Michoacan is one of Mexico’s major producers of handcrafts, a number of which are truely fine works of art, but unfortunately, do not get the attention they deserve.
The main reason Michoacan’s handcraft traditions are unknown is that the state is not a major tourism destination, lacking destinations such as Acapulco in neighboring Guerrero state.
It also lacks a coordinated effort by state authorities to promote these traditions, which has been done in other states, notably Oaxaca, through national-level events such as the Guelaguetza and its fine state handcrafts museum, MEAPO, run by reknowned artisan Carlomagno Pedro Martinez.
The state does have a museum, located in the captial Morelia, now called the Michoacan Artisan Institute (Instituto del Artesano Michoacano), but most people know it as the Casa de Artesanias (Handcraft House), its former name.
It is not easy to find. Located in the former cloister of the San Francisco Church, just east of the cathedral, there are no signs to indicate its presence, not even on the entrance. Even Google steered us wrong, taking us to a site many blocks to the southeast on Lazaro Cardenas Street, adifferent government office. The website is less-than-helpful as well. As of this date, neither the landing site, or anything beyond it has information about the San Francisco facility at all.
Be that as it may, for someone looking for a good overview of Michoacan handcrafts and can understand Spanish, the museum is a worthwhile visit. While small, there is a good representation of the major handcraft products and good information. The state is divided into seven regions, based on climate and ethnic groups, with all regions getting a fair shake in representation, not just Lake Patzcuaro.
The examples here are very good, finely made pieces ready to amaze visitors, from the tiny dots of pieces from Capula, to intricately stitched blouses from various parts of the state, to Mazahua silver earrings from the State of Mexico border area. Even the simple “lisa” pottery of the coast has some really impressive examples. My only complaint was the lack of attribution to individual artisans, espeically important in cases such as the pottery of Angelica Moreles, who had a nice mural/tile represented but with the only indication that it was from Tzintzuntzan. Detailed information about traditions and locations are found on various stands, with notebooks of information, and an virtual, interactive computer console.
The staff was helpful and knowledgeable, especially Mimi (I didnt catch her last name), who truly loves what she does. Originally trained as a dentist, she left that profession to promote the handcrafts of her home state, and her eagerness to share her knowledge and experience attests to the correctness of that decision.
The museum proper is on the upper floor, with the lower floor dedicated to pieces for sale, including furniture and other large pieces. However, when we visited this area was in disarray, with several of the pieces damaged. As the musuem was set to close (at 3pm on a Saturday), we did not inquire further.
It is obvious that the staff of the musuem, including curators have dedicated themselves to the institution. With some further poking around in several sources, we learned that museum has its origins in an effort to support Michoacan artisans in 1972. The institution has gone through various reorganizations, with various levels of state support since them. The current change to the “Institute” is just the latest, in progress. However, the current governor is not as dedicated to cultural projects as those in the past.
Here’s to hoping things get better for this valuable museum. It and the artisans it serve deserve nothing but the best.
All photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia unless otherwise noted.