Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tlaquepaque: Guadalajara's showcase for arts and crafts

Dancin' in the rain (on a sunny day). This metal sculpture graces one of Tlaquepaque's pedestrian-only streets near El Centro. One can find many whimsical pieces of art while strolling the lovely automobile-free avenues near the central plaza. Carole and I visited Tlaquepaque (pronounced "Tla-Keh-Pa-Keh") on a couple of different occasions, once with Charter Club Tours, and about a year later by car with a couple of friends. The photos in this posting come from both adventures. Many of the beautiful arts and crafts on display in Tlaquepaque's many stores and galleries were actually made elsewhere, often in Tonala, a neighboring community full of artisans and their workshops. To see some of the Tonala artisans at work, click here.

San Pedro church steeples tower over El Centro's plaza. San Pedro (St. Peter) is the patron saint of San Pedro Tlaquepaque, the formal name of this suburb of southeastern Guadalajara. Tlaquepaque was an indigenous center of arts and crafts when the Spanish arrived in 1530. The Nahuatl name of the town reflects this heritage: "men who make clay utensils with their hands." Spanish conquistador Nunio de Guzman took over the village of Tlaquepaque at about the same time as he bloodlessly (unusual for him) conquered the small neighboring kingdom of Tonallan, which became the town of Tonala. After three abortive attempts to found a new Spanish city named Guadalajara in sites as far away as Zacatecas, it finally came into being about 7 miles northeast of present day Tlaquepaque. Both Tlaquepaque and Tonala maintained their separate identities until they were finally overwhelmed by modern-day Guadalajara's explosive growth. To locate Tlaquepaque within Guadalajara, click here.

Dome of San Pedro church shows classical influences. Tlaquepaque won a place in the history of Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain when two of the revolutionary leaders, Augustin de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero, hammered out the Plan of Iguala in one of the mansions of Tlaquepaque's El Centro. The Plan, also called the "Plan of the Three Guarantees", became the basis for the peace treaty with Spain which ended the War of Independence. The three guarantees included maintaining the dominance of Roman Catholicism over all things religious, independence, and social equality of all classes. The plan created a constitutional monarchy with Iturbide as Emperor. Although the Spanish Viceroy signed the agreement, in the end both the government back in Spain and the first Mexican Congress disavowed the agreement and Iturbide's reign as Mexican Emperor was short. The other key figure, Vicente Guerrero, had better fortune, later becoming President of Mexico under a republican form of government.

Brick and flagstones replaced asphalt on three key streets around El Centro. The local goverment wisely decided to ban cars from this area and open it to strolling shoppers, street vendors, and musicians. Thus, Tlaquepaque became a major attraction for tourists. Many of the great old 19th century mansions that line the streets have become galleries, shops, and restaurants with outdoor tables. For a map of this section of Tlaquepaque, click here.

Monument in the Plaza commemorates many fine local artisans. In front of the monument, you can see several examples of fine pottery created in the area. In order to discourage thieves, the pots are filled with cement. The Plaza itself is beautifully arranged, with tall palm trees and other lush greenery, as well as the usual fountains, statues, and artwork.

Pottery is not the only form of craftsmanship practiced here. While wandering the side streets, we happened across this beautifully carved wooden door on a corner house. Local Indians were highly skilled in many crafts when the Spanish arrived. Recognizing this, the Spanish rulers set them to work decorating religious buildings and, somewhat later, private homes.

Hungry crocodile speculates on the possibility of dinner passing below him. I have always enjoyed the humor and whimsey of Mexican art. Inside the door above I found numerous other pieces of metal sculpture in various stages of completion. The woman by the door didn't seem to appreciate her narrow escape. Another charming feature of Mexican art is the combination of colors one would never expect to work well together. Somehow, in Mexico, they do.

Come and get it! In another corner of the Plaza, I found this jolly figure dancing and cavorting as he tried to attract attention to the farmacia (pharmacy) behind him. Mexico is full of various forms of highly entertaining street theatre.

Another brass dancer swirls her skirts. She was created by the same sculptor who made the umbrella dancer in the first picture. One interesting aspect of the artwork here is that one can often find the artist at work right in the street and see a creation like this in progress.

Yet another dancer, live this time. This lovely young woman was stationed by the front door of one of the restaurants which line the pedestrian-only streets. We caught each other's eyes at the same time and she graciously spread her skirts so I could take the photo above. I was reminded of the lovely large birds along the shores of Lake Chapala which have similarly spread their beautiful wings to allow for an eye-catching photo.

Female musicians have begun to break into Mexico's mariachi tradition. Mariachi bands began in the 19th Century in Jalisco State. Up until the 1940s, Mexico's macho traditions allowed only men into this musical form. In recent years, young women have begun to form all-female mariachi bands. The novelty has gained them a wide audience. Inside the restaurant whose entrance was guarded by the orange-skirted damsel, we found this mariachi band playing for the lunch crowd. They were quite good, and very lively.

