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Apr 8, 2004, 6:15 PM

Post #1 of 8 (1256 views)


Authentic craft sources

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I haven't noticed any posts in a while regarding sources for good crafts primarily from their indigenous makers. In particular, I'll be looking soon for tiles, glass, metalwork, etc. to complete my home here in Mazatlan.

Most of my compatriots travel to Guadalajara to purchase from the numerous middle markets and some original manufacturers there. However, I'm seeking to go a little farther afield. I have heard of wonderful sources in Michoacan and in Oaxaca but the details are always somewhat sketchy. Any ideas?

ˇEchar todo la carne al asador!

Carol Schmidt

Apr 9, 2004, 7:01 AM

Post #2 of 8 (1217 views)


Re: [mazgordon] Authentic craft sources

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Dolores Hidalgo is a small city near San Miguel de Allende which is noted for its ceramics, particularly talafera--there's a fierce battle going on between ceramicists in that town and elsewhere in Mexico since Dolores Hidalgo ceramicists say they are the only ones to use the authentic original techniques imported from Spain, the rest are copying. (As if copying has ever been a problem in Mexico and much of the world.) Talafera is that brightly painted designwork that you'd recognize on sight but it's hard to describe. We got some great animal sculpture ceramic pots for outside and inside.

Gorky's factory in Guanajuato is supposed to be an excellent source for ceramics as well. I haven't been there, the cab driver we hired on our short visit to Guanajuato couldn't find it. But it's listed in the tourist literature as a destination.

Outside Guadalejara is Tlaquepaque, a suburb known for its crafts, but I found it cheaper in Tonola, also a suburb (both towns were once individual towns but have been absorbed by Guadalejara's sprawl). Ken Edwards' dinnerware and small ceramics are world renknown--you can see his stuff on the web, do a search--and his factory is in Tonola. You can get seconds sometimes, udetectable blemishes to me. We got a complete set for six with accessory pieces for around $400 by including as many seconds as we could find, and one person on our tour found a set for $300, while the same sets in the Tlaquepaque Ken Ewards store were around $600-800 US, and buying on the net you'd pay probably $1,000 US. They delivered our set to San Miguel for us, too.

I've heard there is a tile factory near San Miguel but I don't know anything about it. San Miguel shops ore full of tin work and those hanging metal lanterns in star shapes that look so nice when lit. Casa Cohen is a long-time shop in downtown San Miguel which does custom pewter, silver, tin and other metal work, absolutely beautiful stuff--fancy faucets, mailboxes, door knobs, shelf pulls, dinnerware, bathroom accessories, etc. Expensive, compared to other Mexican crafts factories, but far less than you'd pay in the States. He's been there for many, many years and he's an old man but has a lot of younger Mexican metalworkers in training.

In Oaxaca, of course, are the delightful painted wooden animals, and the black ceramics. They're all over, and you can tell the better quality ones right away.

Leon is known for its leatherwork. I haven't done any shopping there yet, I've just gone through for airport trips, but it's famous worldwide.

Hope this helps,

Carol Schmidt


Apr 9, 2004, 4:37 PM

Post #3 of 8 (1183 views)


Re: [mazgordon] Authentic craft sources

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In general terms, certain villages are known for certain crafts. A good guidebook would help you locate these villages. The Lonely Planet guidebook has 30 pages with info on handicrafts, with village names listed.

In Oaxaca, you could simply go to the tourist office or the hotel desk and ask which villages have markets on which days, and which villages are famous for what crafts. Plan to be there on the weekend, at least. You can educate yourself on quality and prices by visiting the shops in town before you go to the villages or the big market in town. I think of Oaxaca for textiles and for certain kinds of ceramics.

I have not seen that much of glass handicrafts in Mexico, and my Lonely Planet guide did not list a town to visit for this kind of craft.

I will list a few examples, pulled from memory and the Lonely Planet guidebook.
Mata Ortiz in Chihuahua is famous for ceramics, based loosely on the pots dug out of archeological sites near Paquime. We were just there in January, and people came out of the woodwork to invite us into their homes and show us their work as we walked down the streets. A google search on Mata Ortiz should let you see pictures of some of their work.
The city of Puebla in Puebla state is famous for wonderful talavera tile and ceramic pots. The quality and cost are higher than in Dolores Hidalgo. I recall shops there, rather than people selling out of their homes.
Santa Clara de Cobre, in Micheocan, is famous for copperwork, but I have not been there yet.
Taxco in Guerrero state is famous for silver jewelry, but I think that it has more tourist shops than people working out of their homes.

Many of these villages have "masters" of the art, whose work shows up in museums abroad, and the master's work has correspondingly high price tags. But the master's relatives and neighbors often produce similar work at a more reasonable price. It is your choice, and by walking around the village you can compare prices, designs, and quality, and probably get your picture taken with the artist if you desire.

If you see something that you like in a shop, ask where the work came from, the owner usually knows the name of the village and is willing to tell you.

It is fun to shop, it makes your travels have a focus and a purpose. In Mata Ortiz, I had a bit of a challenge tracking down the lady who made a pot that I liked, but it was interesting to look for her and eventually get my picture taken with her and the pot she made. Our friends, who don't get to Mexico that often, went a bit crazy buying, but they had planned to spend a fair amount of money. Obviously, it makes it a bit easier to speak Spanish, but they speak enough English to sell you something.

Leave room in your suitcase or trunk. Bring cash, the villagers will not take American Express or Visa, and the smaller towns will not have ATMs. Disposable diapers are a good way to pack ceramics or other fragile objects to keep them from breaking in transit. The shops and artists tend to wrap their wares in newspaper and tape, which is cheap for them, but not great protection against damage.


