Whether you are a connoisseur of art, a cultured traveller, or just someone who wants a really cool, meaningful souvenir of your trip to Mexico, this guide can help you understand what kinds of local folk arts are commonly sold in Mexico. It will give you some background as to how they're made and will provide some tips as to what distinguishes the high-end gallery-quality pieces from the mass market schlock.
Artesanias is the commonly used term for handmade crafts and folk art. It includes items that are purely decorative, but also items that are practical items for common household use. While the term may be used to describe a fanciful wall sculpture, it may also describe hand-woven tablecloths. Artesanias are made from a wide range of materials in a variety of forms.
Sometimes the term used is artes populares, though this seems to apply mostly to decorative items on public display, such as in a museum, whereas artesanias implies that the articles have a practical purpose and are for sale.
Artesanias reflect popular culture, but they're taken very seriously in Mexico. The federal government has a Ministry of Culture and within it is an agency called FONART that researches, preserves, and promotes traditional Mexican artesanias across Mexico and via exhibits around the world. FONART also supports skilled indigenous artists by paying fair prices for their best work and either exporting them to international galleries, or offering them for sale to tourists in Mexico City who can stop at one of the official FONART stores, which are essentially high-end galleries with spectacular pieces on display. There are FONART stores on Avenida Reforma and in Polanco. When you buy from FONART you are assured of a high-quality piece that's genuinely made by craftsmen in Mexico. These days, cheap plastic knockoffs from China make it hard for a traditional craftsman to survive...be careful to avoid the junk that you often find in markets and roadside souvenir stores!
The idea behind mexicanidad is simple but its interpretation complex. Basically, it means "Mexican identity", the fundamental essence of what it means to be "Mexican". It encompasses traditions, themes, and values of the Mesoamerican societies that existed in Mexico before the time of the Spanish conquest, but also embraces the European cultural values that the Spanish brought with them. The idea of a blended Mexican identity that was not purely European nor purely indigenous began in the late 19th century, but was really taken to heart after the Mexican Revolution (roughly 1910 and later). People wanted art, music, architecture, literature, and social values to reflect Mexico and the unique blend of cultural influences that exist there.
Artesanias both reflect mexicanidad and define it.
Most artesanias have some common visual elements. Many items tend to either look old, as if they're from the colonial, or even the mesoamerican era, but it's not a hard and fast rule.
Colors can be extremely bright and bold, especially with carvings like alebrijes, or even home furnishings. It's also common to find items in the color palette used in the Aztec or Mayan temples, with a deep ochre red, and bright blues and yellows.
Common themes or motifs include:
- skulls and skeletons - particularly around the time of Day of the Dead celebrations. The stylized use of skulls and skeletons is generally attributed to the calaveras catrinas characters first popularized in 1910 by José Guadalupe Posada.
- geometric patterns - especially those that emulate patterns used at mesoamerican sites or found on relics uncovered from archaeological sites.
- nature - articles of any type from any era might include distinctive plants like maguey, or animals, particularly those associated with Mexican culture, such as the jaguar or the quetzal.
- spiritual symbols - ancient gods from the Maya, Purhepecha, or Aztec cultures are common, as are symbols, like Mayan glyphs or the Aztec calendar. The evangelization of indigenous people was a major goal of the Spanish during the colonial era, and Christian themes are often reflected in artesanias, particularly the Virgen of Guadalupe in mass-market popular arts. Some festivals and events include devils and stylized devil sculptures and masks are common.
The skill with which these elements are used (or avoided) and the attention to detail are what distinguishes a particular item from others. Generally, the more intricate the patterns and the finer the workmanship, the higher the value will be.
Talavera is a unique blend of Chinese, Arabic, and Mexican patterns on a range of different products, from elegant vases to dinner ware, to ceramic tiles used on walls or floors. Whole buildings in Puebla and Mexico City are covered in talavera tiles while most middle-class Mexican families probably own a talavera tea set. Talavera has been designated by UNESCO as part of the "intangible heritage of humanity". Cheap talavera is sold in every market and tianguis in Mexico and can make a good souvenir, though a more memorable piece might be purchased at a talavera workshop in Puebla. The best pieces are intricate, unique, and invariably expensive. An excellent collection of good talavera is displayed in the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City, and many other major museums.
