Antigua Guatemala Handicrafts
Guatemala has an overwhelming variety of handicrafts—most especially weavings and fabrics from the Highlands in a rainbow of colors…Guatemala’s mostly indigenous artisans also work in other media such as Terracotta and lacquered Earthenware (notably from Chinautla).
Generation-after-generation, families, from the-youngest-to-the-oldest, work in the style of their ancestors, creating a cornucopia of products that can now be experienced by the entire world. Because their art is an expression of the culture of their village, each piece (made of stone, wood, or fabric) is an individual work of art imprinted with the soul of its creator. Among the most outstanding crafts are the textile weaving, pottery, Jarcia, woodwork, candle making, leatherwork, Jicaras, jade, wrought iron, and basketwork.
Guatemalan woodwork is distinct and diverse; the carpenters are artisans devoted to the production of furniture, chests, musical instruments, toys, kitchen utensils, religious images, masks, etc. These have always been purchased and used by Guatemalans, but they are now exported worldwide so that everyone can enjoy their beauty and originality. They include showily colored small animals, small trucks, and the Guatemalan children´s favorite: rueda y matraca (clowns on wheels that clacks as they are pushed across the floor on a stick).
There are also tiny religious figurines: Realistically hand-carved Saints, Virgins, or Angels that are then painted or left in their natural wood-colors: All these and more are the specialty of Totonicapán, but other villages also have their own, distinctive, brightly colored designs. All these woodworks are made from pine that is specially cured to increase its longevity. Wooden masks (suitable as decorative wall hangings) are hand-carved in cedar or white pine by artisans from Highland towns such as Totonicapán, Chichicastenango, and Quiché using the Vaciado technique. Some masks are highly detailed and decorated with the features of mythical characters or animals or they may depict famous characters from the Spanish Conquest.
The natives wear these masks during their Pre-Colombian, religious dance ceremonies. Marimba, Guatemala’s national instrument, is made either of hormigo or white pine (both of which grow near the main marimba production sites of Huehuetenango and Quetzaltenango). Other instruments (Violins, Guitars, Flutes, and Chirimías) are made of white pine and then decoratively carved and lacquered.
Paletas and wooden tablespoons of every size are made for Guatemalan kitchens along with wooden cutting-boards, mortar-and-pestles, and intensely colored Cajetas (candy boxes designed to hold traditional Guatemalan sweets). The colonial style predominates in Guatemala’s handmade furniture; benches, tables, desks, kitchen pieces, dining room tables, and storage chests are made of pine, mahogany, and cedar.
Some pieces (such as wardrobes) are finely hand carved, and there is a variety of smaller items such as coffee tables, hanging shelves, decorative mirror surrounds, etc.
Made with natural fibers, such as palm, jarcia, wicker, zibaque, straw, and bamboo is a craft handed down from the ancient Mayas. The baskets are of all sizes and shapes and are used to carry fruit and vegetables and the finer examples can even be used for room decoration.
Other ornamental articles are made from these fibers including hats, Petates (mats), and brooms. Basket weaving (or basket making, basketry, or basketmaking) is the process of weaving unspun vegetable fibers into a basket. People with the profession of weaving baskets are basketmakers. Basket weaving is the craft of weaving together fibrous or pliable material—anything that will bend or form a shape. That is including but not limited to: pine straw, animal hair and/or hide, different grasses, thread, branches, and wood.
Basket weaving might seem like an outdated or antique craft, but it has never left the eye of public interest or demand, and for good reason. Frequently vendors are seen on the side of country roads, especially in tourist areas, or at the farmer’s markets around the country. Regardless of where they are seen, baskets are still as popular today as they ever were—but for less functional reasons.
There is a certain aura of quaintness surrounding basket making—probably because it is one of the only crafts that has never been modernized. While there are weaving machines that make cloth, basket weaving has never been done successfully on a machine. So there is a degree of idealistic “old fashioned” myth surrounding basket weaving (one of the oldest crafts in human history)
Jarcia is practiced in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Sololá, San Marcos, and Jutiapa. A string-like fiber called Jarcia is extracted from Maguey leaves, which artisans then use to make elaborate, beautifully colored hammocks and Morrales (tote bags). After extracting the Jarcia from the Maguey leaves it is dyed with intensely colored aniline dyes and finally woven with small wooden sticks.
