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Art and Craft in Mexico
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Mexico has a wide range of creative objects, each one more interesting than the other one, and whose origin goes back to the legendary history of Mesoamerica.


hats (sombreros) Every State has developed its own history and customs depending on natural and cultural influences. Mexicans have a strong link with ancestral art. Traditional arts and crafts such as pottery, jewelry, woodcarving and masks all come from pre-Hispanic heritage.
The Mexican craftsmen are heirs of a tradition that goes back to the Aztecs. They were skilled clever cutters of gems and excellent potters; they weaved and dyed fabrics and made musical instruments with a rare ability.

     Right picture : hats (sombreros



The Spanish used their skills while developing their technique and introducing new material : wrought iron, potter’s wheels, woolen fabric, and textiles made with the semi automatic looms used in Europe during this time. The merge of two traditions resulted in the nice products that we now know.

The change from ancestral art to modern art occurred in the thirties when wall painters like David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, Rufino Tamayo, and Diego Rivera started the first works with typical Mexican themes. The happy spirit of the Mexican art, its link to history and its distrust of reality give it a unique charm.

Despite a rising tendency in industrialization, Mexican craftsmen keep hand shaping hundreds of diverse objects—and inventing new ones —with the help of tools and techniques developed hundreds of years ago.

Indian craftswoman The handicrafts are often a family company where the youngest are given small jobs. But, even with holding a big role in the rural economy, the average craftsman will stay poor his whole life even if the export of his articles is profitable. Generally, the craftsman will ask a very reasonable price for his creations but he doesn’t really know the value of his time.

Unfortunately, there are also manufacturers of ordinary merchandise, wrongly labeled as “indigenous crafts” that satisfy the cheap souvenir lover. The buyer should beware. The Secretary of Tourism (FONART) manages stores in the medium and big cities where you can find good qualities crafts with a no “tourist” fixed price. You can find also in every State capital the Casas de Artesanias which sell good quality but more expensive goods. The local products are grouped in these houses.

The Statistics of the Ministry of Tourism show that the foreign tourists buy on average, five craft pieces. Try to buy directly from the producer in the villages. Avoid the intermediaries.

For women, crafts are often the only source of incomes. The Indian women selling their products are usually wearing their traditional costume. Bargaining is expected in the markets. It is expected. However, don’t forget that the craftsmen are poor.

     Above picture : Indian craftswoman

Pottery and ceramics

Diverse and present everywhere, pottery was linked, in Pre-Hispanic times, to the ritual celebrations and also to the needs of the everyday life.
Ceramics, a major art practiced for thousands of years, happens to be an essential source of knowledge about ancient civilizations. Today, its diversity comes from a subtle mixture of indigenous, Spanish and even oriental influences.

pottery from the state of Mexico
State of Guanajuato. In Dolores Hidalgo the famous azulejos, decorated ceramic tiles are made. Many kind of potteries in the Central Sierra, Los Altos, Sierra Gorda and El Bajío (GUA).

State of Guerrero. Pre-Hispanic Ceramics with a predominance of red, ochre, and black, colors from natural origin, are produced by the women.

State of Jalisco. Ceramics influenced by Spanish art (shape and decoration), especially in Tonalá and Tlaquepaque.

State of Mexico. Main producer of glazed barro (terra cotta). The most picturesque come from Metepec, close to Toluca (State of Mexico), where the charming palomitas are made of terra cotta and decorated with subtle nuances or ornamented with multicolor woolen threads. In Metepec, you can find also nice compositions representing trees of life. The traditional technique and the template of the moulds are transferred from one generation to another one.

Left picture : pottery from the state of Mexico

State of Michoacán. The champion of the states for crafts. Each community has its specialty. In Tzintzuntzán, the ceramic is cream-colored with black decorations. In Santa Fe de la Laguna,, the glazed black vases and candlesticks used on the day of the dead are made. In Huancito, The Indian women make clay pots with different shapes. In Patambán (region of Zamora), you can find ochre jars and glazed green pots. San José de Gracia specializes in the glazed green piña, a kind of pineapple shaped pot.

