Amate Paper Paintings

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The Amate paper paintings combine the paper crafting from San Pablito Pahuatlan in Puebla and the Nahuatl folk paintings from La Mezcala region on the Balsas River basin in Guerrero.

San Pablito Pahuatlan

San Pablito Pahuatlan.

Amate Paper History
Amate comes from the Nahuatl word amatl (paper). It was the most used paper by the Mesoamerican cultures.

The Mayas called it hunn (bark or book) and the Aztecs gave it the name amatl.

Both cultures wrote their codices in amate and there is archaeological evidence the Aztecs used it to decorate shrines, sacrifice places, gods sculptures and burials.

When the Spaniards arrived, the amate crafting stopped everywhere except in an Otomi village located in Puebla State.

People from San Pablito Pahuatlan continued the crafting of amate paper for ceremonial uses like agricultural rituals.

Amate Papermaking
Amate although called paper is more like a nonwoven fabric. The paper is created from the bark of the wild fig tree, the nettle tree and mulberry tree, each with a different tone of color, ranging from coffee browns to silvery whites.

Men peel the bark from the trees and women make the paper. They wash the bark and
boil it in a large pot with ashes or lime (calcium hydroxide) for several hours until softened.

Next the crafters rinse the pulp and laid it on a wooden board to beat it with a stone until the fibers fuse into a paste. The paste is molded and left to dry in the sun.

Raw amate bark

Raw amate bark

The Painting
The Amate is painted by Nahuatl speaking folk artists in the region called the Mezcala, on the Rio Balsas Basin in Guerrero state. The natural beauty of the area has inspired one of the most valued folk art painting styles in the country.

People from Ameyaltepec, a small village in the area, shared with their neighbors a tradition making Barro Pintado, painted clay. From the 1950's they traveled to tourist areas to sell their crafts. Some artists would rather travel and paint on the outlet cities.

In 1962, art dealer Max Kerlow who had a gallery in Mexico City asked itinerant folk artist Pedro de Jesus from Ameyaltepec to paint some wooden figures in his store patio.

Pedro did well and invited Cristino Flores Medina to go with him, in the gallery they met Felipe Ehrenberg an eclectic artist that suggested them to paint on Amate. By the 1970's Pedro de Jesus and Cristino Flores had gained national recognition.

And so the Amate gave the Mezacala's folk painters the opportunity to develop their craft from utilitarian pieces to pure aesthetic paintings. Soon the Ameyaltepec artists began teaching other painters in surrounding villages like Oapan, Maxele and Xalitla.

From the school developed in Ameyaltepec rose internationally known artist Nicolas de Jesus.

Different Styles
At first the paintings in Amate resembled the pottery figures with colorful flowers, birds and other animals like deer and rabbits. Promptly the talented artists developed new styles that included village and religious scenes.

Amate paintings are made in brown and white bark. For the Otomi people the white paper represents nature and everything that is good while the brown represents evil.

Brown paper usually features colorful paintings, made with acrylic colors, depicting flowers, birds, deer or rabbits and every day stories from the community such as fishing, hunting and harvesting.

Amate paintings

White Amate paper is used in more intricate drawings made with pen and ink representing stories of the community life.

Please click on an amate drawing above to go to the related page.

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