México is home to nearly 8 million artisans working in mediums ranging from pottery and ceramics, woodworking, basketry, textile weaving, stonemasonry, copper- and silver-smithing, glassblowing, leather production, and more. Mexico’s long-standing craft culture brings together elements of ancient indigenous heritage thoroughly fused with European influence. The variety and depth of craftsmanship - rooted in the use of natural materials locally sourced from the abundant diverse habitats - is arguably unmatched among other countries of the world. The result is a strong culture of art, design and craft that is unique, brilliant, and captivating.
Present-day México is known as one of the cradles of civilization, and around 1500 BCE great communities began to form. For over 3,000 years, native groups including the Olmec, Mayan, Teotihuacán, Toltec, and Aztec dominated the region. Craft production such as textile weaving, wood carving, metalwork and pottery were developed and flourished during this time. The objects were fabricated for daily use as well as ceremonial occasions, and always from materials sourced locally. Beginning in the 16th century, México became a Spanish colony. The Spanish significantly influenced Mexican culture during their 300-year reign, including many of the crafts produced and the materials, technologies and tools employed to make them.
For example, in the pre-Columbian era, Mexican pottery was handmade using coils or simple moulds, and the pottery was finished in a fire without the use of glaze. Centuries later, mineral glazes were introduced by the Spanish, as was the potter's wheel and the kiln, and this spurred an innovation and evolution in pottery production in many communities throughout México that continues today. In another example, textile weaving was once produced only by hand (similar to basketry), and later on back-strap looms with plant-based fabrics such as cotton or ixtle. Centuries later, the Spanish introduced larger, foot-pedaled looms along with wool, which allowed for larger and heavier pieces of tapestry-style textiles to be produced.
Mexican craft culture has - throughout its long history - evolved ceaselessly, absorbing new features yet retaining many of the elements of pre-Hispanic technique. Contemporary works such as textiles and ceramics derive their richness and variety from the fusion of cultures over centuries, from the introduction of different motifs and materials, techniques and and tools.
Today, one seemingly benign object - such as a decorative leather tray - represents far more than decoration or function. In this example, the symbols hand-stamped into the leather are inspired by the motifs of the Baja Mission churches - which are, in turn, rooted in Moorish and Spanish influence. The leather design also contains elements of pre-Columbian symbols derived from the 2,000 year old cave paintings found across the Baja peninsula. The hand-tooling and tanning of the leather itself has been traced to the Aztec era, with innovations and improvements in the tanning process introduced by the Spanish centuries later.
One object encompassing the fusion of cultures over time; representing the resulting innovation and evolution; a true piece of art made with skill, care and tradition.