Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Art And Artisans Of Michoacán, México

Michoacan is a large state that ranges from the Pacific Coast to about 10,000 feet in the mountains of central México. While living there we became enamored of the incredible artwork created in the many small towns situated around Lake Patzcuaro, and I would like to share some of that in this post.

But first, I would also like to share some history of the area, with the story ( and I promise to keep it brief ) of Don Vasco de Quiroga and his amazing accomplishments in Michoacán. In 1530 Don Vasco arrived in Mexico from Spain and immediately became the champion of the Indians, and because of this, to this day he is still looked upon as a saint in many Michoacán communities.

He founded two towns, one just outside Mexico City called Hospital-Pueblo de Santa Fe (Hospital-Village of the Holy Faith) and one near Patzcuaro, called Santa Fe de la Laguna. In 1536 he was appointed the first Bishop of the newly appointed diocese of Michoacán, and in Patzcuaro he founded the basilica and the Colegio of San Nicolas.

The Tarascan territory, home to the P’urépecha Indians, had been ravaged by the Spanish and Don Vasco worked to gather the surviving Indians into towns around Lake Patzcuaro and endeavored to teach them religion (whether they wanted it or not) and the fundamentals of self government. Don Vasco’s favorite author was Thomas More and in the manner of his novel Utopia, De Quiroga taught new crafts to the people in each of these new towns. Also in the Utopian way, everyone in the town worked and contributed equally to the common welfare of the whole.

Other than making a couple of trips to Spain to campaign on behalf of the Indians, a couple of which travelled with him and were introduced at Court, he lived out the remainder of his life in Patzcuaro . He died in his 90’s in 1565 and his body is interred in the basilica of Patzcuaro. The skills that De Quiroga gave to the P’urépecha have been passed down through generations and today they are considered to be among the greatest artists in México.

The town of Capula makes beautiful ceramic-wear and their crafts adorn many a home and restaurant México.



Tocuaro is famous for it’s traditional masks and carvings.

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This is Enedina Castillo, of Tocuaro, in the picture above. She sells her carvings and hand crocheted rebozos, shawls, in the Plaza in Patzcuaro. I personally have a gallery of her work in my home. Behind her you can just see some of the beautiful copper work from the town of Santa Clara del Cobre.

Zinapecuaro creates some of the ( I think ) most beautiful pottery in the world.

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The town of Santa Fe de la Laguna, mentioned earlier in the story of Don Vasco, makes wonderful black glazed vases, candle holders and figurines, among other things.

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In Ocumicho they produce these lovely whimsical figures in clay, going about the business of everyday life, or portraying  Bible stories, or simply acting out scenes from some very vivid imaginations.

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You may be familiar with the pineapple creations from San José de Gracia as they are very popular and are shipped all over the world.

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The little P’urépecha town of Cucucho produces the fabulously rich toned cucucha pots and chimineas, free-standing fireplaces.

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In Tzintzuntzan, yes that really is the name, they make pottery, woven baskets, mats, hats and Christmas decorations. The market there is delightfully colourful.



I could go on and on, but really I already have, so I’ll end with Patzcuaro where you can find a little of everything!

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  1. Great information and very interesting; I especially love your last photo. Very whimsical fellows.

    1. I think it's wonderful that such a positive story came out of such a brutal era in history. Although it could be argued that it was terrible to take an entire belief system away from the Indians and replace it with Catholicism, but it also saved their lives.
      The whimsical little guys in the photo are San Pascual Bailorn, a little known saint of the kitchen. I have 2 (one of course, made by Enedina) in my kitchen.

  2. For people, such as myself, who are trying to get rid of their Stuff, Don Vasco country is not the place to visit. But I still keep coming.

    1. I know, I could open a gallery. Probably with Enedina's stuff alone! It's all so beautiful that it's hard to resist and I do enjoy having it in my home.