Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art
 Introduction  Clay  Leather  Metal  Paper  Plant Fibers
 Stone  Textiles  Wood  Various
 Introduction  home
Square Pot with Spout

Square Pot with Spout, 1996
Clay: Molded, modeled, painted, burnished
Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán
Vendor and Offering to the Dead

Vendor and Offering to the Dead, 1996
Sewn and embroidered cloth
Uruapan, Michoacán
Miniature Tea Set

Miniature Tea Set, 1998
Clay: Molded, punteado, polychromatic, glazed
Capula, Michoacán
Mexico celebrates a rich tradition of arte popular that reaches more than 2,000 years into the Mesoamerican past. Today, in villages, towns, and cities throughout Mexico, indigenous people and Mestizos—people of mixed Native and non-Native heritage—continue to fashion art that expresses their deeply rooted traditions. Ceremonial and profane, parodic and whimsical, their art reflects their communal lives and values.

Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art honors this enduring tradition by displaying more than 500 works of art by 181 of Mexico’s greatest living folk artists. Featuring a panorama of ceramics, leatherwork, textiles, metalwork, sculpture, and other works of art, the exhibition shows that folk art is steeped in the cultures of a diverse Mexican society.

The pieces are divided into nine categories, according to the raw materials from which they were made: clay, wood, stone, textiles, metal, paper, leather, plant fibers, and other materials. As you tour the gallery, remember: behind each object is an artist with a name, an individual who represents a collective tradition that reflects the creative capacity and unending vitality of the Mexican people.

Mexico: Land, People, and Folk Art

Folk art is deeply rooted in the social, economic, and cultural life of Mexico. It is embedded in a deep sense of community and symbolizes the ways of doing, believing, working, and being that Mexicans have developed throughout their history. Understanding folk art begins by appreciating the land and its people.

A part of North America, Mexico is a land of deserts, rain forests, volcanoes, and shores. The country encompasses 800,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers)—nearly three times the size of Texas. Some 61% of Mexico’s 97.5 million people live in urban areas. Greater Mexico City alone has 20 million residents. About 14% of Mexicans live in semi-urban areas. Some 25% live in rural areas, growing corn and wheat on hardscrabble land.

With arid regions to the north, warm and humid areas to the south, and mild or cold areas in the mountainous regions, Mexico is blessed with a diversity of climates, soils, and vegetation that provide an abundance of raw materials used to produce folk art.

Like the land, Mexico’s people are diverse. Indigenous people, who live mainly in the central and southeast areas, number 10.5 million. Divided into 56 separate ethnic groups, they have their own social and cultural identities. Many speak their own languages. Mestizos comprise two-thirds of the population. Together, these diverse peoples provide the creative energy that nourishes folk art today.

Folk art mirrors Mexico’s history. The Olmec, Zapotec, Toltec, Maya, Mixtec, and other indigenous people of ancient Mesoamerica created an array of effigies, vessels, and sculpture that portrayed their world. After Spain conquered Mexico in the 1500s, Spanish settlers brought their own artistic traditions to the New World. Other techniques and aesthetics from Europe and the Muslim world were incorporated during the period of Spanish rule, from 1521 to 1821. Asian motifs also arrived, a by-product of commerce between Spain and the Philippines. These cultural tributaries combined to form the folk art traditions in this exhibition.

Many of today’s great masters work full-time, either at home or in workshops dedicated to producing their art. Some work part-time, making pieces exclusively for community celebrations. All capture in their pieces a spark of genius, an inspired idea or notion. To this they add dexterity, technical mastery, keen aesthetic sensibilities, and versatility. From the selection and processing of raw materials to the addition of finishing decorative touches, the great masters of folk art do it all. The result: singular artistry.