Can a Colonial Crafts Town Survive Modern Mexico?

In the 1500s, a Spanish bishop turned a collection of pueblos around the Mexican town of Pátzcuaro into a center for craftsmanship. The people here are still making and marketing their wares in much the same way as they did hundreds of years ago. Now they have to overcome tourists’ fears about drug traffickers, real or not.


Photography by JANET JARMAN

When Toys Get Real | Craftsmanship Magazine, Winter 2016

On Friday mornings in the colonial town of Pátzcuaro, Mexico, there is a flea market where indigenous people barter their wares the way they’ve done since before the Spaniards set foot in this region. Squat, weathered women in long braids and woven rebozos carry baskets of dried fish, avocados, or wood scraps, which they trade for the used clothing, pots, or medicinal herbs that other natives have spread out on blankets.

The local crafts traded or sold around Pátzcuaro date back much earlier; copper-smithing, for one, has been traced to 600 AD. The native Tarascans, whose vast empire was seated in Pátzcuaro and nearby Tzintzuntzan, had the resources to develop a variety of sophisticated crafts, and the emperor surrounded himself with artisans who created textiles, arms, feather adornments, and copper and clay vessels. Clay was abundant in the hills around Pátzcuaro, which led to many different approaches to the ceramic arts. One reason the Tarascans were never conquered by their fierce Aztec enemies was their superior metallurgy. They were no match for the Spanish conquistadors, however, who arrived in 1522, plundered those treasures, and killed any Tarascans who stood in their way.

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