Mata Ortiz pottery is a modern recreation of the pottery made by the pre-Colombian Mimbres and Casas Grandes cultures (related to the Mogollon culture) at Paquime in Chihuahua (state). Juan Quezada Celado is credited for researching the methods and designs of pottery (particularly the signature black-on-white zoomorphic figures) recovered during archaeological excavations, and producing replicas using local clay that would have been the same material from the same source as the historic originals. His workshop in the town of Mata Ortiz, near Casas Grandes produces some of the most coveted modern decorative pieces and he trains young artisans in their production. Mata Ortiz pottery is displayed in many museums around the world and is sold in upscale galleries (including Fonart) in Mexico City and in other countries. Large, intricately designed pieces can be quite expensive, but smaller sculptures can be memorable souvenirs at very reasonable prices.
Black pottery from Oaxaca is distinctive in looks, often being mistaken for a modern technique, though the tradition of black pottery is quite ancient and is known to have been produced by the people who once lived in Monte Alban, Oaxaca's most famous archaeological site, which dates back to about 100 BC. Older pieces have a gray matte finish while newer pieces usually have a metallic sheen to decorative elements, due to a process that was re-discovered by Doña Rosa in 1950 and is now commonplace in Oaxaca. The most coveted black pottery pieces come from the workshop of Carlomagno Pedro Martínez, a classically trained local artist who learned the art of black pottery as a child and who is now director of the Oaxaca State Museum of Popular Arts.
Alebrijes are fantastical creatures in brilliant colors that are one of Mexico's most iconic artesanias. Paper mache alebrijes are common in Mexico City. In Oaxaca, the alebrijes are hand-carved from copal wood, then hand-painted in acrylics. The first alebrijes were created by Pedro Linares in Mexico City. Linares was sick, lying in bed and hallucinating...when he recovered, he began creating paper mache figures of the creatures he saw in his visions. Many artists appreciated Linares' unusual works, and one sculptor, Manuel Jimenez, a native of Oaxaca, took them back to Oaxaca where he and others began making the fanciful creatures by carving copal wood. Today, both types of alebrijes are common. They are now made in several towns in Central Mexico and in Oaxaca, particularly in the village of San Martin Tilcajete. Besides Jimenez, a number of Oaxacan artists have become very in-demand for their alebrijes, including Jacobo Angeles, Martin Sandiego, Julia Fuentes, and Miguel Sandiego. In Mexico City, the most in-demand alebrijes are produced by Linares' family, including his grandchildren. Inexpensive alebrijes are sold in all tourist areas of Mexico with small pieces available for just a few dollars (or euros), though the best pieces are usually found in upper end artesania galleries in Mexico City and Oaxaca and may cost several hundred dollars.
José Guadalupe Posada published his first calavera catrina graphic in 1910. He was criticizing both the Mexican elite as well as everyday Mexicans who thought they needed to follow European models of sophistication. The image of the fancy skeleton has spread and adopted meanings far beyond what Posada initially conceived. Calaveras catrinas are usually female, but can be either female or male. They can be just a skull, or a full skeleton. They are associated not only with Day of the Dead celebrations, but any event that takes death too seriously. An excellent collection of calaveras catrinas is displayed in the Museum of Death in Aguascalientes.
|“||La Catrina has become the referential image of Death in Mexico, it is common to see her embodied as part of the celebrations of Day of the Dead throughout the country; she has become a motive for the creation of handcrafts made from clay or other materials, her representations may vary, as well as the hat.||”|
Calavera catrina sculptures are made almost anywhere with pottery workshops. Estado de Mexico has a number of artists producing distinctive calaveras catrinas figures as do Oaxaca, Puebla, and Michoacan.
