Tonalá vs Tlaquepaque

For those shopping for handcrafts in Guadalajara, there are two neighboring “towns,” Tonalá and Tlaquepaque, which both are touted for handcrafts. Which you prefer depends on the kind of experience you are looking for.

Both were small rural towns to the southwest of Guadalajara, but today there is little to immediately distinguish them from the ever-growing metropolis.

For those looking for a more upscale experience, Tlaquepaque is the destination. The center extending from Jardín Hidalgo has been upgraded over the years specifically to cater to visitors, with wide streets, pedestrians paths and many,  many places to eat and shop. There are also galleries dedicated to both art and handcrafts. Not all of these handcrafts are necessarily from Jalisco. Por example, glazed “pineapple” ceramics (with or without cups) are popular, but are from neighboring Michoacan.

Upper left: Mariachi at El Parian (credit:Esteban Tucci), Upper right: Jardín Hidalgo, Bottom: Calle Independencia

However, the town does have two good museums for exploring the traditional ceramics of the area. The first is Museo Premio Nacional de la Cerámica Pantaleón Panduro, dedicated to showcasing winners of an annual ceramics contest and hosts temporary exhibits, conferences and more. The other is the Museo Regional de la Cerámica de Tlaquepaque. Visits to either or both of these museums are recommended in order to learn about traditional pottery and names of artisans who are still making these fine wares.

For those who prefer a more treasure-hunt kind of shopping experience, the place to head is Tonalá. It’s bit further out from the center of Guadalajara, but shops cluster along Avenida Tonaltecas, especially the side of the old town center. On Thursdays and Saturdays, this 2-3 km stretch also hosts a “tianguis” (open air market), crowding the sidewalks with makeshift stalls.

Known to be or likely to be locally made. We chatted with the vendor of the loose-knit tops as she worked on making another.

However, this does not making the finding of authentic handcrafts that much easier; in fact, it’s a bit harder. The most traditional handcrafts of this area are various burnished potteries, but there is precious little of this to be found in either the stores or the tianguis. The main reason for this is that the area mostly caters far more to locals, who are more likely to be concerned about price than authenticity or collectability. For this reason, most of the shopping here consists of decorative items of various types.

Kitsch highly unlikely to be handcrafted in the traditional sense of the term, though interesting in its own right.

The street food here is first-rate!

That is not to say that nothing handcrafted can be found. They are more likely to be found in the fixed stores, but they do not seem to include much of local pottery. Indeed, there are novel items to be found, along with grandmothers knitting and embroidering while waiting for customer. There is even a blown glass producer which has a very clever marketing gimmick for the cell phone age. Their workshop has a side open to the public from which you can watch pieces being made and take photos from a safe distance from the furnaces… and all the employees wear tshirts with the name and contact info of the business.



I should also mention that because it is generally cheaper to live here, most of the pottery workshops of the Guadalajara area are in Tonalá, rather than Tlaquepaque. Like all Mexican handcrafts, getting price and quality means doing your homework and knowing what you want before you head out to buy. However, if handcrafts is only part of a day of “turisteando” or part of shopping for things that have a Mexican feel to them, there is nothing wrong with a few implusive buys in either location.

Photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia and Leigh Thelmadatter unless otherwise noted.

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