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The Huichol and Their Art

The Huichol are an indigenous group who inhabit the Sierra Madre Occidental in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. Living at elevations of up to three thousand meters above sea level (9,800 ft.) they are cut off from the outside world by rugged mountain ranges and deep canyons and are perhaps the last tribe in North America who still live today much as they did in pre-Columbian times.

A warm hearted and enduring people numbering about 18,000-20,000, they are striving to keep their culture alive and viable despite the ever-increasing physical and cultural encroachment of their Mexican neighbors.

The Huichol integrate peyote use into their lives, culture, and religion today as they have done for at least a thousand years. As the principal agent for a tribe described as healers, peyote (a cactus that grows in the deserts of central Mexico) is considered a universal remedy and a health aid as well as a hallucinogen. Among other uses, it is given as a pain reliever or as a stimulant to make their work easier. It is also used as a catalyst to meditation and religious ceremonies.

The Huichol's strong ceremonial traditions and rich mythology are reflected in their visionary artwork. Through the ritual use of peyote, each handcrafted piece that the Huichol makes comes from an artistic spiritual connection.

The spirit realm comes alive through the symbolism that represents the invisible world of deities, power and knowledge. The art is portrayed in the form of gourds, masks, jewelry, and sculpture. The work is all hand-made by individual artists who are taught by their elders, and who then pass on the artistic techniques to their children.

One primary art form consists of gourds and carved wooden objects, which are coated with beeswax, then decorated with colorful glass beads pressed into the wax. With these beading patterns the Huichol create beautifully intricate designs containing rich symbolism.

Another art form, masks, reflect the patterns of face paintings worn during sacred ceremonies. The masks are not worn during the ceremonies; they are used to record information about the Huichol mythology and traditions that they learn through these rituals, their visions and their dreams.

Ceremonial bowls or "jicaras" are made from gourds. These bowls are thought to hold visions and creative inspiration gathered from a deeply spiritual culture that motivates all people to celebrate life and honor the life-giving forces of the universe.

Yarn paintings are another primary art form the Huichol create. The brilliantly colored yarn paintings are made by pressing strands of yarn into beeswax. The yarn paintings capture the dimensional visions of the peyote journey and are representations of life and energy in the spirit world. These "paintings" are a reminder to every Huichol that the transcendental powers of the mystical Spirit world are available to all humans.

Originally all forms of their artwork were made as "offrendas," prayer offerings to the Spirits. This practice is still continued, but now some of the art is made to sell. Buying their art supports them by providing a means of livelihood that encourages them to maintain their cultural and spiritual identity.

The Huichol are struggling to maintain their ancestral ways and they are under tremendous pressures of acculturation. Their knowledge of how to live in harmony with the forces of nature is in danger of being lost. You can help the Huichol People stay connected with their roots by purchasing their art, which is available at many of the galleries in this area.

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