Trees of Life
During the conquest, Spanish missionaries acted as cultural vandals, destroying anything they didn't understand or that they thought would undermine their Christian gospel. That included destroying statues of Mesoamerican gods and encouraging people to make statues that reflected biblical themes. One of the most striking examples of the "new and improved" approach was the tree of life (arbol de la vida) which was a pottery sculpture that represented the creation of life as interpreted from the book of Genesis. A tree of life typically has a representation of God himself (the Holy Spirit) at the top and Adam and Eve at the base, with branches containing angels, leaves, animals and anything else good in life. A tree of life can be fairly small, but larger ones are common and highly valued. The best are amazingly intricate, have fine brushwork and may have unusual motifs or color patterns. The best trees of life are made in the town of Metepec (now a suburb of Toluca in the state of Mexico, and in two towns in the state of Puebla: Acatlán and Izúcar de Matamoros. In Metepec, workshops run by the Soteno family are particularly well-regarded with their trees of life being available in several international galleries and their best trees of life being displayed in Mexican and international museums. Small trees of life can be purchased for as little as M$500, but an intricately made, large sculpture with unique motifs will cost from M$10,000 on up. (Large sculptures can take an artist months to complete.)
Masks are commonly made, used, and sold in artesania markets throughout Mexico. Many of the masks are made using techniques and materials that were used over 1,000 years ago by Mesoamerican cultures throughout Mexico. During the Spanish conquest, missionaries often destroyed masks representing gods, but the Spanish introduced some of their own mask traditions, particularly during celebrations of Carnaval, when local dances include characters that represent (or lampoon) Europeans or sometimes Africans. Examples of these masked dances include chinelos, popular in the state of Morelos, and danza de los viejitos, popular in the state of Michoacan. Masks that represent Europeans are often made of ceramic or paper mache while masks representing animals or mesoamerican traditions are often carved from wood, zompontle wood is commonly used in most areas, but cedar or other woods are also common. Devil masks are common throughout Mexico, and are another tradition introduced by the Spaniards, though devil masks are an example of mexicanidad in that they often combine mesoamerican mask traditions with spanish themes, for example, a mask may depict typical european views of satan, with horns and a fearsome grimace, but also reflect the Aztec god Tlaloc, with serpents around the eyes and snakelike fangs. The best, most carefully crafted masks are usually intended for use in regional festivals. They are made by a town's most experienced mask maker and command a premium price, though many good masks are sold in artesania shops, mercados, and tianguis.
Lacquer objects (referred to in Mexico as laca) have long been created in Mexico. Although they look similar to lacquer pieces from Asia, the craft was independently developed in Mexico by Mesoamerican cultures long before the Spanish (or any Asians) arrived on the continent. The lacquer finish is made from the aje larvae and chia seeds. Lacquer objects include gourds, serving platters, and even furniture. Lacquer artisans can be found in three villages in the state of Guerrero, the small cities of Patzcuaro and Uruapan in Michoacan, and the town of Chiapa de Corzo in Chiapas (where the Museo de Laca displays some of the best works).
Mexico is the world's leading producer of silver, yet only a fraction of the prodigous output ends up crafted by Mexican artisans. Taxco is Mexico's most famous center for fine silver work, and it owes much of its fame to an American ex-pat named William Spratling, a New York architect who came to Mexico to lecture at the UNAM in Mexico City but fell in love with the town of Taxco where he bought a home and built up the city's silversmith industry. Even though Taxco is one of the country's historic silver mining towns, it had no real tradition of silversmithing prior to Spratling's arrival in the 1920s.
Today, Taxco is a popular destination for travellers seeking silver serving ware or silver jewelry. There are more than 300 silver shops in the city's centro historico and some artisans welcome visitors to their workshops. Silver varies in quality, with the best silver being 99.9% pure. Most silver sold in Mexican artesanias is 92.5% pure. Articles labeled as "sterling silver" are 92.5% silver with copper alloys making up the remaining 7.5%. The biggest factor in determining the value of a particular piece is its workmanship. A heavier piece is, naturally, worth more, but so too is a piece with fine detail, filagree, and precious inlays. The heavier pieces are often older, second-hand pieces. In Taxco, the names Spratling or Margot de Taxco on a piece command a premium price, though a number of local silversmiths are well-known among the cognoscienti. The best time to visit Taxco is November when they host the National Silver Festival.