Ceramics market in Oaxaca area

State of Oaxaca, Biggest pottery center of Mexico that is still working in a traditional way. It is the territory that groups the biggest number of Indian communities in the country. San Bartolo Coyotepec (8 km from Oaxaca) is famous for its black pottery, Ocotlán de Morelos for its incensories, Santa Maria Atzompa for the green glazed ceramic and San Antonio Arrazola et San Martin Tilcajete for the life trees. In the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the women produce ceramic dolls with the Zapotec name : tanguyus, which means « miss made in clay ».
In San Antonio Arrazola, close to Monte Albán, small colorful wood carved animals are made.

     Right picture : Ceramics market in Oaxaca area








State of Puebla. Here, the wonderful talavera poblana are made, directly inspired by the Spanish city, Talavera, very famous in the XVle century, as well as the ceramic tiles (azulejos) which are mainly blue.

Video about the talavera of Puebla

Tetzale women making clay pottery State of Chiapas. You can admire the sun dried clay potteries made by the Tzeltales women in Amatenango del Valle (Chis).




     Right picture : Tetzale women making clay pottery





Weaving remains very influenced by its Indian origins, in the colors as well as in the making.

The huipil is a kind of sleeveless blouse, made of cotton or wool rectangular fabric with an embroidered neck opening and armholes. The huipil is waist length in Oaxaca or calf length in the Chiapas or the Guerrero.

young craftswoman next to lake Arareko (Creel) The quechquemet is a small sleeveless, lozenge shaped poncho made of cotton or wool fabric, wholly embroidered, worn by women over their blouses. You can still find them in San Luis Potosí, Puebla and Veracruz

The rebozo is a shawl made of cotton, wool or silk. It allows Indian women to carry comfortably their children on their backs, but also to hide small objects. You can find it in Tenancingo (Mex), San Luis Potosi, Santa Maria del Rio (SLP), in San Miguel de Allende (GUA) and the state of Michoacán.

The sarape, a kind of poncho used as a blanket, is weaved in Huejotzingo (Pue), Oaxaca, Saltillo (Coah), Tesquiquiapán (Que) and Zacatecas.

Left picture : young craftswoman next to lake Arareko (Creel)

The Coras and Huichole Indians make belts, clothes embroidered with multicolored woolen cross-stitches, and bags. They sell their products on the markets of Guadalajara and Tepic (Nay).

You can find embroidered blouses in Cuetzalán (Pue), shirts adorned with beads in San Pablito Pahuatlán (Pue), belts made of raw wool produced by the Tarahumaras, clothes made of wool weaved by the Tzotziles Indian women in San Juan Chamula (Chis), and hand woven shawls and belts from Otomis Indian in Mezquital Valley. You will find also embroidered shirts made by Zapotec Indian women in the state of Oaxaca, blankets and rugs made in Teotitlán del Valle (Oax), huipiles made by Amuzgos Indians in Xochistlahuaca (Gro), and clothes woven by the Indians from the high lands of Chiapas.

handmade dolls

     Right picture : handmade dolls

In the state of Yucatán, you will find the more beautiful and comfortable hammocks. It is better to pick a large one (matrimonial size), with double stitching. Some bags, hats and hammocks are made from other fibers like reed, or sisal from the agaves plant or palm tree.


Leather goods

Guadalajara, León, Monterrey, Guanajuato, San Cristóbal, Mérida

Verify the quality of the shoes and try them on before buying : the Mexican sizes use the metric system. The Central and Northern agricultural cities make very well made bags, huaraches (sandals), boots, clothes and saddles. You could choose your pair of santiags in Chihuahua as well as your set of belts, spurs and saddles, a specialty of the area. Note that one of the spearhead of the Mexican culture, the charreria, which includes all the professions linked to the horses, contributed to the emergence of the saddlery.


Jewels and metals

Mexico is the first exporter of silver.