Another eye-catching door greeter. Once again, Mexican artistic whimsey produces a startling character. This rather jaunty and jovial fellow caught my eye--and my lens--as I walked by the jewelry store where he was lounging. He is most likely a paper mache creation of one of the Tonala workshops.

Another friendly Mexican, of the animal persuasion. As we strolled the area around the Plaza, we were accosted by a man who introduced us to his green, scaly friend, and then talked us into a photograph for $20 pesos (about $1.50 USD). It was a pretty good scam, and made for a memorable picture. The iguana apparently wanted to crawl right up my arm in order to hiss sweet nothings into my ear. While iguanas are completely harmless, I was dubious of his advances, as you can see. Iguanas are native to Mexico, primarily in the southern area, but also in the Pacific Coast swamps and lagoons.

Iguanas were not the only friendly folks we met. While recovering from my close encounter with the iguana, we ran into this group of Mexican teenagers. Seeing my camera, they immediately wanted me to take their picture. Kids being kids, they had a good time vamping it up while I took the shot.

Santiago stands over severed heads of Spain's enemies. Santiago (St. James) is the warrior saint revered by the Spanish for assisting their reconquest of the Iberian peninsula from the Moors in the late 15th Century. When the Spanish invaded Mexico in the early 16th Century, they again called upon him for help. Legend has it that Santiago appeared several times to overawe the Indians and gain Spanish victories. He is nearly always portrayed brandishing a sword.

Don Quixote as "the Thinker". It took a while for me to realize that this abstract metal statue, in the famous posture of Auguste Rodin's sculpture, "The Thinker," was actually a representation of Miguel de Cervantes' character Don Quixote. Cervantes was a contemporary of Spain's conquest and early rule of Mexico. He and his famous character Don Quixote are very popular in today's Mexico. The city of Guanajuato conducts the annual Cervantino Festival to celebrate him.

Large urns grace the entrance of a pottery shop. These urns are partially painted, and partially decorated with intricate mosaics. They are quite large, standing perhaps 4 feet tall, and 2 feet wide at the widest parts. Works like this take a long time to create and are fairly expensive. A wide variety of pottery styles are created and sold in Tlaquepaque.

An unusual fountain burbles at one end of the pedestrian-only walkway. In Mexican plazas, I am used to finding traditional fountains, but I found this one intriguingly different. In addition to the water spraying up from the main fountain in the middle, there are several others surrounding it and still more spraying from the small nodules around the circumference. One thing is sure, it is rare to find a Mexican plaza without a fountain, whatever the style.

"C'mon, you can do it!" A little girl encourages her reluctant puppy to pose for the nice gringo with the camera. The puppy was somewhat less than enthusiastic at the prospect. This dog seems well cared-for and probably has a nice future with its family. As a dog-lover, I am sometimes distressed by Mexico's neglect of its innumerable street dogs. One the other hand, I am willing to admit that the US culture, where I originate, is rather nutty in our over-indulgence of our pets upon whom we lavish billions of dollars while millions of human children in the US go without health care or adequate nutrition.

A huge portrait of Fred Kahlo broods over the pedestrian walkway. Freda Kahlo, or just "Freda" as she is widely known, was the wife of Diego Rivera, one of Mexico's foremost muralists. Freda was a great artist in her own right, but her work has often been overshadowed by the flamboyant and highly political work of her husband. Freda painted many self-portraits, and this appears to be a copy of one. It hung from the second story of one of the buildings along the walkway, about 10 feet long and 5 feet wide.

This concludes my posting on San Pedro Tlaquepaque. I hope you will be encouraged to visit this little jewel of a town if you are staying in the Guadalajara area. It is definitely worth at least a day's ramble. If you'd like to make a comment or ask a question, you can either use the comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question, please also leave your email so that I can answer.

Hasta luego! Jim


  1. One of my favorite posts of yours, Jim, as my family lives somewhere in Tlaquepaque. Thanks!

  2. David from Calgary said: I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and have read all your postings. I hope you are planning a book on this region of Mexico. It would be a good seller! I hope to make Ajijic my home in a year or two and love all the information you have given. I've got 3 other folks who love the area reading your blog now. Thanks.

  3. Dear Jim and Carole,

    Might you like to be guests for the Kwaxochitl, the annual indigenous Flower Festival, held in May in Zacatlan de Las Manzanas? A photographic record of the festival would be the purpose.

    Dick Davis

    Google: Ourmexico Zacatlan


If your comment involves a question, please leave your email address so I can answer you. Thanks, Jim