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  • Little black ones

    March 25, 2020 by

    If the 2020 census takers have visited you, then you were asked if you had African heritage. The question is significant because it is the first time it is being asked. Previously, ethnic diversity was represented in the census only through language(s) spoken, as a way to count those of indigenous heritage. The rationale behind… Read more

  • Shoes and pottery tucked away in northern Veracruz

    March 18, 2020 by

    As anyone who has gone off the beaten path in Mexico can tell you, the country is still filled with hidden gems…small towns which have preserved their identity and charm, which, of course, can include handcrafts. I first heard of Naolinco, Veracruz at the annual doll fair in Amealco, Querétaro. In the town’s doll museum,… Read more

  • A Buddha in Mexico? Why not?

    March 4, 2020 by

    Sometimes we foreigners, even those of us who live here, get the false impression that “Mexican culture” is something static… stuck somewhere 100 years or more in the past. We can be forgiven for this as most of what is promoted, especially to tourists, gives this impression, especially in the arts and handcrafts. The reality… Read more

  • With a potential for being sophisticated

    February 26, 2020 by

    While covering a story for a newspaper I contribute to, I was reminded that totomoxtle (Nahuatl for corn husk), is a more sophisticated material than what it usual uses would indicate. Anyone who has seen a tamale has seen totomoxtle. With the exception of the far south of the country, it is the wrapper of… Read more

  • Dolls that reflect their creator

    February 20, 2020 by

    Francis Espinoza is an artist and dollmaker living in Ajijic, Jalisco, but she is not an expat retiree. She inherited her artistic streak from her father’s side, a Monterrey family with more than a few painters and musicians. As a small child, she found it easy to draw, and her father’s canvases intrigued her. As… Read more

  • Fifth generation in stone

    February 5, 2020 by

    In the small municipality of Jesus Maria, just outside the city of Aguascalientes, the Alvarado family has been linked to the working of stone for generations. Today, the best-known member of the family is Fernando Alvarado, the fifth generation to chisel. The first generations did more utilitarian work, making things like stone water filters, water… Read more

  • Dolls born of an earthquake

    January 29, 2020 by

    September 19, 1985 marked Mexico’s worst modern earthquake disaster. Every year since then, the city has had an earthquake drill on that day both to keep prepared and to remember the tragedy. For those who live here, the memory of that event has become more poignant since the 2017 quake, which occurred 32 years to… Read more

  • The stone of colonial Mexico

    January 16, 2020 by

    A distinguishing feature of the traditional architecture of central Mexico is the stone buildings found in the historic centers of just about all of the major cities here, and even some formerly bustling mining towns. The architectural style is mostly from the Baroque period, with some Neo classical and Neo Baroque. What all have in… Read more

  • “Rebel” with a needle

    January 8, 2020 by

    When you think of a rebel, you think of someone who is against something or somebody, someone with an angry attitude, or a hippie-wannabe eschewing as many modern conveniences as possible. Leticia Albalat is neither angry nor pridefully signaling to the world that she is different. She simply lives life on her own terms. Her… Read more

  • Creating community with tile

    January 2, 2020 by

    When I was a little kid in grade school, I heard of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles. It was some kind of reading assignment for school, and while I soon forgot the name, the vague silouette of a tower stuck in my head ever since. But not because of the simple cone shape of… Read more

  • Of masks and mayhem in coffee country

    December 27, 2019 by

    Xico is a Pueblo Mágico, nestled in the Sierra Madre Oriental of northern Veracruz. It is filled with cobblestone streets and colonial houses, and the occasional horse is not uncommon either. This is coffee growing country and it is possible to smell it and chili peppers roasting at the same time. It was named a… Read more

  • Roses and Revelations- a tribute to Guadalupe in textile

    December 17, 2019 by

    It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe to the Mexican psyche. While most Mexicans can be rather skeptical about many elements of the Catholic faith, Guadalupe maintains a sense of awe and sacredness that perhaps not even her son has. Perhaps this status explains why she does not have… Read more

  • A doll that is a basket

    December 11, 2019 by

    Before the colonial period, the Tarahumara (or Raramuri) inhabited most of what is now central and southern Chihuahua. After gold and silver were discovered in Parral in 1631, the Spanish pushed these people north into the high rugged mountains in what is now the Sierra Tarahumara. Modern pressures have forced the people into the most… Read more

  • Back and forth across the Pacific or Is it Mexican?

