A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about crafts

Mexican Christmas decorations

Artistic and colorful

Mexico is a colorful place any time of year but round about Christmas time, the markets become even brighter and more colorful with a wide range of locally made Christmas decorations. Of course, the glittering star-shaped piñatas catch your eye immediately but so do the beautifully crafted decorations made of straw, wood, glass, ceramic and metal.

I saw these three Christmas trees covered in traditional Mexican decorations at the bottom of the hill leading up to the Castillo de Chapultepec in the park and couldn't resist taking some photos...

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There's no end to the market stalls overflowing with color and artistic creativity. Here are a few more photos...

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Before we leave Mexico, I'm definitely going to fill my suitcase with a few of these to take back home!

Posted by margaretm 03:36 Archived in Mexico Tagged christmas traditions color crafts mxico Comments (1)

Alebrije monsters invade Mexico City

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Every year, towards the end of October, Mexico City is invaded by hundreds of strange-looking gigantic monsters. They come out of hiding to gather together in the Zócalo and then march down to Paseo de la Reforma. You can find them camped out between the Fuente a la Diana Cazadora and El Ángel de la Independencia, a mass of brightly-coloured beasts rubbing shoulders with each other and sparking off flashes (camera flashes, of course). These creatures can only be described as a wild mix of imagination, creativity and fluorescent colours, and seem to have been inspired by equal doses of fantasy-filled dreams and terrifying nightmares. Some may look pretty fearsome and spooky, especially to the smallest members of the public gazing at them. Thank goodness, they are all just made of papier mâché, cardboard, kilos of paint and weeks of hard work.

This year's 5th Monumental Alebrije Parade, organised by the MAP (Museo de Arte Popular), took place last Saturday. After weeks and months of trabajo duro, artists from all around the city, including professional craftsmen, schools, associations and families, put the finishing touches to their alebrijes and they were transported to the Zócalo. I saw them being taken on large trucks and being parked there on my early morning bike ride. Later that day, a long parade of eye-catching creatures snaked their way around the centre, ending up in Paseo de la Reforma where they have been left on show for thousands of people to see and marvel at over the next few days.

Alebrijes originated in Mexico City in 1936 when a Mexican artisan called Pedro Linares began making the strange, wild-looking creatures he'd seen in a feverish dream while sick. He re-created them, using cardboard and papier mâché, and painted them in bright colours and designs. The name alebrijes comes from the word he kept hearing in his hallucinations. Gradually the craft spread to other parts of Mexico, in particular Oaxaca, where they started carving and painting small, fantasy-inspired animal figures in wood. Nowadays, you can buy small examples of this popular Mexican craft in shops everywhere.

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Small alebrijes for sale in a craft shop

No two of the tiny alebrijes are the same. Neither are the gigantic Alebrijes being exhibited in Reforma, which this year number around 200. Each one has a unique design and has been painstakingly painted and decorated at the whim of the artist or artists. Creatures with wings, scales, claws, spikes, fangs, spots, suckers, feathers, horns, tongues, tails, and all kinds of appendages have once again come together at their annual parade. An amazing display of imagination-run-wild, creativity and talent..... and true works of art, Mexican-style.

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Ozzy admires the alebrijes from the car

Don't forget your camera...

P.S. The Monumental Alebrijes have now been moved to the Zócalo until the 6th November

Posted by margaretm 03:49 Archived in Mexico Tagged art events colours traditions mexico_city crafts alebrijes Comments (0)

An incredible woman and her collection...

Ruth Lechuga

Tucked away in the leafy, bohemian residential area of Condesa awaits a surprise. Nothing outside prepares you for what's inside. We go through the front door of a once-fashionable 1920’s apartment building, climb up to the second floor and rap at the door with the animal-shaped knocker. It could be your aunt's life-long apartment but it isn't. It belonged to Ruth Lechuga and we are about to find out who this amazing lady was.

The door opens and I stifle a gasp. There's no "auntie" smell of perfume and bath salts, of recent cooking or baking. Instead, it's a faint smell of the past, of items stored for years. As we go through the doorway, we step straight into an Aladdin’s Cave of Mexican folk art. The walls sag under the weight of hundreds of dance masks which Ruth collected throughout her life. Room after room is crammed full of furniture, showcases with nacimientos (nativity scenes), árboles de vida (trees of life), dolls, lacquerware, textiles, basketware and ceramics. We are immersed in the essence of Mexico’s indigenous people, surrounded by native craft traditions.

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An Aladdin's Cave of Mexican folk art

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An ornamental gourd with a carved bird on top

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Ceramic pots hanging up

Our guide around the house, Marta Turok, is herself an exceptional woman – among other things, an anthropologist, a Mexican folk art and textile expert and writer. She knew Ruth Lechuga personally and is the curator of the house-museum, taking care of Ruth’s invaluable legacy. Her lively, interesting explanations bring Ruth and her collection to life.

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Marta Turok guiding us around the house

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Items made by indigenous people

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Typical Huichol artwork

Ruth Lechuga (1920-2004) was born in Vienna, but when the Nazis invaded Austria, she came to live in Mexico in 1939, at the age of 19. She was immediately captivated by the Mexican people, the colours, the traditions, the climate, the coasts and the jungles and decided to make this her permanent home. Her father’s passion was archaeology and Ruth used to accompany him on his visits to different sites, where she was much more fascinated by the local markets and traditional life. During these visits, she would buy something, a small souvenir, and bring it home. Decades later, her collection has swollen to 10,000 items, gradually colonising and taking over the intimate space of these three apartments.

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Inside the apartment

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Some of the dance masks

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Animal masks

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The jaguar is a recurring theme


Although she studied Medicine, her real passion was for Mexican folk art. In 1950 she married Carl Lechuga and together they travelled far and wide, often by mule or in small planes, to reach the more isolated indigenous communities. A gifted photographer, she also built up an outstanding collection of 20,000 photographs, creating an important anthropological archive dedicated to the daily life and sacred ceremonies in Mexico.

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Some of Ruth's photographs

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Masks

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Figures hanging up

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Ceramics and masks

Her special interest in máscaras, dance masks, led her to find out more about the traditions and each item of her collection, whether masks or ceramics or textiles, was bought after meeting the artisano, finding out the story behind it and its purpose and the materials with which it was made. Not only that, she meticulously catalogued most of them, building up an invaluable legacy for us today. As we follow Marta through the apartments, the lights go on in room after room, revealing different aspects of Ruth’s collection. We learn about the multi-coloured artifacts and traditions of the tarahumaras, coras, huicholes, mayas, tlaxcaltecas or purepechas.

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Art on a gourd

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Huichol dress

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Ceramic Tree of Life

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Basketware

The final surprise comes after passing through a small corridor choked with a jungle of basketware and we emerge suddenly into Ruth’s bedroom. Sprouting from the bright pink walls are dozens of white calaveras (skulls), skeletons and other Day of the Dead items. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea for decorating their bedroom but entirely in keeping with this pioneering woman’s passion and way of life.

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Pink and white bedroom

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Skulls and skeletons

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Ruth's bed

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Bedside photos of Ruth Lechuga

(Note: Marta Turok kindly gave me permission to publish these photos in my blog provided I put a visible watermark on them. Thank you, Marta.)

Posted by margaretm 04:21 Archived in Mexico Tagged museums mexico city crafts Comments (0)

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