One of the least known, most versatile, and most beautiful expressions of Mexican folk art is hojalata (tin art work), also known in some parts of Mexico as, lamina or lata. Since the 1500's, this humble metal has been made more pleasing by being shaped, stamped, punched, painted and cut into a wide variety of decorative and functional artwork.
One reason it's popular as a material for folk art is that it is very light, it's strong and it's inexpensive. Along with being low cost, it's easily bent and crimped to form intricate shapes. It's a material that has been used for many inexpensive domestic products, like mousetraps or tin cups, and for that reason, can easily be overshadowed or ignored when faced with similar pieces made of gold or silver. BUT it's shiny surface as an appearance similar to silver, which likely contributed to its appeal for making candlesticks, plates, pitchers, buckets, ladles, etc, despite its tendency to rust.
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These days, Mexican artisans use natural, oxidized and brightly lacquered paints to create ornaments, mirrors, lanterns and other decorative pieces. There are several regions that specialize in tin work in Mexico. One is Oaxaca where artisans use more natural and laquered tin, and the other location is San Miguel de Allende, where oxidized tin is more popular. A third location known for both natural and oxidized tin is Tonalá, Jalisco.
One current use of tin is the continuation of the very old tradition of making tin plate frames, or nichos. These 3-d, recessed shadow boxes date back to the Spanish colonial period. Traditionally nichos were used as portable shrines for patron saints or pictures of loved ones. When made of tin, it is often stamped, painted or punched to create shapes and embossed decorative patterns. They provide a stage-like setting for an object or a photograph of person of great significance. Often used for religious figures or people who mean something to the owner, the nicho may also be a personal statement incorporating things other than photos that are important to the creator. Here are examples of a tin nicho box with an important person inside...
or Frida Kahlo. Both very important figures in Mexican history and contemporary life.
Below are a few painted and unpainted mirrors and decorations from Oaxaca. Click on the photo to take you to the website.
San Miguel de Allende artisans also do lacquered tin, but I also see a matte finish on tin, like the photos below. I think it is more common to see the oxidized tin in San Miguel de Allende, as well.
One of the most popular tin objects from Mexico are the beautiful tin stars. They come in various sizes and either shiny natural tin or the darker oxidized tin. They can be electrified by someone who knows what they are doing but they come without. There is an opening through which to insert a light bulb.
Though humble, the craftsmanship of Mexican artisans uses this inexpensive material and turns it into objects that are beautiful and recognized all over the world.
Here's our current collection of hammered and cut tin from Mexico.