    December 3, 2019 by

    Before I write this post, I’m going to have to make a confession. When I first saw these crocheted figures, I immediately dismissed them… and for the same reasons that a lot of newer handcrafts done by women are dismissed. I simply assumed that it these were copies of some fad in the United States… Read more

  • “National” Doll Festival in Amealco

    November 26, 2019 by

    How a good idea gets smothered by competing interests. Amealco is a small town located in southern Queretaro near the borders with the State of Mexico and Michoacan. It is a largely Otomi area, where women in traditional dress and the Otomi language are easy to find. It has recently been designated as a Pueblo… Read more

  • Weaving religion

    November 19, 2019 by

    If you live in central Mexico long enough, you will inevitably come across the name of an indigenous group called the hñähñu or more commonly, the Otomi. Unlike the Mexica (Aztec) or the Purhepecha, the Otomi did not have a grand empire in the centuries before the Spanish Conquest. Their history has been shaped by… Read more

  • Reinterpreting the past for modern homes

    November 13, 2019 by

    In the 4+ years of this blog, there are a few major topics that have not yet been covered. One of these is Mata Ortiz pottery. The main reason is that I live in Mexico City, though I admit that is only a partial excuse as I lived 11 years in Arizona previously. Mata Ortiz… Read more

  • Skulls in honor of Francisco Toledo

    November 7, 2019 by

    On October 29, the Angel Gil Hermida Folk Art Museum in Villahermosa, Tabasco held an unusual and very appropriate memorial for an icon of Mexico’s art world, Francisco Toledo. Although classified as part of the Ruptura (Breakaway) generation, which rebelled against Mexican muralism, Toledo himself would breakaway from them to found the Oaxaca School of… Read more

  • From Persia to the State of Mexico to Chiapas

    November 5, 2019 by

    The Feria Nacional de la Cultura Rural was recommended to me as worth visiting for handcrafts. The demise of my favorite Mexico City event, the Feria de los Pueblos Indígenas, meant the loss of a very important source of contact with artisans outside of my immediate region. Admittedly, I waited until the last day to… Read more

  • Tradition and innovation at the Alebrije parade

    October 29, 2019 by

    For the 13th year in a row, monsters have taken over the streets of the historic center of Mexico City. The Monumental Alebrijes Parade has become the kick-off to the capital’s Day of the Dead celebrations, one of its most important tourist seasons, drawing over 450,000 visitors for a nearly two-week time period. The parade… Read more

  • Saving Mazahua traditional jewelry

    October 22, 2019 by

    One of the most important Mazahua communities is the municipality of San Felipe del Progreso, a forgotten corner of the State of Mexico about 2 hours northwest of Mexico City. This community has had a difficult time of it in the past century, despite its proximity to the country’s capital and the industry of the… Read more

  • Creating an identity in the north

    October 14, 2019 by

    As I wrote last year during my time in Durango, the north of the country is very overlooked when it comes to handcraft and folk art. The main reason is that the “land of carne asada” simply does not have the history and reputation that the center and south of the country do. The second… Read more

  • Silk and lace and ribbons and beads and…

    October 9, 2019 by

    The wonderful thing about cloth dolls is that there are few limits to an artistan’s creativity in making one. Materials for construction of all kinds abound to be purchased or even found. For this reason, most doll makers find their niche through the kinds of materials they use, a particular style, or both. In some… Read more

