An Introduction to Mexican Folk Art for the Uninitiated

Learn more about Mexican folk art…

Mexico has as great a variety of folk art as any other country in the world. Folk art has its roots in indigenous culture and has been handed down through families for many generations, sometimes hundreds of years. Each artist has acquired a deep knowledge of materials and techniques, a passion for quality, and a high level of skill honed over many years of working and learning from family members or village artists, often since childhood.

Folk art expresses the distinctive soul of the country and culture that is Mexico. Spanish conquerors converted indigenous populations to Catholicism (after they decimated their numbers with diseases and enslavement). However, the native Mexicans never abandoned their cherished traditions and beliefs; they simply incorporated the Christian story into their centuries-old traditions, mythologies, religions, and art. Saints in Mexican Catholicism closely resemble the gods they had in their indigenous culture. Mexico’s beloved and ubiquitous Virgin of Guadalupe is simply a Catholic-acceptable version of the goddess Tonantzin: Mother Earth, the Goddess of Sustenance, the Great Mother. According to tradition, the Virgin of Guadalupe first appeared on the hill of Tepeyac, which was the site of the pre-Hispanic worship of Tonantzin.

Folk art is entirely regional. Artists in one village all work in the same traditional craft, and nowhere else in the world will you find that style of work. It would be rare to find a woodcarver in a town where the tradition is ceramics.

The subjects portrayed in folk art are usually scenes of simple country life, nature, mythology, Day of the Dead, religion, traditional arts, and humor. A common theme is duality: sun and moon, male and female, life and death, day and night – the yin/yang of Mexican culture. The mermaid embodies both land and sea and so is a symbol of the universe.

Above all, folk art is an expression of the history and the heart and soul of the Mexican people and their distinctive culture.

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