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The Chiapas Artisans' Museum has 500 pieces on display. The Chiapas Artisans' Museum has 500 pieces on display.

Chiapas works to rebuild a lost heritage in handcrafts

A 2002 fire destroyed a museum with a collection of 6,600 pieces

With a large indigenous population that continues to follow centuries-old traditions, Chiapas is one of Mexico’s principal producers of handcrafts.

In the 2019 national folk art competition, the state’s artisans competed against over 1,000 entries from 24 states, taking home eight prizes in the toy, fiber, silver/goldwork, traditional clothing and embroidery categories.

In 1982, Chiapas founded the Ethnographic Museum, which built a collection of over 14,500 handcraft items from all over the state. But a fire in 2002 destroyed the complex along with 6,600 pieces in the collection, the video and book libraries and administrative offices.

Fifteen years later, in 2017, the state invested 58 million pesos (US $3 million) to reestablish the institution, now called the Instituto Casa de Artesanías de Chiapas (Chiapas Handcraft House Institute).

It is considered to be a continuation of the 1982 project, with the same mission of promoting the state’s various handcraft traditions.

However, in a number of ways it is more ambitious. The main facility is a store located in the state capital of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, which sells about 50,000 items per year. There are also branch locations at the city’s airport, two at the archaeological site of Palenque, one in San Cristobal de las Casas and even one at the Mexico City airport.

Also part of the main facility is a new museum, called the Museo de las Artesanías de Chiapas (Chiapas Artisans Museum), is located in the main store. It has a collection of 500 pieces on permanent display that exhibit examples from all of the state’s main handcraft traditions. The museum has another room dedicated to temporary exhibitions, mostly handcrafts from other parts of Mexico in collaboration with Fonart (National Fund for the Development of Handcrafts).

The mission of the institution is to promote the state’s handcrafts, not as merchandise but rather as cultural objects. To this end it provides information to the public on the work and culture behind the works of art for sale, with activities such as presentations, conferences and demonstrations on how crafts such as textiles, wood carving, lacquerware, jewelry and more are made.

The institute has over 25,000 Chiapan artisans registered with it and has programs to support their work in addition to sales. In October 2019, 180 artisans received grants of 4,000 pesos to buy supplies. It sponsors three main handcraft competitions, one of which offers a purse of 591,000 pesos.

Source: Milenio (sp), La Voz del Sureste (sp)

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