Why?

Why?

One thing that captures the attention of many foreigners here in Mexico is the wide range and depth of Mexico’s handcrafts and folk art tradition, nicely distinguished in Spanish with the word “artesanías.”

This is not your primary school arts and crafts, or simple handmade decorations for a party. (Those are separated with the word “manualidades”) Instead, these are items whose value today are both historical and cultural as well as utilitarian and/or decorative, and have a far greater quality than most handcraft traditions. In the United States, perhaps the closest “artesania” tradition is quilt making. Many of these pieces are heirlooms, worthy of passing down, and there are many notable collections of Mexican handcrafts and folk art, such as that amassed by Nelson Rockefeller, who spent considerable time and money investigating and visiting notable artisans.

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Lacquer plate with gold inlay by Mario Agustin Gaspar of Michoacan

Despite its greater appreciation outside of Mexico than within, so much of the wonderful work that is done here, both traditional and innovative, remains highly unknown to the average tourist who sees things like amate paintings of the Nahuas, beadwork by the Huichols, pieces of major pottery traditions such as barro negro of Oaxaca and Mata Ortiz of Chihuahua and the numerous textile traditions….

 

Do you know what a “huipil” is? If you have traveled Mexico or Guatemala, especially in indigenous communities, you have very likely seen one, or a takeoff of one without knowing it. You may have even bought one.

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This is a Chintaneco huipil from Oaxaca

I have lived for over 12 years in Mexico, and have been captivated by various aspects of Mexican culture. I first began delving into it in 2008 by writing Wikipedia articles, reading almost exclusively Spanish language sources, but writing articles in English. Almost all Mexican artesania articles in English Wikipedia were developed by yours truly. I still believe Wikipedia is a very important way to spread knowledge about Mexican handcrafts. Artisans who have Wikipedia pages have told me that they, and others, have noticed them. Carlomagno Pedro Martinez told me that his Wikipedia article “impressed the kids” in his community.

 

But Wikipedia has limitations, the main one being that it requires that all information that remains in the encyclopedia be cited in a reliable source. This means that while it is a great way to get basic information about the subject out to the public, it can only repeat that which is already stated in traditional media sources.

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Giant “alebrije” figure made from hard paper mache or “cartonería”

There is soooooo much important information that is NOT in traditional media sources because for the most part, they have to make money, and there is little money in covering artisans, even those who have won prestigious awards such as Mexico’s National Arts and Sciences Prize. Even that which has been printed is in primarily in traditional paper books, generally available in specialty or academic libraries, not (easily) accessible to the public.

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Weaving an ixtle fiber belt

 

After almost disappearing in the early 20th century, Mexican handcrafts and folk art made a comeback, most recently because of the rise of the tourism industry. But if the common tourist does not know what s/he is looking at in the market, why is a pot, or a huipil, or a silver bracelet from Taxco more than just a shiny bauble? And why would they pay 2-5x the price for the genuine article, instead of the cheap (often Chinese) knock-off?

 

The overall principal goal of this blog is to made more information available online about Mexican handcrafts and folk art. It will profile various artisans from as many parts of the country as possible and not just the better known, but also those who are not known, but doing interesting work. It will also cover other developments in the field, including its relationship to fine art… as there is overlap and a gray area between the two.

 

This is a labor of love and completely non-profit. It is not meant to replace work in Wikipedia, but rather to supplement it.

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