You hear so much about silver in Mexico that it's easy to forget that the country produces quite a bit of copper as well. When it comes to artisans making copper vessels using time-honored processes, the place to go is Santa Clara del Cobre, a small town in the Lake Patzcuaro region, where artesanias have been made since the 16th century (thanks to a missionary who thought it would be a good idea to encourage every local village to focus on a different trade). Santa Clara de Cobre is an ancient Purhepecha town where many of the indigenous population still speak their native tongue (in addition to Spanish, of course). The Purhepecha had developed a unique way of working copper that was more efficient than the methods used in Europe at the time, and the town's craftsmen still make copper the way they did 700 years ago.
For centuries, the workshops of Santa Clara del Cobre produced copper pots, urns, and cooking ware, but it wasn't until the 1970s that they also began fashioning jewelry from copper. Today, copper jewelry is one of the most popular artesanias sold in the markets of Patzcuaro.
In most countries, pewter is an alloy of tin, antimony, and copper. In Mexico, it is usually an aluminum alloy. The metal is used to fabricate plates, picture frames, and decorative home objects.
A wide variety of traditional Mexican garments are made using traditional materials and techniques and decorated using historically or culturally significant motifs. Some of the uniquely Mexican garments you might want to buy are:
|“||Is that a real poncho? I mean is that a Mexican poncho or is that a Sears poncho? Hmmm. No foolin'...||”|
—Frank Zappa, Camarillo Brillo
- Poncho - is basically a blanket with a hole cut in the middle through which a person can put his head. The poncho then hangs loosely. Usually made of wool or thick cotton in a variety of colors and patterns. The poncho is a cold weather garment for keeping warm. Frequently worn by Clint Eastwood in a series of Sergio Leone westerns.
- Rebozo - is a loose fitting wrap, like a shawl. It is often used by pregnant women for abdominal support and new mothers for carrying an infant. The town of Santa María del Río in San Luis Potosi claims to be the birthplace of the rebozo, has a museum dedicated to rebozos, as well as a number of shops selling nothing else
- Huipil - is a loose-fitting tunic that's usually embroidered and may have other decorations. Huipils are normally worn by women and are very common. The best huipils are hand-made and produced using a backstrap loom, but cheaper, lower-quality versions are widely sold, usually produced with commercial fabrics and little real artistry. Decorative styles vary regionally with flowered embroidery around the neck common in Central Mexico and geometric blocks or designs common in the Mayan communities of Yucatan and Chiapas. In the town of Santa María Magdalena in Chiapas, huipils incorporate symbols of the Mayan gods united with symbols of the natural world, such as frogs or quetzals. The town of Cuetzalan, Puebla has an annual Huipil and Coffee Festival in early October.
- Serape - also called a jarongo, is a wrap, like a shawl, or even a blanket. Traditional serapes were made using wool and heavier woven fabrics, but today, most people associate serapes with the city of Saltillo in the northern state of Coahuila. A Saltillo serape is very distinctive with multiple thin stripes of vibrant colors.
- Quexquémitl - is a pre-Hispanic type shawl that's made from square pieces of cloth that hang loose at the shoulders. Patterns, shapes and styles may have meanings to particular groups. For example, in the Huastec communities of San Luis Potosi, a fringe on the quexquemitl means that the wearer is married. A single woman might wear one without a fringe to let guys know that she's available.
Many indigenous communities throughout Mexico have weaving workshops that are open for tourists. They usually have several items for sale, though larger selections are available in mercados and tianguis throughout Mexico, and large well-known markets like the Mercado Coyoacan in Mexico City or Mercado Libertad in Guadalajara will have many vendors selling traditional garments. In the city of Oaxaca, the Museo de Textil de Oaxaca has a collection of more than 10,000 garments and a gift shop selling good quality pieces. Oaxaca is blessed with an abundance of mercados and tianguis, all of which have at least some vendors selling local artesanias. Naturally, the best of these with the widest selection is the Mercado de Artesanías.
Weavers in the Zapotec villages of Oaxaca have been making rugs for almost 500 years. The tradition began in 1535 when Fray Juan Lopez de Zarate arrived in town with sheep, looms, and a mission to spread the gospel to the local Zapotec and Mixtec communities. The rugs are handmade with unique designs. Every rug is a work of art with a range of designs, some surprisingly modern, many traditional geometric patterns. The village of Teotitlan Del Valle is particularly well known for having several master rug weavers whose workshops often welcome visitors to come learn about the techniques and the history behind the craft of fine rug making. Be forewarned, a good Zapotec rug can cost several thousands of dollars.
