is the Tehuana costume, which many locals use in their everyday life. The most traditional way to wear this embroidered-by-hand flowery outfit is with a “radiance” or resplandor, which is a head garment.
12. Sarapes de Saltillo
State: Coahuila, especially Saltillo
Artisans from Saltillo, Coahuila make these rectangular, symmetric with geometric motifs, notable art pieces. The sarape, known around the world, is a kind of rudimentary, thick pashmina and it is one of the most representative elements of Mexico.
It is the male version of the rebozo and it dates from 1750. The original prints from Saltillo have three sections and a diamond or medallion at the center, just like the Mexican flag. People who speak náhuatl, the Aztec language, know it as acocemalotic-tilmatli or rainbow blanket. Regular fabrics are cotton and wool but thanks to the French influence, people started to use silk and metallic threads as well.
13. Cajitas de Olinalá
State: Guerrero, especially Olinalá
For 150 years, artisans used wood from the linaloe tree to design many articles for domestic use. The most famous ones are boxes to store different items. The unique feature about them is their specially good smell.
In Olinalá, 90% of the people are dedicated to producing these objects—whose manufacturing process takes as long as two years. After the artisans varnish the painted box, they carve it out and place pure 24k gold sheets on top of the designs. Prices can vary from 15 to 2500 dollars per box.
See Mexican Folk Art With Your Own Eyes!
If you are interested in Mexican folk art, you are already on your way to delving into Mexican culture as a whole. Mexico is an extraordinary country with an abundance of characteristic and interesting places. The images in this post are only a sample of all the experiences you will get to enjoy here when you arrive.
Travel easily not only to Mexico but to all Hispanic countries by learning Spanish. One of the most effective ways of learning a language is to practice with native speakers. Here at HSA you can tailor a Spanish package to meet all your needs and artistic interests you may have. Become part of our community of 24,000+ active enrolled students who trust our 10 years of experience. Sign up for a free class and prepare for your art exploration trip to Mexico.
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