The heart as a representation of love, hope, and gratitude is an essential part of Mexican culture; so much so that it has become a very common theme in artisanal crafts. Among these, one that we are very familiar with is the famous Mexican milagro, translated as miracles, handcrafts that capture everyone’s attention for their details and intention.
Whether you have seen them carved in wood or sculpted in aluminum, we are sure that you are familiar with this traditional piece of art that that can be seen around the entire country decorating all walls, either clustered together covering one wall or by themselves.
Today, we want to share with you a little about this beautiful craft, from its origin and meaning as well as our informative conversation with Martín, who specializes in the creation of beautiful Mexican milagros in San Miguel de Allende.
What is a Mexican Milagro?
Mexican Milagros consist of small figures (usually in the shape of a heart) used as an offering to ask for a miracle or to thank for something happening. They are typically found hanging on the doors of houses as a protection amulet, usually made of tin or wood, but there are other materials used to create them.
Milagros were introduced to Latin America with the arrival of the Spanish and Catholicism. Normally, milagros were made in fabric, wood, aluminum, silver, and even paper and paint so that they showed their devotion to a saint, to represent the promise that was made, or to thank for the miracle that happened. There are records of Hernán Cortés carrying with him a milagro as a thank you for surviving a scorpion sting!
Now that we know what Milagros are and their origin, we wanted to dig a little bit more into the talented people who make them. We had a brief, but very informative conversation with Martín Hernández, from Colectivo Quemona, who runs a family workshop in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, that makes charming wood-carved hearts with tin Milagros.
Martín began by telling us about his beginnings as an artisan. He told us that “[he] was born in Pátzcuaro Michoacán on September 15, 1965. At the age of 12, together with my older brothers, I began to work with papier mache right there in Pátzcuaro.” So, it was through papier mache in the famous town of Pátzcuaro that Martín found his passion for handcrafts.
However, he then moved away from Patzcuaro, following his brothers. He continued his life journey: “in the 70s and 80s my older brothers moved to San Miguel de Allende, Gto. And then I caught up with them.” But moving to San Miguel could only make their talent flourish, as they continued their practice. He said: “the workshop was installed there [in San Miguel de Allende], where we first made fruits and vegetables and other papier mache sculptures like clowns… and we had tremendous success with this craft!”
After such success with their papier mache shop, Martín and each of their brothers decided to go their separate ways to each focus on what they like to do. He explained that “later, each brother became independent, and we created our own models and finishes of our crafts.” Still, they maintain their familiar support and work together whenever they can, as he said, “Some of us still work in the same workshop and we also know a little about working the other’s craft, so there are many times when we work together complementing our skills to make original pieces.”
Now established in San Miguel, Martín started to make Milagros by carving wood and attaching small tin Milagros to each of these carvings. He explained a little about their growth as artisans: “we learned to work with tin and began to create pieces with it, applying a different finish to what was used at that time by other artisans of San Miguel.” Of course, as he should be, he is proud of the unique and original pieces he crates, “we liked to use techniques that are different, like painting with bright colors or applying lacquers to protect the products and, like that, giving a twist to the traditional crafts of San Miguel.”
Martín explained how the Milagros he works with are made and the meaning behind them. “We start by carving the wood. What people like the most are hearts and crosses, but we also do other specialized shapes like stars or letters. From there we paint the heart with a color that will contrast with the small, little Milagros we will nail to the wooden heart that serves as a base.”
Those small milagros (milagritos) are so strikingly unique and detailed, so we had to ask him about all designs they implement as milagros and he said, “We make those inspiring on what people would like to see and the protection or promise they’d like to make. For example, we have La Virgencita, San Judas Tadeo (Jude the Apostle), San Benito and San Charbel (St. Benedict and St. Charbel); but we also have angel wings, body parts for health like legs, arms, or a real heart, eyes for evil eye, etc. At the end, it really depends on the interpretation each person would like to give it.”
After nailing the milagritos to the wooden heart, they add another finish, which is something that makes Martín and the Quemona’s workshop distinguish themselves apart from other artisanal workshops. Martín explained: “we like to add a finishing varnish that gives it this old-like look. People really like that, and I believe it makes it look more real, more original.” Besides giving it this wonderful “antique” touch, the varnish they add also serves as a protective agent against the elements, which will make it last for years.
Martín explained how not all credit to his unique pieces goes to him and said, “I learned this trade from my older brothers and work with them whenever I can. In the workshop, we are several people since each one of them has their task.” Martín and his family, together, have had such success with their craft that they have earned worldwide recognition and have many store branches across San Miguel de Allende, he said, “my family and I have 3 stores and a workshop, and we continue to handcraft our products with the same patience and care that we did when it was only one.”
So, the Milagros that Quemona’ Workshop create are made by various skilled artisans with love, and they enjoy the whole process, including the feedback the customers give when they receive it. He explained, “each product we make passes from hand to hand until the final finish is created and from there we pack and send the order to the customer or place it in our store. It is a satisfaction and a pleasure to know that we are recognized people in craft work and that we have satisfied customers.” And, not to surprise anyone, everyone at Lolo is deeply in-love with the talent behind Martín and Colectivo Quemona’s hand when looking at these milagros.
Here is a small video of the process to make one of Colectivo Quemona's milagros:
Currently the state of Oaxaca and San Miguel de Allende are the main recognized producers of this handcrafted art, and we can find a multitude of designs and motifs in milagros. If you would like to support Martín and other artisans who specialize in making milagros, be sure to check out our section dedicated to milagros. We also have a wall-décor section where you can get all products to fill your wall with talent from all over Mexico, here!
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