Muñecas are dolls and they're sold in many artesania markets throughout Mexico, especially in Otomi communities of Central Mexico, where women hand-embroider the black haired dolls they commonly call "Marias". They're similar to the Raggedy Ann dolls that American women sometimes make, but often with darker skin and always with black hair. A Maria is usually an inexpensive but authentic folk craft that can make for an excellent souvenir to bring home.
Handmade, solid wood furniture is common in Mexico. Unlike most of the things in this article, furniture isn't exactly something you can pack in your suitcase for the trip home. Many of the workshops will ship to the U.S. however, and the furniture is popular with American decorators so you can often find a place in the U.S. that has it. (But it's still fun to stop at the workshops and see things in person.)
Solid pine, hand-made furniture is popular in Mexico and is often found decorating boutique hotels, upscale restaurants and anyplace that wants to create a traditional look and feel. Hardware fittings, such as hinges, handles, and knobs is often hand-forged iron. Furniture is made in shops in many states including Guanajuato, Michoacan, and Jalisco.
Equipal barrel chairs and tables are a distinctive style of handmade Mexican furniture with diagonal slats at the base and that is typically made using pigskin, but is sometimes made from cowhide. The round chairs are quite comfortable, age well, and fit into modern living spaces where a southwestern motif is desired. These chairs are made in small (and not so small) furniture shops in small towns near Guadalajara, including Tlaqapaque, Tonalá and Zacoalco.
Amate is a Mexican paper making technique that dates back to at least the first century AD. It was the type of paper used by the Mayan and Aztec civilizations to record their codices. The oldest existing codex, the Grolier codex, is printed on amate and dates from the 11th-12th centuries. Three other surviving codices are printed on amate paper: the Dresden Codex, the Fejérváry-Mayer Codex and the Borgia Codex. A number of modern Mexican artists draw and paint on amate paper, though the paper is traditionally used for ceremonial purposes by Otomi and Nahua shamans, whose cut amante figures are sometimes available for sale. Amate is very much a niche artesania and is made in only a few Otomi and Nahua villages in the states of Puebla and Veracruz. The best known workshops are in the mountainous village of San Pablito, Puebla, a very non-touristic Otomi village where 3 very small workshops produce the paper. San Pablito is well off the beaten path and has no touristic infrastructure, but may be worth a visit to adventurous people who love native crafts.
Colorful sheets of paper (usually tissue paper) have patterns or designs cut into them. The papers are usually displayed on a string across a hallway or street, though people also use papel picado to decorate ofrendas for Day of the Dead or for festive Christmas decorations. The best papel picado is cut using a chisel and mallet.
Basketry might just be the oldest traditional craft of all the things you might find in an artesania, but it is one of the least celebrated or practiced in a modern era where cheap plastic containers from China make woven baskets an anachronism. There are few examples of pre-Hispanic baskets in existence, probably because they were used everyday, wore out, and were biodegradable so baskets left in an abandoned city-state just rotted, they didn't leave behind much for an archaeologist to uncover centuries later. As you travel around Mexico, you will undoubtedly find places where handmade baskets are still being made and sold. Mercado La Merced in Mexico City is one of the few traditional marketplaces with a large number of artisans selling baskets. Most similar places in Mexico tend to be communities with large indigenous populations, including Mayan communities in the Yucatan Peninsula, Seri communities in the northern state of Sonora, and Tarahamura (also known as Raramuri) communities near the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua. The town of Creel has artesania shops selling baskets.
In addition to silver jewelry, Mexico has a long tradition of jade and turqoise jewelry. Historical museums in Mexico have large collections of pre-Hispanic jewelry on display, particularly from the Olmec, Aztec, and Maya civilizations. Many jade pieces from the Olmec civilization date back as far as 1500 BC. Green jade is common in Maya jewelry and artworks, but the Olmec tended to favor a bluer color of jade that is commonly referred to as olmec blue. Both green and blue are jadeite. Modern-day artisans often favor indigenous designs and replicas of old designs are common. The Yucatan Peninsula is the best area for shopping for jade jewelry. Turqoise jewelry is also popular, though the gemstones used by Mexican artisans tends to be sourced from Arizona. Archaeologists believe the Mesoamericans had local sources of turqoise, but they don't seem to know where.
