Folk art is not an easy word to define. Some folk art is made for sale to collectors. Other things considered folk art by some are made to be used everyday, such as hand-made children's toys. Some folk art in Mexico has been influenced by the Spanish while other folk art is based on traditional Indian arts and craft. Today, about 8 percent of the Mexican population, many of them Indian, earns a living making and selling forms of folk art and craft. Folk arts often begin with the creative ideas of a single person or a family and are then taken up by others in the village. Although folk art is based on shared traditions, it is constantly changing and evolving into new forms.
Masks have been used in many
cultures around the world. Masks
were an important part of Mexican
culture long before the Spanish arrived. Today, masks are mostly found in the southern, central, and northwestern states of Mexico where many Indian populations
Masks are still used at many festivals and ceremonial dances. Many of the masked dances are performed to secure happiness and good fortune. Popular subjects performed with masks include reenactment of the Spanish Conquest, religious tales, and dramas that include animals and supernatural figures.
In most areas masks are made by specialists who are usually men. Sometimes dancers make their own masks. Carved and painted wood is the most common material used. Masks are also made from leather, papier-mache, clay, cloth, cardboard, wire mesh, gourds and wax.
Pottery is probably the most popular Mexican folk art, and one of the most ancient. Pottery is found throughout the country, in many different styles and forms. Mexican pottery was traditionally
made by hand, using coils or molds. Called earthenware, this clay was fired at low temperatures. Before the Spanish came to Mexico, the firing took place in bonfires. Mineral glazes, the potter's wheel and open top kilns were introduced by the Spanish and are sometimes used today.
Common everyday pottery (la loza corriente) is simply decorated. It
comes in a range of shapes and sizes. Most of this pottery is used to
hold food or liquids. The more decorative pottery is often used for
ceremonies or household decoration. Pots are decorated with slips
(layers of liquid clay), paints, and glazes. Animal and human figurines
are often made for sale.
Villages often specialize in making certain types of pottery. In many
areas of the country, women might make the common ware and men
the decorative. In some villages the entire family will work together to
make a certain type of pottery.
Pottery, like all other Mexican crafts, has changed in the last 100 years.
Traditional pottery is still made, but now usually for sale.
Lacquer is a shiny coating applied over wood or gourd for protection or decoration. Applying lacquer is not an easy thing to do. First, the surface is smeared with vegetable or insect oils. Next, it is covered with several coats of powdered minerals, which are dried and polished before being painted.
Lacquer is done in three regions— Michoacán, Guerrero and Chiapas.
Three basic methods are used to create lacquerware: inlaid (embutido) is popular in Michoacán; painted (aplicado or dorado) in Guerrero and Chiapas; or carved (rayado) in Guerrero.
For inlaid pieces, a design is first laid down. Next, parts of the pattern are cut out and the hollows filled in with another color. For the
carved technique, two coats of contrasting colors are applied and the
top coat is scratched away. For painting, designs are simply painted
with oil pigments onto the lacquer surface.
Laquerware often comes in the form of gourds, as well as wooden
trays, dishes, and boxes. Decorations include flowers, leaves, people,
birds, and other animals.