Santa Clara del Cobre (Mich) specializes in working copper while engraving jewelry, trays, bowls and other small objects.
Taxco is famous for its silver plate while Guanajuato works on gold, often ornamented with turquoise.
In Oaxaca area, they produce golden jewels, especially reproductions of Pre-Hispanic jewels from Monte Albán.
The specialty of Zacatecas is the arts of the table. In Querétaro, you could find semi precious gems and silver jewels.

Wood and music instruments

The specialty of Paracho (Mich) is making guitars and Cuernavaca (Mor) is making furniture. In Paracho, beautiful guitars are made but also violins, cellos and other instruments. Everywhere else, you can buy maracas, tambourines, whistles and different kinds of drums. Particularly interesting are the drums with reeds, which are hollowed pieces of wood (often cylindrical), engraved or painted and containing two small tongues of wood, which produce a different sound when hitting them. You can find furniture made of wood in the market of Tlaquepaque (in the vicinity of Guadalajara), domestic utensils made of painted wood in Quiroga (Mich) and made of orange tree wood in Ixtapan de la Sal (Mex) and Toluca (Mex) , small animals made of colorful wood in Cuilapán (Oax) and San Martin Tilcajete (Oax) and furniture made from mahogany or cedar in Mérida, Campeche, Valladolid.

Lacquer : The most beautiful Mexican lacquers are in Olinalá : masks of jaguar, wooden trays, and bowls engraved from dry gourds. You can see the lacquers of Chiapa de Corzo (making masks worn for la Feria de San Sebastián).

mask from Tlaxcala


Sorcerers used masks from Pre-Hispanic origin. In the ceremonies of magic, the masks are worn during the dances or the chamaniques rituals. San Luis Potosí houses the National Museum of masks. They are made of wood, stone, clay and bones. They represent mainly animals but also human, black or white faces, which indicates foreign people, in particular the Spanish. For carnival, they represent devils, old people and the “ bad woman”. There are also pre-Hispanic masks symbolizing the death and representing the underground world and the sacrifices.
With the arrival of the Spanish and the Christian religion, this tradition, far from being lost, got back its strength with the Day of the Dead. The states of Guerrero and Tlaxcala seem to be the most dynamic concerning the making of the masks. You can find masks made of paper in San Miguel de Allende.

     Right picture : mask from Tlaxcala

You could also see the masks (maybe the most spectacular) from Tocuaro (Pátzcuaro) and the lacquers from Uruapán (Mich).

altar of offerings for the Day of Dead

Wickerwork is the third most popular craft in Mexico. Everywhere you can find rush, fibers of maguey or heneguen plants, or any other vegetable that can be used, are transformed into rugs, mats, all kinds of baskets, furniture, suitcases or trunks, shopping bags and toys. This activity is everywhere. Even while riding a donkey to the market, the basket maker might work on his project. An Indian might measure the distance between two cities counting the number of hats he would have weaved while on the road !

You can find Panama hats, made from palm fibers, in Becal (State of Campeche), cane baskets in Ihuatzio (Mich) and Tequisquiapán (Qro).

Left picture : altar of offerings for the Day of Dead    


We can mention also the more unusual objects like painting on bark paper (papel de amate) made in Cuernavaca and Taxco, polychrome tin wares for Christmas trees and paper flowers. But, above all, you can’t leave Mexico without one of the exquisite silver trinkets, the platerias, from Taxco area.

And also...

typical costumes from Oaxaca area Some small-scale productions are made only for specific events (the Day of the Dead : skeletons and skulls; Christmas : figures for the crib made of clay or wood).

     Right picture : typical costumes from Oaxaca area

Cigars are made in the Valley of San Andrès (Ver). The different brands you can find there are : Te amo, Ricardo Turrent, Andrea’s.



Indian women at the flowers market in Oaxaca



Left picture : Indian women at the flowers market in Oaxaca

The local craftsmen, gifted with amazing creativity, have protected the survival of their crafts that are counted among the worlds richest. The authorities have justifiably saved this exclusive Mexican character as an expression of the national spirit.


craft on the railways Chihuahua-al-Pacifico (San Rafael)

     Right picture : craft on the railways Chihuahua-al-Pacifico (San Rafael)








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