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The Ancient Art of Amate – How It’s Made

by | Artisans

Read Time: 2 min.

Preserving the ancient Artisan traditions of her ancestors, Maribel and her husband, Jorge, create beautiful amate art from the bark of local trees that grow near their village in Mexico.

How It’s Made

Choosing the Best Tree Bark

“Amate is pulled from the cuttings of the tree called Cream Micrante Blume or the Jonote Colorado tree. This type of tree grows in the coffee zones of Mexico. We choose trees that are between four to six years old in maturity.

Jorge explains the traditional process of handcrafting amate art inspired by Mexico’s ancient Aztec heritage.

Drying the Bark

We calculate 40 cm (about 16 inches) from the trunk, and we do a cutting of the outside of the tree in a circular motion until we get six to eight strips of cutting. The first cutting is the outside of the tree, which we keep to put back after the process is done. The inside – the white part – is what we use to dehydrate to make the art.

To dehydrate the bark, we put it out in the sun.

Transforming the Natural Bark

After it’s dehydrated, we boil water (220 liters – about 60 gallons) and add 110 kilos of cuttings (that’s about 5 to 6 tree cuttings that equals around 243 pounds) and we add natural talc and ash to soften it. We stir it 3 to 4 times during this process. 

After boiling for 8 hours, it cools all night and the next day we wash it 3 times to remove the resin and it comes out clean and white again.

We divide the best part of the material that is soft and clean and are left with about 90 kilos (about 24 gallons) of good working material. Then we put the material out in the sun to whiten even more. 

We then wash it out one more time and start putting the pieces in a flat surface piece. If there are designs needing strips, we create them during this step and lay them down on the flat surface. Each strip is rolled between our fingers to make sure they bind together well.

Maribel and Jorge’s amate art workshop is filled with authentic reflections of the workshops once used by ancient Aztec amate paper Artisans in Mexico.

Creating Art from Paper Pulp

Then we use a special stone called ‘Nmdudho’ in Otomi, and with very precise taps we compact the material down making sure it stays uniform and the same thickness throughout. The corners are folded to reinforce them. On the parts of design that needs to be very flat, we take orange peels and rub them on the pieces to make sure the pores are eliminated.

Once this is done, we put it out in the sun for 12-18 hours. We remove the pieces from the wood back piece that holds them together and then we are done!”
– Maribel & Jorge, Amate Art Artisans in Mexico

Art That Changes Lives

La plaza means “square”. Maribel and Jorge’s La Plaza Amate Art features a traditional square design.
It takes 4 Artisans between 10 and 12 hours to create 16 pieces of Sunburst Amate Art.
Trades of Hope’s Sunburst Amate Art helps provide jobs for 12 people in Maribel’s and Jorge’s community – directly impacting and supporting 3 local families.
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2 Comments

  1. Jane E Solomon

    Beautiful work. Very creative

    Reply
  2. Terri Tatroe

    What talent it takes to make such beauty! I love that the process came from ancient Aztec artisans. 😍

    Reply

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Kathy Thomas

Kathy Thomas

Kathy Thomas is an inspirational writer with a passion for helping women discover and celebrate their unique gifts and abilities. Kathy is part of the Communications Team at Trades of Hope focusing on Artisan advocacy.

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