The Huichol people, who refer to themselves as the Wixarika, are a Mexica people whose language is related to Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs), but the languages are distinct and not mutually intelligible, and the cultures are quite distinct. The Huichol live in small villages in the Sierra Madre Occidental, primarily in the states of Nayarit and Jalisco. Their artwork is known for its bright colors, distinctive patterns and their extensive use of modern beads, particularly for animal figures and masks, though almost any object can be turned into an artwork by a creative Huichol artist. Animal skulls are frequently decorated with traditional Huichol patterns: most often deer, but you might find alligator skulls or even horns from bighorn sheep. Huichol artists also create elaborate patterns using yarn to make wall hangings: these are almost as common as colorful beadwork. The Huichol villages are remote and difficult to reach, but excellent collections of Huichol art are displayed in some of the resort areas of Nayarit, as well as in Puerto Vallarta, where there are two Tierra Huichol galleries (one on the Malecon, the other in Olas Altas). Besides showing and selling Huichol art, the gallery hosts native Huichol artists who are often seen creating their colorful beaded objects in house.
The places listed in this section are well-known workshops for high-end artesanias. Most offer tours or educational behind-the-scenes looks at how the crafts are made. Almost all will have artesanias available for sale, but wider selections will usually be available in galleries, markets, or at ferias in the towns and regions best known for a type of craft.
- 1 Museo de la Laca Armando Duvalier, Chiapa de Corzo, ☏ . 10:00 - 17:00 (closed Mon). Cultural museum showcasing lacquerware, including lacquer serving platters and similar tableware, as well as tables and other black lacquer furniture.
- 2 Mata Ortiz Arte en Barro, Calle Ferrocarril, Mata Ortiz (near Paquime), ☏ . 09:00 - 22:00. Workshop and gallery for Mata Ortiz pottery.
- 3 Taller Lugo, Miguel Hidalgo 33 (Calle de Sauce). 10:30 - 18:30 M-F, (Sa 10:00 - 16:00, closed Su). Workshop that designs, makes, and sells their own line of silver jewelry. Also does jewelry repairs.
- 4 Taller de los Ballestros, De Los Plateros 68, ☏ . 10:00 - 18:00 daily. Silver workshop with a wide variety of jewelry designs as well as silver picture frames, tableware and other household items.
- 5 Tianguis de Plata. Tianguis are informal marketplaces, like swap meets or farmers markets in other countries. In Taxco there is a tianguis devoted to silver with more than 100 vendors setting up tables every Saturday morning, ready to wheel and deal on jewelry or fine tableware.
- Feria Nacional de La Plata - the annual National Fair of Silver taxes place each November in the city of Taxco, one of Mexico's original (and most popular) Pueblos Magicos.
- 6 Taller Linares, Ferrocarril Industrial 251-7, Merced Balbuena, Venustiano Carranza, ☏ . Pedro Linares' children and grandchildren continue the family tradition of crafting paper mache alebrijes in Mexico City.
San Bartolo Coyotepec
The town of San Bartolo Coyotepec is a hub for barro negro pottery with more than a dozen small workshops you can visit. The town's Nuevo Mercado de Artesanias is a good place to shop around and see a wide range of sculptures and ornamental pieces from many of the town's craftsmen.
- 7 Alfareria Doña Rosa (Workshop of Doña Rosa), Benito Juárez 24, 1a Sección, San Bartolo Coyotepec, Oax., ☏ . 09:00 - 19:00. Home pottery workshop of Doña Rosa and source for some of the best barro negro pottery in Mexico.
San Martin Tilcajete
The town of San Martín Tilcajete is Mexico's foremost source of wooden alebrijes. There are dozens of alebrije workshops that welcome visitors to observe their carvers and painters and there are at least a dozen artesania shops that specialize in alebrijes.
- Feria de Alebrije - held in April each year, many of Mexico's top alebrije craftsmen display their best works for sale during this festival
Teotitlán del Valle
Zapotec village known for its traditional rug weavers. There are dozens of shops near the town center where you can shop for the perfect rug and several of the town's weavers welcome visitors to stop by their workshops to learn more about the craft of fine rug making.
