Are you prepared to see, hear, smell, touch and taste indigenous Michoacán like never before? Are you prepared to sense the essence of being Purépecha? Then follow me to the folk art “tianguis” (market) in Uruapan, and beyond!
It is the Friday preceding Palm Sunday, and artisans are setting up their “puestos” (sales booths) in Uruapan’s central plaza, officially known as the Plaza de Morelos y Mátires. There is an organization to it all, and once set up, there will be a copper section, a ceramic pineapple section, and so on. The maestros and maestras have already submitted their best efforts to be judged in the great folk art “concurso” (the juried show), and winners will not be announced until Palm Sunday. So, now it’s time to enjoy the tianguis—a marvelous reunion of artisans, villagers and all of their folk art in a glorious open-air market.
Following Saturday morning’s “Parade of Villages”, the tianguis springs to life as the age old practice of boasting, bargaining and selling begins. Buyers flood the market aisles, ready to procure decorative folk art as well as practical items used throughout the year.
Mountains of water ollas and "frijole" (bean) pots from Huancito will disappear in short order, bound for “cocinas” (kitchens) throughout Mexico.
Always one of the most breathtaking displays of all is the tiered “pyramid” of pineapples, ingeniously arranged on the steps of a very large fountain. Here, all the works of the village of San José de Gracia—the ceramic pineapples being most-prominent—are collectively displayed. Uruapan’s tianguis offers an unprecedented opportunity to compare styles, techniques, and color combinations of the pineapple maestros, and to admire their many creations made only for this tianguis. In Uruapan, ceramic pineapples approach an ornate complexity (and the size) of wedding cakes in an attempt to garner artistic admiration, and certainly sales.
Center: The hand-carved spoons and “bateas” (wooden bowls) are piled high, and many will be bartered between villagers—perhaps, a “batea” in exchange for a bean pot. The giant wooden spoons will certainly be needed to stir mole for 500, or more!
Right: Quaint toys can also be found, and I especially love the dolls made by this maestra, who is well into her eighties. The wooden chickens in the foreground move their beaks up and down, feeding from a tiny acorn cup. This type of humble wooden toy may soon disappear with the passing of this generation.
Uruapan is famous for its distinct style of lacquer work, and many examples are on prominent display in the tianguis. With experienced hands, this Señora expertly completes an exquisite round “batea” (shallow wooden bowl), coaxing the finish to a brilliant and durable glow.
Above, new examples of ancient and traditional lacquer colors and motifs are displayed in a spacious, elevated area of the tianguis, especially reserved for the host city. While more intricate patterns are very popular and sell well, this nostalgic style, a style admired in Michoacán’s museums, definitely captures my heart. Buyers are often shocked at the prices of Uruapan lacquer ware, but after investigating the time and techniques involved and discovering how few true maestros remain, educated collectors do gladly pay.
Right: As Palm Sunday approaches, village women intricately weave palm leaves, wheat shafts, flowers and herbs into Palm Sunday creations for sale.
Left: Although also beautiful and coveted, the lacquer work from Olinalá, Guerrero is completely different from Uruapan lacquer ware in technique and style. Artisans from all over Mexico participate in this market, but only those from Michoacán may display in the main tianguis area.
A huge colonial courtyard across from the plaza is fully devoted to the considerable textile arts of Michoacán. Here, the finest weaving, embroidery, and linens can be found. Of special note are always the “rebozos”, the long shawls of the region, especially those woven by Doña Cecilia Bautista. Village women and fashionistas alike model her beautiful “rebozos” and make their purchases, gravitating towards those adorned with real bird feathers—a signature item of Doña Cecilia’s.
As much as I love shopping for folk art, it’s time for some refreshment. Caffeine refreshment! My destination is the original roasting house and coffee shop of La Lucha, the beloved brand of coffee grown in the Uruapan region.
Curious being that I am, I couldn’t help but wander past the coffee shop into the courtyard, and through the open door beyond, following the aroma of roasting coffee beans. There I discovered the behind-the-scenes workings of La Lucha coffee.
The entire coffee crew greeted me with smiles and, “Buenos tardes”, obviously wondered what this wandering gringa was up to! Patiently, they taught me the art of sorting coffee beans, while boasting of La Lucha’s more than eighty years of coffee tradition. My curiousity satisfied, I thanked my instructors, purchased several half kilos, and headed to the "Mercado de Antojitos"—a special food court, for lunch.
In yet another large courtyard, not only can one dine on regional favorites, but actually see the dishes being prepared in traditional fashion. The tables of the "Mercado de Antojitos" were set with linens and fresh flowers under “papel picado” festooned tents—as inviting as any restaurant. Servings of various specialties were for sale at each stand, and the food was as beautiful as delicious, displayed in Michoacán pottery, of course! A featured item was “capirotada”, a luscious Mexican bread pudding enjoyed during the Easter season.
Just as señoras cook in their homes, the food in this market was cooked over wood-burning fires in grand “cazuelas” (great clay bowls). Meat simmered for a “guisado” (a tender stew) while nearby, experienced hands made tortillas “the old way”. No tortilla is as delicious as a freshly handmade tortilla, and the rhythmic clapping sound of tortilla-making is music to any Mexican’s ears. Delicious!
After lunch, it was time to walk to the Fabrica San Pedro, located only a few short blocks from the plaza. This magnificent textile mill was built in the late 1800s, and after falling silent for years, once again produces magnificent hand-loomed fabric in stunning colors. Massive in size, the interior of Fabrica San Pedro houses the entire folk art concurso—all submissions, the judging, many displays and eventually, the prize winners. More about this later. Upon entering the San Pedro courtyard, I was greeted by a live performance of Purépecha music. I love this music! I took a seat in the shade and enjoyed yet another aspect of this all-encompassing market.
It was now time to put my feet up and take a siesta at our hotel: the famed Mansión del Cupatitzio, located on the very edge of the Lic. Eduardo Ruiz National Park. I loved taking the scenic route to the hotel daily, entering the park below the plaza, and exiting practically at the entrance of the hotel. But there is only time for a short siesta (although I do wish to linger in my lovely, flower-filled room).
That Saturday evening we ventured to the Casa de la Cultura courtyard with great anticipation. We were going to a fashion show! Lovely models wore vintage costumes of the region before a standing-room-only crowd, complete with staging and a true cat walk. The evening’s “Mexicaness” was heightened even more as paper mache Judas figures (ready for pre-Easter pyrotechnics) swayed from the upper-most Moorish arches, as swallows crisscrossed beneath the Uruapan night sky. Paris, eat your heart out!
At last. It is Sunday. Palm Sunday. Domingo de Ramos. The ivy covered walls and the coolness of the San Pedro courtyard will soon give way to crowds as the doors to the great folk art concurso open. Looking down the mill’s central hall towards the locked doors—doors recently crowned with a gold foil medallion for the occasion—it is hard to imagine what folk art treasures await.
But wait we must, in wonderful agony, until the doors officially open mid-morning.
So, now I must ask before the concurso begins: Did you experience the Purépecha world as I had promised? Did you hear their language and their music? Did you feel the silkiness of their rebozos? And did you taste the sweet “capirotada” and smell La Lucha coffee roasting? But there is one thing I don’t have to ask. I know you clearly saw the joy and pride of this ancient and noble culture.
now, come wait with us because the doors to the concurso are about to open
(in the next Postcard from Mexico, that is). I promise, we will
enter through these guarded doors very soon, and the wait will be worth
The Lic. Eduardo
Ruiz National Park
del Cupatitzio Hotel