The Spanish term mayólica is synonymous with maiolica, majolica, faience, and delftware. Mayólica is the Spanish term for a specific method of glazing earthenware pottery. Mayólica (glazed, colored ceramic-ware) comes from early Spanish-Colonial times and is still manufactured in Antigua and the Highlands. To make these, the artisan mixes clay and white sand with water and then molds the pieces, which are then baked, and finally enameled with animal or fruit-and-vegetable designs.
There are a wide variety of articles such as sets of dishes, moneyboxes, candelabra, glasses, vases, brightly colored fruits and vegetables, etc. The ceramic makers also produce Azulejos (brightly colored tiles bearing coats-of-arms or household insignia and often showing a Moorish influence).
Items are widely used in Guatemala for their beauty and utility. From pre-Hispanic times, Mayan artisans working in Terracotta have been making tinajas (water pitchers), pots, gavels, mixers, censers, griddles, candelabra, and toys. These pieces are usually baked once or dried in the sun, later, they were placed in the ashes of open hearths to harden, and finally kilns were used, similar to those used for pottery today.
They are mostly in shades of red, however in Chinautla a different finishing process is used to produce white. Terra cotta has been used throughout history for sculpture and pottery, as well as bricks and roof shingles.
Wrought ironwork came to Guatemala with the Spaniards, reaching its most elaborate expression in Antigua. Wrought ironworkers create beautiful colonial-style articles such as doorknockers, streetlights, lamps, censers, candlesticks, ornaments, beds, and other furniture.
Wrought iron is commercially pure iron. In contrast to steel, it has a very low carbon content. It is a fibrous material due to the slag inclusions (a normal constituent). This is also what gives it a “grain” resembling wood, which is visible when it is etched or bent to the point of failure. Wrought iron is tough, malleable, ductile and easily welded.
Silver has been known since ancient times and has long been valued as a precious metal, used to make ornaments, jewellery, high-value tableware and utensils (hence the term “silverware”) and currency coins and history tells us that the pre-Colonial Maya practiced silverwork.
In Guatemala, many villages still produce elaborate silverwork. In Antigua, stores sell a variety of high-quality earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and rings—all made by local artisans.
Jade in Guatemala
Jade was sacred to the ancient Maya and in the 1970′s, geologists rediscovered the source of this precious stone: the Motogua Valley. Now you can buy earrings, pendants, rings, and reproductions of Maya burial masks at prices much lower than in New York or Paris.
These are all available in the traditional shades of green or rarer blues, grays and pinks. Jade was a venerated as Stone of Eternity, the stone from the Sky or as the Stone Symbol of Eternal Love, Dental pieces have been found with inlaid jade. Jade was considered more valuable than gold ifself. Jade was reveted as a supreme good, for exmaple: when a King or someone of the nobility died, then buried them with masks and necklaces of Jade.
When a person of a lower social class died, a piece of Jade was placed in their mouth because the Maya thought that the spirit would always leave they body through the mouth, and when leaving, takes the piece of Jade as the passport to Heaven.
In Guatemala, indigenous women produce traditional fabrics in over 350 different designs and a huge variety of colors. Each design is unique to its village of origin and has a ceremonial symbolism inherited from Mayan ancestors.
Each piece of fabric (woven on a pre-Hispanic Back-strap Loom) takes many months to complete. From these fabrics, the women make their unique costumes.
Some villages have up to three different costumes: One for work and the others for ceremonies or special occasions. The profusion of dazzling, riotously colored costumes is a high point for visitors to Guatemala. The Spaniards introduced the Pedal Loom, which is used by the natives to manufacture larger cotton and wool pieces. The men make carpets, bedcovers, The women: mantel covers, serviettes, bags, etc.