  • Huizache-finding strength in numbers and tradition

    October 2, 2019 by

    A perennial problem that artisans have is the push-pull between production and sales. Any time spent on sales takes time away from production, but relying on resellers results in very low prices for artisans. One answer that a number of artisans have found is in cooperatives. The simplest and most successful of these have been… Read more

  • The case for a broader definition of “artesanía”

    September 25, 2019 by

    Researching paper mache in Mexico and contact with cloth doll makers here has led me to be interested in what can be called “urban handcrafts and folk art.” Almost all Mexican folk art collectors think of Mexico’s rural and indigenous peoples doing a craft for generations when it comes to what makes for “real” handcrafts.… Read more

  • Setting up miniatures in the city

    September 18, 2019 by

    Mexico City has long brought people from all over Mexico to live and work. This means that, if you know where to look, you can find food and handcrafts and even craftsmen from just about everywhere. However, the vast majority of these people and even the food is not available in tourist areas or even… Read more

  • The art of lotería

    September 11, 2019 by

    “Se va y se corre con la vieja del pozole! ¡La dama! (She goes and runs with the old woman of the pozole!  The Lady!) Pórtate bien amiguito, si no te lleva: ¡el diablito! (Behave yourself, my good little friend so that he doesn’t tak you: The Devil!) Yo con mi elegancia y distinción: ¡el… Read more

  • Women in wool

    September 4, 2019 by

      The state of Veracruz is not one that is well-known for handcrafts. Except for the port city and perhaps son music (think La Bamba), very little is known of its culture outside of Mexico. The main reason for this is that, despite being on the coast, it does not have a major tourism industry.… Read more

  • Rescuing a grand collection

    August 29, 2019 by

    In Mexico, the somewhat dramatic word “rescatar” (lit. rescue) is used to mean to write about something that has fallen into obscurity. But perhaps in this case, “rescue” may be accurate. Until the 1985 earthquake, Mexico City’s main handcraft museum was the Museo de Artes e Industriales Populares, located on Juarez Street near the Torre… Read more

  • Valuable tree sap in Chiapas

    August 20, 2019 by

    There are only a certain number of ambar mines in the world. They have come about because there are certain conditions that must be right in order to form deposits. First, it is necessary to have forests of trees the exude sap, often as a means of protecting themselves against parasites. This excess sap runs… Read more

  • The joy of painting Virgins

    August 13, 2019 by

    San Miguel Allende has become globally famous for its huge expat community… one that began with a private art school started in the town that attracted US soldiers with GI Bill money to spend. What is not well known is that the local population is very traditional, and in fact, the whole state of Guanajuato… Read more

  • Black glass of the gods

    August 6, 2019 by

    If you have studied anything about Mesoamerican cultures, you probably know what obsidian is. Simply put, it is volcanic glass formed at the end of an eruption when lava cools suddenly. Most finished pieces made of the substance are an opaque and shiny black, but its chemical composition, purity and how it is handled can… Read more

  • Paper and cloth in the north

    July 31, 2019 by

    Noted dollmaker Mayra René calls Bertha Garcia the “queen” of cartonería in northeastern Mexico. Garcia began working with paper in 1989. At that time, she and other women in her family decided to do something with the stacks of old newspaper that her grandmother had in her house. Their first idea was to roll strips… Read more

  • Tenango embroideries as canvases

    July 22, 2019 by

    Since the early 20th century, there has been an exchange between the handcraft and fine arts worlds in Mexico. Although at times there are drawbacks to this exchange, it has mostly been to the benefit of both worlds. One recent and unusual example of this is an exhibiton that was at the Museo Internacional del… Read more

  • Beyond copying

    July 15, 2019 by

    In the United States, handcrafts are few but those that exist are done by those who are enamoured by the process and/or the product (think quilting). The vast majority of craftspeople in Mexico do not have this luxury. They create in order to sell and pay the bills. That is not to say that other… Read more

