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The history of Huichol yarn paintings

By Susan Page

Mexico’s spiritual and artistic Huichol people live in such a remote region of the Sierra Madre mountains that neither the Spanish conquerors nor the Franciscans ever found them. Some 20,000 of them still live there and continue to preserve valued religious stories and symbols through their extraordinary embroidery, yarn paintings, and beadwork. They are one of the few remaining Mexican tribes that have survived intact into modern times, and there is much we can learn from their belief system and way of life.

Galería Atotonilco Open House
Featuring a large collection of
Huichol yarn paintings
Sat & Sun, Mar 30 & 31, 12-5pm
For directions to the gallery, see our ad in this issue or our web site:

Modern Huichol yarn paintings have an interesting history and are one of the great success stories of indigenous art. It is only since the 1950s that what began as little-known tribal votive offerings evolved into an international art, sold all around the world. Yarn paintings have been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States. Prices have risen from a few pesos to hundreds and even thousands of dollars for work by the best artists. What started as tiny simple votive offerings have evolved into large and elaborate paintings, worthy of the most sophisticated collections.

How did this happen?

In the 1930s and ‘40s, there was a growing interest in Mexican popular and indigenous arts, fueled partly by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and the artists that surrounded them. In the early 1950s, anthropologist Alfonso Soto Soria traveled by horseback to the remote regions of the Sierra Madre Occidental where the Huichols had retained their pre-Hispanic religious ceremonies and way of life for hundreds of years. He managed to locate the Huichol and brought back examples of their traditional arts, all of which were created either as offerings to their deities or as ornamentation for themselves. Dressing beautifully was important to them because they believed themselves to be mirrors of the gods.

The governor of the State of Jalisco was so impressed with the Huichol work that he asked Soto Soria to help him organize a group of Huichol artists to make yarn paintings for an exhibition. This they did, and the exhibition was held in Guadalajara in the late 1950s. These were the first modern yarn paintings, intended to be hung on a wall rather than used as offerings.

By the 1960s, yarn paintings were being made for sale to the general public, a practice that continues today. The subject matter of the yarn paintings always comes from dreams, peyote visions, or ancient Huichol mythology and religion, so the work remains sacred for the artists. Selling their work as an art form has given the artists the ability to create economic self-sufficiency from their extraordinary talent and has helped them to preserve their traditional way of life.

Huichols also continue to dress in spectacularly embroidered apparel, an integral part of their spiritual connection to the gods. During peyote ceremonies, they become impersonations of gods and goddesses. Women spend months creating the beautiful native dress that so identifies the Huichols who live here in San Miguel.

Galería Atotonilco maintains a large, high-quality collection of Huichol yarn paintings and paintings created from beads, along with beaded animal figures, gourd bowls and embroideries. These will be featured at a gallery Open House on Saturday and Sunday, March 30 and 31 from noon to 5pm each day. Refreshments will be served and the public is welcome. The gallery also houses one of the largest and most varied collections of folk ceramics, woodcarvings, papier maché, and lacquer work along with antique furniture, vintage photographs, textiles and serapes, Mexican decorative glass and more.

For directions to the gallery, located on eight acres five miles north of town, see the gallery’s ad in this issue or the website:


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