Photo: Ron Mader, Arial Playas’ Carved Salmon
Collectors seeking traditional black pottery or painted wooden figures can arrange visits to the homes and workshops of the artisans. Here’s our guide to the featured crafts from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.
San Agustin Etla – With two paper-making workshops in San Agustin Etla, Oaxaca may be witnessing the birth of a cottage industry.
Santa Ana del Valle – Tour this market town 34 kilometers EAST of Oaxaca City. The town has a museum with various archaeological objects as well as examples of weaving techniques and natural dyes.
Teotitlan Del Valle – Make sure you make time to visit this village which specializes in rug weaving. Hundreds of weavers open their workshops to the public.
San Bartolo Coyotepec – The town is famous for its black pottery. Visit the new museum of popular art and the white market on the west side of the highway.
San Martin Tilcajete – Family homes and workshops producing the famous wooden figures are spread out troughout town.
La Union Tejalapam – Known for its production of alebrijes, this town boasts a great landscape for biking! Getting there from Oaxaca City: Head north and past the town of Brenamiel but before the start of the new highway (nueva carretera), take a left where there’s a sign post for San Lorenzo Cacaotepec.
San Antonino Castillo Velasco – Located near Ocotlán de Morelos, this town produces embroidered dresses using silk and cotton in a detailed fashion that requires several months to complete.
San Antonio Arrazola – This is the cradle of the wooden figures or alebrijes.
RUGS (TAPETES) — The Zapotecs call their weavings laadi and you’ll find beautiful rugs in Santa Ana del Valle and Teotitlán del Valle.
Wool rugs made in the weaving villages are popular around the world. In addition to the villages, you can purchase the rugs at the following markets in Oaxaca City: Artesania, Sánchez Pascuas, Benito Juárez and Abasto(s).
TEXTILES (TEXTILES) — Woven textiles — blouses, shirts, hammocks, tableclothes — are very popular in Oaxaca. Look for cotton products produced on back-strap looms in Santo Tomás Jalieza and quality embroidery in San Antonino Castillo Velasco near Ocotlán.
Invented in the 1950s, the brightly colored carvings are a recent addition to folk arts are among the best-selling Mexican folk art in the world.
Alebrijes are monster-type figures that were developed in the style of popular paper mache figures. In the towns of San Martin Tilcajete and San Antonio Arrazola, the figures are carved from the twisted branches of the copal tree. The wood has a particular fragrance and its resin has been burned in ceremonial incense burners for thousands of years.
A few words about buying crafts in Oaxaca
PRICING — Prices vary depending on the quality of the product and where you make your purchase. That said, prices in Oaxaca City’s Mercado de Artesanias are generally no higher than what you find in artisan homes.
SHIPPING — Most craft shops can pack your purchases for shipment. So if you see something fragile you’d like to get home in one piece, ask if they can pack the materials securely.
GO ON YOUR OWN — If you go to craft villages on your own, 100% of your purchases go the artisans. Many package tours insist on a commission (paid from the artisan to the guide) and rates can go up to 40%. “If you go on your own, you’ll see authentic production, not a show,” says one tourism expert.
FOR MORE INFO — Shoppers interested in understanding how traditional craft production fits in to conscientious travel and ecotourism should review our guide to Tourism and Crafts.