Mexican Folk Art has many sources of inspiration: myths, stories, cartoons, festivals, dreams, and religious art. Much of Mexico’s folk art aesthetic represents the clash between older folk traditions and post-Columbian Christian influences: the comparatively recent meeting of the two means that the joins are more apparent, hence the bright colours, exuberant religious imagery, and stylised motifs.
Milagros often has Mexican Folk Art by the following Mexican Artists –
Alvaro De La Cruz,
The Vilchis Family,
The Lorenzo Family,
Antonio De Cielito Lindo Studio.
These niches, or nichos, come from a small workshop named Cielito Lindo, based in the town of San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato. Traditionally nichos are made by tin workers, and sold without adornment, so as to be made into household shrines. They might contain the image of a recently deceased family member, a saint or a virgin. Cielito Lindo, however, use these nicho boxes in a different way: they pick up on the Day of the Dead tradition of using skeleton imagery in a humorous manner, much like the early 20th century graphic artist and cartoonist Posada, who became famous for combining similar images with witty rhymes. Cielito Lindo have reprised his work by illustrating popular sayings in its dioramas, such as the classic “a man who washes a pig with soap wastes both time and soap”, and many others…
The Saint Paintings are painted onto hardboard by various members of the Lorenzo family. The family originates from Xalitla, Guerero. Xalitla, which is halfway between Mexico City and the Pacific resort of Acapulco, was famous for painted ceramics. With the advent of mass tourism in the 1960s, however, local artisans saw the need for a more portable product, and started painting onto amate, bark, and paper. These paintings often contain many miniature figures and illustrate village life and festivals. Lucas Lorenzo began painting in this style. After he taught his compadre/best friend, the technique, he decided to do something different so that they wouldn’t end up competing for business. It was then that he started painting larger figurative pictures, mainly of saints and virgins. His oldest son Jesus Lorenzo followed his father into painting in this style. As these paintings became more popular, other family members started painting in similar but distinctive styles.
Alfredo Vilchis is a neighbourhood retablo painter who lives and works in Mexico City. The tradition of painting retablos was brought to Mexico from Spain, where it was popularised. Retablos are traditionally commissioned to give thanks for a prayer answered. The Vilchis family still work in this manner, but also make these paintings on tin to sell as art. Retablos are generally characterised as having a small picture of the saint or figure prayed to in one corner, with a larger picture depicting the subject of the prayer and a short written description giving names, a date, and a description of the event at the bottom of the painting. Frida Kahlo had a large collection of popular retablos and her own work is clearly influenced by them.
The paintings being supplied to the V&A are by Alfredo’s sons: Daniel, Hugo, and Luis.
Papel Mache and wire figures
Saulo Moreno, who is in his late eighties, has a unique approach to creating papel mache figures. He initially gives all his attention to creating the bent wire armatures which give his figures structure and life (which is ironic, as many of his figures are skeletons!). He then wraps the wire structures in craft paper, but only partially so that you can often see inside them. He grew up in Mexico City and studied art at the prestigious Academy of San Carlos there, but dropped out because his teachers wouldn’t let him use colour! Some of his early work was bought from a folk art gallery by Diego Rivera.
He now lives in Tlalpujahua, Michoacan.
The dogs head jugs are made by Bernaldina Rivera in Huancito, Michoacan. The pots are decorated with clay slip and are burnished – not glazed – prior to firing. This is a technique that pre-dates the arrival of the Spaniards who brought glazing technologies to the New World. Bernaldina’s work is typical of Huancito, where a number of other potters work in the same style, but she is one of the finest makers there. She has won many accolades and prizes for her work.
Trees of Life
Trees of life candle holders are made in several parts of Mexico. They were traditionally made for weddings, representing as they do nature, fertility and, through the inclusion of Adam and Eve, Catholic mythology relating to the origins of life. The trees are made by dipping terracotta in plaster, and subsequently detailed using fine brushes.The Castillo family live and work in Izucar de Matamoros, Puebla, which has a pottery tradition dating back to pre-Columbian times. In the mid-twentieth century, several people, including Catalina Orta Urosa, started to elaborate on this tradition, while still working in the polychromatic style typical of the town. Four of Catalina’s children (including Isabel Castillo Orta) followed in her footsteps, and those four families are still producing this style of work. Isabel, now in her 80s, and her children have made the tree of life candle holders and the duck pyramid candle holder for the V&A.
Made in Tzintzuntzan, Michoacan, by the late Consuelo Rendon. Her daughter, who works in a similar style and who now has the molds for the angels, is now trying to continue her mother’s work. Tzintzuntzan was the capital of the pre-Columbian Tarascan state, which held off the Aztecs until the Spanish arrived. It has been a pottery town for centuries. The remains of of its pyramids overlook the present-day town and Mexico’s biggest lake, Lake Patzcuaro. The town also now hosts one of Mexico biggest Day of the Dead celebrations. The black on white slip decoration is one of the decorative styles typical of the town.
Oaxacan Wood Carvings – Alebrijes
The painted figures are carved from a fine-grained wood called copal and come from San Martin Tilcajete, in the state of Oaxaca. San Martin is one of several villages near the city of Oaxaca which have become famous for this style of carving. Until the 1970s the inhabitants of these villages mainly supported themselves by subsistence farming and a little embroidery. Wood was carved to make masks for the dances which took place on festive occasions, a common Mexican practise, and also to while away the time when watching livestock graze.
In the 1970s, a couple of the mask makers pushed the carving into new areas and had the connections to promote this new work, now known as “alebrijes”. Other people in the villages, seeing the success of these innovative carvers, quickly followed them into producing carved and painted figures. In the following decades, there was a significant increase in demand for these figures. Oaxaca is a popular tourist destination and many were sold to galleries catering to this market. They can now be found at almost every tourist destination in Mexico and have pretty much become synonymous with the country, becoming increasingly popular in the United States, which imported them by the thousand. Unique pieces made by the more skilled and innovative carvers and painters were bought by collectors in the USA and a premium was paid by collectors for the work of some families. There are now collectors of this work all over the world. Selling wood carvings has markedly raised the standard of living over the last 50 years in the villages where it is now commonplace. Generally, men carve the figures and women paint them.
The influences for the wood carving come from many sources including : folk traditions, fairy tales from all over the world, animals real and imagined, and Disney cartoons. The decorative styles used to adorn the carvings have evolved with time and can be incredibly intricate. The better makers each have an almost unique and readily identifiable style.
Juventino Melchor is famous for his animal musicians and he is supplying these to the V&A shop. He does the carving and his wife and other family members do the painting. Mother and daughter, Margarita and Gabriela Sosa, have painted the cats.