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Why we love Oaxaca crafts

By Christopher Jury

The southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca is home to some of the country’s most rugged terrain, being dissected by the continental divide and a meeting point for three major mountain ranges. Countless grassy peaks fall sharply into the tropical canyons, ravines and gorges which score the region’s landscape; a complex network of geographical arteries along which mountain watercourses to both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Within this world of windswept highs and jungled lows, a myriad of ecosystems thrives, making the state one of the most biodiverse in Mexico. Meanwhile, the ground beneath this abundant flora and fauna also boasts wealthy and varied mineral reserves. These plentiful resources have long drawn settlers to Oaxaca, endowing it with a rich cultural history.


Many pre-Colombian cultures flourished in the fertile landscapes of Oaxaca, practicing diverse and unique traditions and crafts. Whilst European colonization eclipsed and eradicated much of this, vestiges of what came before still remain; enigmatic ruins and intricate, weatherworn stonework dot the landscape. More tangible traces of indigenous cultures can be found; however, along the cobbled streets and ornate squares of Oaxaca’s colonial settlements. Here, the flame of pre-Colombian culture is kept alight by the many skilled artisans who practice traditional Oaxaca crafts; passed down, and honed over generations.


Oaxaca crafts: from weaving to carving, stonework to pottery.

The knowledge of materials and processes which were pioneered by pre-Colombian cultures lives on. Imported technologies have served to develop production in many of these crafts; however, have not eradicated the multicultural roots that they spring from. The contemporary crafts of Oaxaca are an embodiment of the polymorphous and complex makeup of today’s Latin America, with its multiple histories and colorful present.


The development and evolution of Oaxacan crafts are perhaps best seen in the collaborations taking place between artisans skilled in traditional practices and cutting edge, contemporary designers. Examples of this range from David Pompa’s lustrous, glossy black centerpieces, carefully crafted from Barro Negro by local potters; to Colorindio’s luxuriously soft and vibrant textiles, delicately woven on both pedal and backstrap looms from local materials, by Oaxacan artisans.


These objects draw from the convoluted, patchwork past of Mexico and take inspiration from its complex present; therefore, suggest a cohesive and collaborative future for the country and the people who inhabit it.

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