Raising the humble piñata

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First prize winning piñata Con la ciudad a cuestas by Colectivo Atelier Arte y Papel of Coacalco, State of Mexico, paper mache with yarn painting

There is no craft object more emblematic than the piñata, but oddly, its making is perhaps one of the least-considered among Mexico’s craftspeople and certainly one of the least sought after by collectors.

One reason is that almost all piñatas are made with flimsy paper mache, to be broken rather than to be kept as a decoration. Of all the objects made with paper and paste in Mexico (cartonería), most cartoneros do not make them. Instead they are made by small workshops, market stalls and party-favor shops.

Another issue is that despite copyright laws, the market for piñatas overwhelmingly demands images of cartoon figures and other images from popular culture, in particular movies and video games. Classic designs such as stars or the stereotypical donkey are very notably absent most of the year (Christmas excepted for the stars).

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One important mission of many of Mexico’s handcraft museums is not only promote what is already made in the country, but also to encourage artisans to create new and better products. The most popular way to do this is through handcraft contests, both because of the purses and the publicity that winning “concursos” has for artisans.

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Puro Corazón: Marquez Becerra by Israel Marquez Becerra
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Cthulhu duerme by Jose Francisco Muñoz Quintero

The Museo de Arte Popular holds and/or sponsors a number of these events, and is very likely the only one which sponsors a piñata making concurso on a regional level. This annual contest has been held for a number of years. In its first incarnations, entries were not terribly impressive for a fairly large concurso in a well-known institution, indicative of the poor state of piñata making… even in the region where the making and breaking of modern piñatas first took hold in Mexico.

However, this year’s event shows there is promise for finer piñata making in Mexico. The award ceremony for the best piñatas occurred last Saturday, with the top three prizes of $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000 peso prizes for the top three. This year’s addition attracted entries from not only Mexico City, but also the State of Mexico, Guanajuato, Hidalgo Veracruz and Zacatecas. But the most important elements this year was the significant rise in both quality and creativity.

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Cantina (El maguey de recuerdo) by Maria Guadalupe Rubio Mendoza

All photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia (Featured image: Second prize winning piñata Folkloricromía by Silvia Azucena Nájera Barajas of Ecatepec, State of Mexico)

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