  • Art dolls on the border

    July 4, 2019 by

    There may be no more important voice for the promotion of  modern and artistic doll making in Mexico than that of Mayra Lopez Menchaca, better known as Mayra René. Both Rene and her dolls were born on the Mexico/US border in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. This means that they have a cross-border identity, reflecting the reality of… Read more

  • Weaving art

    June 26, 2019 by

    One must-see for any lover of Mexican folk art is the town of Teotitlan del Valle near the city of Oaxaca, famous for its weaving of wool rugs. In the past 20 years or so, there has been a movement pairing these weavers with various artists. The goal is to create rugs with modern designs,… Read more

  • New muralism in my backyard, part 2

    June 12, 2019 by

    See part 1 One reason I feel at home in Mexico City is that there are similarities to where I am from, the NY metro area. Most Americans who come to Mexico don’t know that there is immigration INTO the country, and have little interest in such. But Mexico’s small immigration groups have had a… Read more

  • New muralism in my backyard

    June 5, 2019 by

    Part 1 of 2 I live in Colonia Doctores, near the historic center of Mexico City. It is not a neighborhood one associates with foreign expats in this city, although it is next Roma and Condesa, which have large expat numbers. The reason for the lack of gringos and other foreigners is that Doctores has… Read more

  • Up onto the bridge and out into the world

    May 30, 2019 by

    95D is the main highway that links Mexico City and the resort of Acapulco. It was built primarily so that chilangos can get to the glitzy resorts with a minimum of time. It passes over some very rugged and isolated terrain with the use of more than a few suspension bridges spanning high over narrow… Read more

  • Banding together at the Red House

    May 21, 2019 by

    It’s no secret that artisans and artists struggle to make a living from their work. Necessity, being the mother of invention, prompted some to come up with creative ideas for marketing. The Casa Roja (Red House) is a cooperative located in the Centro Historico of Chilpancingo, the capital the state of Guerrero (better known for… Read more

  • Pine needles

    May 15, 2019 by

    The craft is called ocoxal. Baskets are made of all kinds of materials in Mexico, based on the plants that are locally available. Many are similar to those made in other parts of the world: others, like the coiled baskets of northern Mexico are recognizable to that region. But those made of pine needles are… Read more

  • Lights, acrylic and stripes

    May 7, 2019 by

    One reason this column is named “Creative Hands of Mexico” is because I regularly run into creative work that spans outside of the traditional notion of “handcrafts” into design, art and other disciplines. The work crosses lines because it either has a “popular” aspect (as in popular culture) and/or objects of a utilitarian nature. I… Read more

  • The struggle of Mazahuas in Mexico City

    May 2, 2019 by

    The Flor de Mazahua (Mazahua Flower) workshop has it roots in a government program which is the likely origin of the ubiquitous María doll. Unfortunately, the phenomenal success of this doll has not translated into success for the Mazahua (and Otomi) women who stitched thousands of them in Mexico City. In fact, while the Mazahua… Read more

  • To a job well done

    April 23, 2019 by

    I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Cartoneros de la Ciudad de México organization for its staging of the 7th Festival de Cartonería during Holy Week in the Santa Maria la Ribera neighborhood of Mexico City. The event not only shows how far the annual event has come, but also how far… Read more

  • A whale’s migration to Mexico City

    April 17, 2019 by

    The (relatively) new José Vasconcelos Library is a fascinating structure. Entering it, one feels enveloped in a maze of cages, evoking curiosity rather than a sense of entrapment. It is a testament to Mexico’s visual acuity, even if (unfortunately) the expectations it raises are not matched by its book collection.  The building itself is a… Read more

  • Children’s dolls for tourists

    April 11, 2019 by

    Mexico had, and to some extent still has, a tradition of traveling theatre, especially puppet shows for children. It is not surprising that I have found a significant number of artisans today who have some kind of connection with this theatre. Mariana Mayeb is one such artisan. She lives and works in a town called… Read more

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