An artisanal tour of Michoacán — with 18 towns devoted to ancient crafts
By LAURA FRASER
This sidebar is a supplement to Can Pátzcuaro and Surrounding Colonial Crafts Towns Survive Modern Mexico?
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find the indigenous artists outside of Pátzcuaro without a guide. We went with Jaime Hernández Balderas, from animecha tours, firstname.lastname@example.org. He is a native of Pátzcuaro, knowledgeable about the history and crafts, and speaks excellent English. Expect to pay about 2000 pesos a day for a guide ($120). Local hotels can recommend other guides.
There are so many artisans and pueblos surrounding Patzcuaro that it’s difficult to pare down a list to visit; you could easily spend 10 days exploring any of them. So lean on your guide for advice.
THE 8 TOWNS WE VISITED AND DESCRIBE FURTHER IN THIS STORY
Santa Fe de la Laguna: clay pottery
The first “craft town” established by Bishop Vasco de Quiroga specializes in black pottery.
Santa Clara de Cobre: copper vases
“Magical town” Santa Clara de Cobre continues the region’s coppermaking tradition since 600 AD, with 250 workshops.
Once the seat of the Tarascan empire and its pyramids, Tzintzuntzan is known for its green (copper oxidized) and black pottery, and pre-Hispanic geometric forms.
Ihuatzio: woven reeds
Near Tzintzuntzan, this town has several workshops that make wicker products from the reeds that grow in Lake Pátzcuaro.
A small village near Tzintzuntzan showcases the embroidery of a women’s collective.
San Jose de la Gracia: “pineapples”
This mountain pueblo makes the distinctive pinecone ceramics that are often mistaken for pineapples.
Ocumicho: little devils
Once known for its leather products, the artisans in Ocumicho turned to distinctive clay figurines.
San Bartolomé Cocucho: giant pots
Artisans in this mountain town, near a volcano that erupted in the 1940s, make simple pots that can be up to six feet tall.
10 TOWNS THAT WE MISSED
Pátzcuaro: The town is known for its lacquerware, which dates back to Quiroga. Intricate trays (about $50 to $400) with gold on black backgrounds and layers of other colors are available at Los Once Patios, a converted convent with 11 different patios, each filled with crafts. You’ll also find woven rebozos and tablecloths here. Shops all around the main Plaza Don Vasco de Quiroga are filled with artesanias, as is the Friday market at Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra (though these will not be of comparable quality).
Capula: Nearly half the population is this town makes punteado pottery, which is covered with tiny, precise dots painted with the hairs from squirrels’ tails.
Huancito: Because this town is so dry, Vasco de Quiroga assigned them the task of fabricating jugs to transport liquids. He also introduced the pottery wheel here. The town’s jug tradition evolved into a system of elaborate, high towers that allows large amounts of water to be stored in a typical home’s very small space.
Cuanajo, off the road to Santa Clara de Cobre, produces wooden chests and furniture, elaborately carved with flowers, animals, and fish.
Tocuaro: Ten miles west of Patzcuaro, artisans here make intricate, lively, and often fierce wooden dance masks for holidays and rituals, each costing up to several hundred dollars.
Erongaricuaro, near Tocuaro, is full of women who weave clothes and tablecloths from hand-spun cotton. This colonial town was briefly home to the French artist Andre Breton in the 1950s, and visited by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
San Francisco Uricho: Outside Erongaricuaro, this town makes traditional, white-and-brown Michoacan pottery.
Jaracuaro: This town is the place to pick up a sombrero, handmade from palm leaves.
Paracho: About 40 miles west of Lake Patzcuaro, Paracho is famous for its guitars, both masterpieces from individual artisans and from the larger factories in town.
Quiroga: Along the road toward Morelia, Quiroga is known for wooden toys and dollhouse miniatures.