Apr 9, 2004, 4:49 PM

Post #4 of 8 (1177 views)


Re: [raferguson] Authentic craft sources

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Thanks so much to you both! This is great information and exactly the kind of input I was hoping for by posting on this wonderful national forum. I hope that any one else with ideas will chime in as well!

I will be sure to post photos of the project when it's completed. I have nearly 7000 sqft under roof in this ca. 1878 home of mine and hope to make it a showcase for our firm and for future generations.

Gordon Gilkey in Centro Historico, Mazatlan

ˇEchar todo la carne al asador!


Apr 9, 2004, 8:14 PM

Post #5 of 8 (1156 views)


Re: [raferguson] Authentic craft sources

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Thanks Richard for your detailed reply.

Something that many may have forgotten - or didn't know - is that Mexico Connect has one of the most complete Mata Ortiz information sources.

The series by Michael Allen Williams on that creative community can be found at:


David McL

jennifer rose

Apr 9, 2004, 8:24 PM

Post #6 of 8 (1152 views)


Re: [Carol Schmidt] Authentic craft sources

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Gorky's factory in Guanajuato is supposed to be an excellent source for ceramics as well. I haven't been there, the cab driver we hired on our short visit to Guanajuato couldn't find it. But it's listed in the tourist literature as a destination.

Gorky Gonzalez' website can be found at

For more about Michoacan artesania, go to the Michoacan Forum on this site, where you can find the Michoacan Resource Index. Therein contained are a number of articles about the various brances of handcrafts in this state.

(This post was edited by jennifer rose on Apr 9, 2004, 8:24 PM)


Apr 9, 2004, 10:51 PM

Post #7 of 8 (1139 views)


Re: [mazgordon] Authentic craft sources

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15 minutes outside Oaxaca is the village of San Bartolo Coyotepec. It is famous for black pottery and is the only place where the method is known. It is a Zapotec village, but few if any people there speak Zapotec. They all speak Spanish. The village is not very big.

While all the tourists buses go to Dona Rosa's store; it is important to know that Dona Rosa is dead and that the proliferation of stuff there is made in local small production factories from molds. The work sold there has nothing to do with Dona Rosa and all to do with a very successful business her son carrys on. I have heard that 200 people work behind the closed doors making stuff Dona Rosa would not recognize.

For a genuine craft experience I recommend going to Alfareria Juanita a block and a half or two before Dona Rosa's display store on the left-hand side of the street. Juana and her daughter Claudia work jointly making black pottery. They will gladly demonstrate their working methods. They don't make souls nicer than those two. Juana will make a perfectly shaped pot without a potters wheel, by skillfully punching and patting it into shape.

The most famous carved animal maker (alebije) in Arrazola calls me "Tio". He is quite an old man (I'm not). It is a cultural thing. He is a curandero also, an extremely religious man and shouldn't be disturbed. Meeting him is not easy. I can't afford his work, but I like his company.

More primitive water carrying jug and vessel pottery can be found in the Sierra Mixe. A very significant percentage of people don't speak Spanish there. An outsider just driving into town there might be a tough hand to play. The mountains are significant. Thier storys say that the people there came from Peru in very ancient times. On market day true unadulterated pulque is sold. Don't be fooled by the crowd around the Catholic Church on religous days; there are people at the same time up at the peak of the major mountains sacrificing turkeys with their curanderas. A visit to a sacrificial site (I don't think I would do this without a person to speak for you in Mixe) will reveal evidence of quiet heavy use. Sacrifice is usually followed with cerimonial drinking of pulque from bowls. Not much need to worry about contamination of indigenous authenticity up there.

"Hecho todo a mano." "Mucho trabajo." "Muy dificil." The more you hear that the faster you ought to run. Much of that stuff can be bought cheaper in Los Angeles than in Mexico because it is closer to the source - China. Mexico add a duty onto Chinese-made Mexican crafts. The people that drone those lines usually haven't work in years, if ever. The people who really do work talk about it less (same as in the USA - the louder someone talks about hard work, the less likely they do any.).

You can buy a semi truck load of craft stuff in Mexico and it will all start to look alike after a few years. Unless you know the person that made it, it is just stuff. When you know the person who made it that memory will keep the item fresh and alive in your mind for a lifetime. The fact that Nelson Rockefeller knew Dona Rosa when they were both alive doesn't make the stuff they are selling now worth 2 cents. Value come from a different direction, as the wood carving master knows so well.

Buying rugs in Teotitlan de Valle, Oaxaca is like buying Turkish rugs from Iranians - a tricky operation. If one just wants to spend money and get colorful, the fellows in the big houses can handle the job readily - all todo a mano.


Apr 10, 2004, 11:39 AM

Post #8 of 8 (1108 views)


Re: [mazgordon] Authentic craft sources

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I would suggest looking at the huge, new, beautifully produced BANAMEX book on Mexican Folk Artists. I was able to check it out of the Public Library here in California just as it got to the shelves recently. It has photos of many different genres of production and biographical material on the artists. I have not been able to discover WHERE the Banamex collection pictured in the book is housed or displayed - just haven't given that research much time. Looking at this book helped me to educate my eyes to the level of quality still being produced by living artists and their "schools". Also, the geographical distribution of folk art production is described. Of course, the artists work featured in this book would carry prices beyond the reach of most of us, but the book does set a benchmark for quality against which articles produced by less famous or less accomplished artists can me measured. Of course, the ineffable spirit of the thing itself is what counts most - does it "touch" you somehow?
I have to add that the incursion and passing off of Chinese goods as Hecho en Mexico is very sad. The shops filled with lovely 100% cotton reverse applique, embroidered blindstitched table cloths look just like Grant Avenue here in San Francisco, but the shopkeeper will say, when asked, "Oh yes, these are made in Mexico" - They are nice and they wear like iron, but they are NOT Mexican- caveat emptor! Joan
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