of the Mercado Area

Lacquerware, photo by Patricia Buck Wolf

The presence of an indigenous Mexican lacquer industry has often aroused conjecture about prehistoric Chinese colonists arriving in Mexico, for the Chinese have done lacquering longer and better than anyone else. Also, certain Chinese motifs adorn lacquered boxes from early Colonial times.

However, most ethnologists now agree that Mexican lacquering originated independently, and that the Chinese motifs were introduced onto Mexican ware in the late 1500's. At that time galleons from the Philippines were arriving in the port of Acapulco carrying many kinds of oriental goods. Traditional Mexican lacquering often used resin from a kind of native sumac, of the genus Rhus.

Today lacquered boxes and other items are produced in Uruapan, Quiroga, and Pátzcuaro -- all in Michoacán -- and in Olinalá, Guerrero, and Chiapa de Corzo, Chiapas. Especially Pátzcuaro's lacquerware is known for its sumptuous, oriental-style decorations.