Joys at el Mercados

April 4, 2018

Does the familiar phrase “shop ’til you drop” appeal to your senses? Then mercado shopping in Mexico is a paradise that awaits your indulgence. Typically, mercado shops are tiny, yet deep stalls lining the narrow streets, especially on the island. Of course, each has its own distinct Mexican flavor with brilliantly colored textiles and artwork from rich jewel tones to calming pastels. While the stalls may seem quite similar, each merchant has carefully selected authentic pieces and collectibles to be carefully considered by the buyer.

Thirty minutes from Isla Mujeres, lies Playa del Carmen, the home to Vidrio Soplado Mexicano. These master glass artisans are passionate about their art form. Recycled glass is transformed into dramatic light fixtures, dishes, birds, hearts and more. The craftsmen welcome the visitor's curiosity and gladly explain their time honored techniques. These simple materials create an intricate art form that is well preserved in this Yucatan location. My friend, Inga, recently made a quick trip to the factory and delighted me with this large selection of blown hearts in assorted sizes. Thank you Inga!!!

Back on the island, a visit to La Sirena, a tiny tienda just off Hidalgo, offers its own unique collection of Mexican handicrafts. Typically this is my go to place for the highly collectible and increasingly pricey Otomi hand embroidered pieces. These skillfully designed and painstakingly sewn textures are fine examples of a history alive and well today in the culture of the Otomi people. These indigenous people, from the central Mexico highlands, have crafted these extraordinary pieces, inspired by ancient cave paintings, depicting nature in its purest form, for their personal use for centuries. It wasn’t until the 1960’s (through economic need) did this spectacular craft become widely available to the lovers of Mexican skilled craftsmanship. As I browsed the tiny stall a few days ago, I spotted a totally unique piece. The center, of the otherwise typical design, depicts the Mexican coat of arms (from Aztec history). It is in the design of a golden eagle, atop a prickly green cactus, grasping a rattlesnake (see the rattler at the end of the snake). This is the same styling used on the Mexican flag!!! Knowing this piece was spectacular and something different than I had ever seen, I made a quick purchase and headed to the casa to transform the unique piece into an artful pillow. Pictures show a few of my steps. The dramatic theme of the Mexican coat of arms, makes this purchase one of my all time finds!


La Sirena also houses a considerable collection of art by Huichol artisans. The Huichol people reside in the mountainous regions of north central Mexico and have created their art forms, again for centuries, for use by their people in religious ways. Today, like Otomi, their craft is available to all arts and crafts lovers, using their cultural history as the backbone of each design. Today I noticed three intricately bead covered stones. A thin layer of beeswax and resin are applied to the base (stone in this case) and each bead is individually put into place. Usually the bases to these designs are made from wood and are transformed into the typical Huichol designs of a jaguar head, a half moon, a full sun and sometimes conch shells.

These are only a sampling of the many intricate, handmade Mexican crafts that are waiting to be discovered, considered and collected. This art is true and rich, made with passion by passionate people, determined to carry on the legacy of their culture, traditions and people. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and joy is in the Mercados.   -E

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