- 8 Arriero Zapotec Rugs, Constitución #12, Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, ☏ . Traditional Zapotec weaver who welcomes visitors.
Many artisans work in Michoacan where the markets and tianguis typically have excellent selections of artesanias. The diversity and quality of products is usually credited to Vasco de Quiroga, first Bishop of Michoacan. In the 1530s, Quiroga set up small, self-governing communities for converted Purhepecha people around Lake Patzcuaro. He had the idea of training each community in a particular trade. The concept was successful, and almost 500 years later, the communities continue to specialize in specific crafts. You can drive around the lake (or better yet, hire a local guide who knows where the small workshops can be found). Shops, markets, and tianguis selling all of the products can be found in the towns of Pátzcuaro and Erongaricuaro as well as towns around the lake.
Lake Patzcuaro communities
- Patzcuaro - largest town in the region, specializes in black lacquer furnitures, has several shops selling artesanias, including Casa de las Once Patios. It is also home to an outstanding regional artesanias museum:
- 9 Museo de Artes y Industrias Populares, Enseñanza, Centro Pátzcuaro, ☏ . 09:00 - 17:00 (closed Mon). Fascinating local museum that tells the story of Purhepecha traditional crafts, from bronze metalworking to weaving. Every craft that is a specialty of the Lake Patzcuaro region has a display with examples of some of the finest quality pieces. Go here first and then you'll have an idea what you're looking at when you start visiting the local artesania shops.
- 10 Casa de las Once Patios, Madrigal de Las A. Torres. 09:00 - 19:00 daily. Famous artesania market that's spread across 11 levels (patios) with a large selection of excellent quality artesanias. Everything from pottery to embroidery. If you don't have time to explore the villages around the lake, this is a good "1 stop shop".
- Santa Clara de Cobre - the village's coppersmithing tradition dates back to 600 AD. The Purhepecha were the only Mesoamerican civilization that produced copper because it was found near the surface and didn't require mining. Today, the town has more than 2,000 coppersmiths working in more than 300 workshops. Some jewelry and decorative pieces are made, but mostly pots and other cooking vessels.
- Paracho - most of the town's population makes guitars, many in larger mass-production factories, but a substantial number in the small workshops of the master luthiers, or guitarreros, who craft fine instruments for the discriminating musician. Paracho is known to fans of the Disney movie, Coco.
- Erongarícuaro - this is where you'll find the weavers, spinning cloth from cotton and producing distinctive tablecloths and similar household items.
- Capula - is well-known for its pottery and for the past 50 years has become known for its excellent catrinas figures, produced in the workshop of artist Juan Torres.
- 11 Tierra Huichol, Olas Altas 246, Emiliano Zapata, ☏ . 10:00 - 22:00. Gallery for Huichol art, profits return to the Huichol community, certificates of authenticity on artworks. A second location is on the Malecon at Paseo Diaz Ordaz 592.
- 12 Muebles Colarte, Independencia #368C, Col. Los Puestos, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco. Artesanal furniture makers close to Guadalajara. Hand-carved, hand-painted wooden tables and chairs.
- Talavera de la Reyna, Camino a la Carcaña 2413, Cholula, Puebla (state), ☏ . M-F 08:30 - 16:30, Sa 8:30 - 13:00. Workshop producing a range of fine talavera products, including decorative arts, housewares, and tile. Stop in the workshop and see how talavera is made. A gallery displaying their products is in downtown Cholula.
- Uriarte Talavera, 4 Poniente 911, Centro Puebla, ☏ . Talavera workshop founded in Puebla in 1824. They also have a gallery in Polanco.
- 13 Mercado el Parián. 10:00 - 21:00 daily. Puebla's largest artesania marketplace is clean and well-organized, though it has a lot of low-quality junk aimed at the casual tourist with undiscriminating taste. Still, there are authentic pieces at reasonable prices if you're careful and know what you're looking at. Lots of textiles and talavera.
- 14 Santos de la Puerta, San Pablito, Puebla, ☏ . Traditional workshop and gallery where amate paper is made. See the process from harvesting the bark to final pressed sheets. Don Fausto Santos welcomes visitors to his workshop.