Oaxacan metal art, also known as hojalata or “tin art,” is a folk art development that became popular on the tourist trade in the 20th century. While the use of tin is relatively recent, this artform has deep roots in Precolumbian Mesoamerican metallurgy. Artists of the Postclassic period (900-1521 CE) Mixtec cultures of Oaxaca created elaborate metalwork jewelry designs in gold, silver, and copper using the techniques of lost-wax casting and of forging and repoussé, or hammering the metal into shape. Traditional Mixtec metalwork was often religious, depicting gods, goddesses, and sacred symbols. Today, descendants of the Mixtec and Mixtec Mestizo (mixed Native and Spanish heritage) artists of Oaxaca make elaborately forged tin metal ornaments that also have religious themes, but these take the form of Christian characters and symbols–and perhaps symbols that developed from both indigenous and Christian imagery.
This ornament is made of two sheets of forged and repoussé tin to create a three-dimensional, 11-pointed star form with a twisted tin-strip tail. The form of the star is meaningful, as star images hold importance in both Christian and ancient Mesoamerican religions. In Christianity, the star of the Nativity is often depicted as a shooting star, and this is especially significant in an object that was likely made to serve as a Christmas ornament. Ancient Mesoamericans, however, were avid astronomers, watching and tracking the stars as part of their ritual calendar system; stars also figured prominently in Mesoamerican religion, with deities such as Star Skirt, the personification of the Milky Way and the mother of all the stars. This star ornament, therefore, could draw from both of these sources of inspiration. Researched by Codee Ratliff
This ornament was cut from a single piece of tin, formed with forged and repoussé details, and painted in the vibrant colors of blue, red, and golden yellow. Donkeys are common beasts of burden still used in the Oaxaca region, but this donkey could refer to the traditional Mesoamerican religious belief in naguals, which is the belief that humans could transform into a supernatural animal. But, this donkey could also be a Christian symbol, as Mary is often depicted as riding a donkey to Bethlehem, and donkeys are also often pictured in Nativity scenes. Researched by Codee Ratliff
This ornament, like the Blue Donkey and the Cactus ornaments, is made from a single piece of forged and repoussé tin, and it represents a bird. Birds were important in Mesoamerican religion and society, such as the Quetzal bird, with its long, iridescent, blue-green feathers. Certain birds were also important in Christianity, such as the dove. Because this bird represents a swallow, this bird was most likely meant to celebrate birds in general, as beautiful birds are abundant in Mexico today. Researched by Codee Ratliff
Like the Red Bird and the Blue Donkey ornaments, this ornament is made from a single piece of forged and repoussé tin, and it represents a cactus. Mexico is home to many species of cacti, which are resources used since ancient Mesoamerican times for many purposes, including food and textile fiber; detailed information about these cacti are recorded in Mesoamerican codices. This ornament represents the prickly pear cactus, and the pads and the fruits of this cactus are still popular as foods today. Researched by Codee Ratliff
For more information, you may contact the researcher(s) noted in the title of this exhibit entry, or Dr. Billie Follensbee, the professor of the course, at BillieFollensbee@MissouriState.edu