The history of Mexico's folk art spans more than 2,000 years and has been influenced by numerous cultures. Ancient Mexican art was primarily intended for religious ritual purposes, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. "The Olmec, Zapotec, Toltec, Maya, Mixtec, and other indigenous people of ancient Mesoamerica created an array of effigies, vessels, and sculpture that portrayed their world," states the Smithsonian. Aztecs in Mexico were also advancing their art forms long before the Spanish came to conquer Central America in the 1500s, bringing along with them European techniques.
Ancient Mexican Art
Mexican pottery is one of the most popular and most ancient Mexican folk art forms, according to Nicole Mullen in her book, "Mexican Folk Art," 2004. Earthenware pottery was made by hand using coils or molds, then fired at low temperatures in bonfires. Mexican folk art in ancient times also included masks made of carved, painted wood, as well as other materials such as leather, clay and gourds. Other ancient forms of Mexican folk art included basket-making and paper arts.
The Colonial Period
According to the Smithsonian, Spanish settlers brought their own artistic traditions to Mexico. Muslim techniques and styles were introduced during the period of Spanish rule, from 1521 to 1821. During that same time period, "Asian motifs also arrived, a by-product of commerce between Spain and the Philippines," the Smithsonian says. The Spanish introduced mineral glazes, the potter's wheel and open-top kilns to Mexican pottery artists. Mexican hand-blown glass, which is a popular Mexican art form today, was also introduced by the Spanish. Glass was first crafted in Puebla and later became popular in Mexico City and Jalisco.
Early 20th Century
"The 1920s and 1930s have often been described as Mexico's renaissance. During this time, the government and the general population took a new interest in the arts and culture of Mexico," Mullen says. Collecting and preserving Mexican folk art became popular, and exhibitions took place in Mexico and the United States. Feliz Lopez, an early 20th-century artist, created a giant mask in 1945 that is still used at carnival time in Mexico.
Clothing and Textile Art
Weaving is another ancient craft, according to Mullen. "The oldest loom-woven fragment in the country dates back to between 900 and 200 BC. Fibers used include, bark, agave and cotton." During the Colonial period, the Spanish brought wool and silk to Mexico and synthetic fibers and dyes were introduced in later periods. The Spanish also introduced the treadle, or floor loom, to Mexican weavers who previously used a backstrap loom. Examples of Mexican textile art include the rebozo--a woman's shawl, and sarapes or large blanket capes worn by Mexican men in the 19th century.
Leather, Metal and Stone Art
Deer, jaguar and other animal skins were used in the leather art of ancient Mesoamerica, according to the Smithsonian: "Spanish immigrants introduced cattle, sheep, and hogs to the New World, expanding the raw materials leather workers could use." In ancient Mexico, copper was used to make axes and bells while gold and silver were used to make jewelry. Iron began to be used in metalworking after the Spanish conquest. Stone carvings representing deities, warriors and priests are part of ancient Mesoamerican tradition. Today, stonework made from alabaster, freestone, granite, onyx and obsidian is used in fountains and garden pots, among other things.
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