Typically referred to as artesanías, Mexican folk art often has a purpose beyond the decorative and is typically crafted by someone with no formal training (often from an indigenous group). While Oaxaca is the state most associated with typical Mexican folk art, each region offers its own contribution. Here’s your introduction to this world of artisanal Mexican goods in just ten pieces.
Taxco is well-known around the world for being Mexico’s city of silver, as well as a beautifully historic pueblo mágico situated right near the Guerrero/ State of Mexico border. If you visit the town itself, silver markets abound, although you should always use good judgement when it comes to making your purchase as some pieces are of far lower quality than others. It’s fairly easy to source Taxco silver jewellery in various different places across Mexico, given its popularity.
We’ve thrown both textiles and woven rugs in together, as they’re two of the most common Mexican folk art pieces and well-worthy of mention. While textiles, such as the traditional and often heavily embroidered huipil blouse or the guayabera shirts, can be easily found across the country, you really ought to buy your woven rugs directly from source in the Teotitlán del Valle region of Oaxaca. This ensures the producers receive the entirety of the money spent for their laborious and gorgeous work.
Another key piece of cultural heritage from Oaxaca are the vibrantly hand-painted alebrijes that make for an excellent talking point once you get them back home. Hand whittled before being carefully decorated, each and every piece is unique and surprisingly lightweight, so take care when transporting it. If you’re interested in other pieces of wooden Mexican folk art, consider picking up a molinillo, exquisite objects designed to froth up your hot chocolate.
If you want some highly affordable cowboy boots, a leather saddle bag or even just a dainty coin purse, then León, Guanajuato is the place to head. Being heavily associated with cowboy and charrería culture, you can find finely detailed and authentic Mexican leatherwork across the country in roaming tianguis or fixed location mercados. Wherever you decide to buy, there is literally something for everyone (vegans excluded) when it comes to this piece of folk art, from elaborately stamped pieces to more understated items.
The Huichol people are the brains behind these heavily elaborate pieces of jewellery and art, made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny, brightly coloured beads. You can find dainty earrings, statement necklaces and subtle bracelets in this Huichol style, as well as larger pieces of art like heavily adorned jaguar sculptures and beaded sugar skulls. Each piece takes hours of concentrated effort to produce, and buying direct from producers means the artists earn all the profit.
When it comes to pottery, Oaxaca and Puebla arguably reign supreme in Mexico, alongside Jalisco. San Bartolo Coyotepec in Oaxaca boasts the highly polished, almost artificial looking black pottery that would add a touch of class to any home, whereas Puebla is easily best known for Talavera tiles. These highly regional products can only be made with clay found in Puebla and only use the six naturally occurring colours. Finally, Jalisco is best known for bruñido (burnished) style pottery.
Perhaps the most useful of all the folk arts, shoes and leather sandals aside, hammocks are typical of the Yucatán region of Mexico. If you want to truly integrate with Mexican locals on the Yucatán peninsula, the only way forward is to buy a handcrafted hammock. Durable, traditional and highly practical, many houses in Mexico come with built in hooks on the wall so you can install your hammock with ease.
The beautiful Trees of Life for which the State of Mexico is best known, are arguably one of the more decorative folk arts in our guide, swaying away from the typical categorisation as functional pieces of art. Even so, no guide to Mexican folk art would be complete without mentioning these elaborately produced and colourfully decorated items. While they once usually depicted biblical stories, you can now find Trees of Life that tell other tales.
One type of Mexican folk art that’s abundantly present in day to day Mexican life, but often overlooked by travellers, is that of paper craft. A pre-Columbian art form, it originates in Mayan culture and was first used for documenting daily life or for clothing. However, as time progressed paper craft in Mexico developed into that which we see today – the delicately laser cut banners and strings of bunting (banderolas) that decorate public buildings and houses across Mexico.
Finally, another perennially practical piece of folk art common in Mexico and popular amongst both locals and tourists is that of hand blown glass. The items this production technique produces are both unique and beautiful, often streaked with vibrant splashes of colour. Whether you’re looking for margarita glasses, deep goblets or just some narrow high balls for your next cocktail party, hand blown Mexican glass is the way to go.