Handcrafts and Folk Art from Chiapas, México

México has a long artistic history that pre-dates Spanish influence. This is especially true in Chiapas, a state in southern México, where artistic techniques stretch back into pre-history.

Chiapas is well known for several major handcrafts and art techniques, which are as follows.

Textiles

Many traditional textiles are still made by hand, with local women being taught every stage of production from a very young age. Using cotton and wool, they card, spin, and dye everything by hand and then weave it on backstrap looms.

Artisans create traditional garments such as huipiles and rebozos for local use, but also produce more commercial items (shirts, dresses, etc.) for the tourist industry.

Lacquerware

Known locally as laca or maque, this tradition was popular across much of Mesoamerica. However, it’s now centered on Chiapa de Corzo, a town in the state.

Artisans usually decorate gourds and bowls, which would have originally been religious items. The tradition almost died out, but in the last few decades state authorities have set up a number of programs to support and train artists.

Pottery

Local pottery still uses many techniques from the Mayan period, although the pieces generally aren’t as complicated as they used to be. Major pottery centers in the state include Chiapa de Corzo, Frontera, Suchiapa, and more.

Pottery items include everyday wares like pots, utensils, jars and flowerpots, but also decorative items. The pottery is known for its light color, which comes from it being fired in the open rather than in kilns.

Amber

Amber is an abundant resource in Chiapas, which has led to it becoming a major artistic material. In local religious beliefs, amber is thought to ward against the evil eye and bad spirits and is often used to make jewelry.

Roughly 90% of México’s amber comes from Chiapas and the largest mine is roughly 130km from the state’s capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez. Much of this is sold to local artisans who make necklaces, pendants, rings, and statues.

Although some amber products are sold to the USA and Europe, much is kept for selling locally. However, many tourists can’t tell the difference between real and fake amber, which led to artisans losing trade. In 2000, the Mexican government granted Chiapas amber the product of designated origin status to help combat forgery.

Chiapas is rich in traditional crafts and folk art that help to keep its culture alive. As these techniques date to pre-Hispanic times, it’s vital for local communities to pass them down to new generations.

Of course, many of these products end up being sold to tourists, but some, such as textiles, are kept for local use instead. The state also houses a number of museums dedicated to handcrafts and folk art, which helps to preserve their heritage.