Mexico abounds with a variety of arts and crafts. Some of the art is influenced by Aztec and Mayan design from the Meso American period of the nation's history. In other forms, you see a strong Christian religious emphasis in arts and crafts created for religious events. Much of Mexican folk art is made from paper, which is affordable for the average citizen to own. Other works of art showcase the natural resources of Mexico, namely silver, clay and wood.
Mexico is rich in deposits of silver and has a long history of trading and working with silver. Silver jewelry is a popular souvenir for tourists and collectors. It is sometimes inlayed with abalone, turquoise or semiprecious stones. It can be difficult to judge the quality of the silver jewelry. Some is stamped “vintage Mexican silver,” “sterling,” “Taxco” (a location known for silver) or “Hecho in Mexico.” Some is signed with a symbol or initials by the artist, yet many fine pieces are not signed. If you see a piece stamped “Alpaca,” know that this is a white metal which contains no silver at all. It may have fine craftsmanship and be a quality piece, but it should not be as expensive as silver jewelry.
Ceramic Art and Pottery
The soil of some regions of Mexico is high quality clay which is perfect for earthenware products. The indigenous people of Mexico have produced clay tiles, pottery and sculptures for centuries. In the mid-16th century, the Spanish introduced the potter’s wheel and tin glazing techniques to the area of Talavaera, Puebla. This made the pottery from the region very similar to the Majolica ceramics. A characteristic blue glaze, which was the most expensive, was only placed on the finest pieces. Today fine Talavera pottery is still being produced; it is expensive and of excellent quality. It is always singed by the workshop that produces it and it must indicate that it was produced in Puebla. There are several cheap imitation forms of this pottery also available. Rosa Real de Nieto, a potter of Zapotec Indian ancestry, developed a new technique in 1953. She burnished pots made from charcoal gray Oaxaca clay with quartz before firing them, which produced an interesting black patina.This pottery is best purchased from a reputable dealer.
Masks were commonly used in ritual dances in Meso-America. The masks often represent animals. With the Spanish colonialization, new customs and traditions mixed with indigenous ones to create an interesting new world of culture, dance and ritual of which masks were still a part. Masks are also used heavily during Carnival. Mexican masks are made of anything from coconut shells and carved wood, to dried baked clay. Paper mache is a popular choice of material as well.
Paper art and paper mache in particular is quite popular in Mexico and takes on a multitude of forms. Mexican pinatas are a Christmas tradition. The pinatas are filled with sweets, nuts, fruits and toys,and represent many designs including stars, fish, flowers, boats and animals. These are all made with paper mache. At the end of the feast, the piaata is broken and the sweets are eaten. During Easter, Judas dolls are created out of paper mache. Toluca, Mexico has a juried, competitive contest where giant Judas dolls are created. Fireworks are embedded within the dolls and the Saturday before Easter they are exploded. Strings of small paper mache items are called ristras. These can be made to resemble almost anything, but fruits, vegetables, birds and other animals are common. They are usually brightly colored and used to decorate the home.
Papel picado is another of the Mexican paper art forms. In the most common form, colored tissue paper is cut from a pattern, somewhat like paper dolls, to make banners. These banners are hung for fiestas, birthdays or just home decorations. They come in many forms such as flowers, leaves, birds, angels and crosses. They are popular during the Day of the Dead celebrations, which feature forms such as skeletons. Papel picado originated as part of the traditional arts forms of the indigenous cultures of Meso-America. The images of deities were cut into their homemade bark paper, called papel amate. The indigenous Otoml use bark paper today to continue this tradition. San Pabilto, Puebla is famous for bark paper cutouts. San Salvado Huixcolotla, Puebla is where the highest quality and most elaborate papel picado made from tissue paper can be found.
Lynn Farris has been conducting management studies, writing technical articles and contributing to local newspapers since 1984. Having traveled throughout the world, Farris now lives in Costa Rica, teaches English and writes a column for the "National Examiner" on Costa Rica. Farris holds a Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Arts in speech communications and psychology from Case Western Reserve University.