Oaxaca is a destination that boasts incredible natural beauty and an enormous cultural richness that captivates anyone who visits it. In this region of Mexico, its crafts stand out due to the wide variety available, the materials they are made from, and the techniques used to create them.
Last February, Manuel and I, Regina, had the pleasure of visiting Oaxaca and spending time with several artisans who create pieces you can only find at Lolo. Among the many artisans and artisans towns we visited was the town of San Antonio de La Cal, where the magic of tin art came alive at "Las Mariposas" workshop, where Elisa and Manuel—yes, another Manuel!—welcomed us with open arms. Today we want to share our experience with you!
Tin art, a centuries-old craft in Mexico, holds more than just aesthetic value. It reflects culture, history, and the skillful hands of artisans who turn raw materials into intricate masterpieces. The versatility of this craft is unparalleled – from delicate jewelry to bold wall hangings, each piece carries a piece of the artisan's heart.
Stepping into "Las Mariposas," we were met with warm smiles and the unmistakable hum of creativity surrounding the workshop. Elisa and Manuel, a dynamic duo of talent and passion, graciously welcomed us into their studio/workshop. We entered and immediately felt like old-time friends making jokes and appreciating the situation of having two Manuels in the same room.
Before settling, they showed us the space where they create the tinworks. It consists of a main room where they chisel, hammer, and paint their tin artworks and a second back room that leads to an outdoor patio, where they cut and store the pieces. It was a quick tour between laughter and appreciation for all the pieces they had on display, some of which we had already seen (and we offer since 2022), but with others we hadn't seen before (and have been introduced to Lolo since)!
After this tour, we sat on improvised stools in their store for a casual conversation. While speaking with Elisa, Manuel graciously painted some hearts next to us on the table. He would eventually turn and laugh at the exchange or occasionally add to the story. We didn't push for more; the last thing we wanted was to interfere with their art process. With a twinkle in her eyes, Elisa led the conversation and told us all about the journey that led them to embrace the art of tinwork.
"We, Manuel and I, started working on artisanal tinwork when we were very young; our relatives were pioneers in artisanal tinwork, so we got into it. However, both of us wanted to start our own venture. We got together one day and decided to venture into this art with our own workshop. Fortunately, people received us well, and our team grew. Today, we're a team of 3 to 8 people, depending on the workload."
Amidst the array of tin art adorning the workshop, one motif stood out – hearts. Elisa and Manuel's signature pieces, these hearts weren't just decorative; they were part of their creative processes. We immediately asked how long it took to make one of the heart milagros and Elisa quickly jumped the gun to answer:
"To make a heart like this, I estimate it takes half a day – from cutting it, scoring it, chiseling it, shaping it, soldering it, and finishing it. One probably spends half a day on only one small one like this one."
To this, Manuel quickly added: "we also work in bulk, so to say, to move a little bit quicker. We have one morning where we cut, and an afternoon where we chisel and paint. Thankfully, we both know how to do it so we take turns."
As the day progressed, we settled into a cozy corner of their workshop. Elisa's invitation to share a mezcalito was met with laughter – while our spirits were willing, our non-Oaxacan constitutions weren't! This lighthearted moment set the tone for an engaging conversation. The anecdotes flowed as freely as the stories behind their creations, revealing the heartwarming connection between artisan and art.
We, of course, wanted to see the magic happen and asked Elisa if she could show us how these pieces of art were made. With enthusiasm, Elisa stood up and demonstrated her work while telling us all about it:
"To make any piece, whatever it may be, the first thing you need is a sheet metal, a table, a scriber or an ice pick, and we have templates – all these things you see are templates [and she showed us pre cut pieces of paper with different shapes]. You scribe them onto the sheet metal, and once that's done, you have to cut it by hand, because everything is done by hand. If you're going to make several, you scribe all the ones you'll need and clip them together."
She took a pre-cut, blank metal butterfly and showed us how how she makes he textured designs on them.
"This is the process; you chisel, which refers to all the engraving you see. Some people think it's repoussé, but no, that's different. Aluminum is quite different, and this, the patterns and details you see, is all about hammering."
She then pointed out to all the different instruments: over 50 different chisels in with different sizes, textures, and tips. "We have chisels with different ends – points, cutting edges, marking edges. We have a little star, a cutting edge, and we have points and chisels for marking. We have many types of chisels, and sometimes we have to get them made if we don't have them. For certain shapes people commission, we must invest in creating them. And then, of course, chisels break or wear out, so we have to replace them. But they do last a very long time. This is the process of making a piece. However, it does depend on what piece we're making."
Elisa skillfully began the process that transforms raw metal sheets into captivating tin art. Her hands moved with grace, chiseling, shaping, and engraving patterns across the surface of the butterflies. It was amazing to watch as she made it seem so easy, and yet neither Manuel nor I could even begin to have such coordination. It was clear that every stroke held a story that reflected the legacy of this traditional craft.
She turned to Manuel and, with pride on her face, pointed out to his painting process. "The next step after it is all chiseled is painting and decorating, especially for pieces with color. When they're all silver-colored, they're already finished at this point."
As Manuel showed us the skill with which he painted, Elisa continued to explain: "we paint with high-quality acrylic paint, the kind used for cars. This ensures that the pieces last for years. You'll sometimes see that others use regular acrylic paint of lower quality. With that, the pieces start losing their color and vibrancy over time. We look for paint that preserves the piece, making sure they can be used for years."
And it is evident from the vibrant colors and reflective shine their pieces have that all creations from "Las Mariposas" are made with the utmost attention to detail.
Listening to their story was a testament to heritage, determination, and a shared dream to give life to their own artistic venture. Although humble in their origins, their focus was clear, as it was almost as we were leaving that Manuel decided to stop painting to add:
"Making this craft comes naturally to us. We enjoy it mainly because to do this, you have to like it; you have to feel it. You must enjoy everything about it in order to learn everything you need to. I've always said that it's very difficult to learn all: it requires time, trial, and error. You have to feel it, love it, and enjoy what you're doing. If you don't enjoy it, you won't do it the way you should."
We left with these words, filled with the same excitement a night with friends leaves you with. Manuel and I couldn't stop talking about the joyous character of both Elisa and Manuel. It is as if every artisan has the same personality as their craft. In this case, we can attest that one of the most light and colorful crafts are made by light and colorful people that will undoubtedly fill any heart with joy!
Lolo takes great pride in offering a selection of tin art pieces, each one a testament to Mexican creativity and craftsmanship. Our visit revealed Elisa and Manuel's dedication to preserving traditional techniques, while innovating with creative designs. The power of their craft was evident in every stroke, as their tin creations came to life in their skilled hands. In turn, for us at Lolo, this Tin Art collection represents more than mere décor; it embodies the soul of Las Mariposas, where tin art comes alive in forms like hearts, shadow boxes, earrings, and myriad images infused with icons of traditional Mexican culture.
So what do you think? Were you familiar with the process to make tin art? Do you enjoy when we share our experiences with artisans? What other would you like to know about? We love to read your comments and appreciate all your feedback for this and any future blogs!
Also, don’t forget to follow us on social media as @lolomercadito as we share parts of this journey and more tid bits from Las Mariposas an all other artisans. And, as always, if you liked this article, remember that we share many more for those subscribed to our newsletter, so be sure to subscribe here!