By Antonio Ramblés
I’ve been traveling around Mexico since the mid-’70’s, when the local arts and crafts market was a lot like shopping in the former Soviet Union: All of stores carried much of the same, mundane merchandise, and selection was limited.
In the years since, Mexican artisans have responded to cheaply-made foreign knock-offs of their work with new and original designs, materials, and fabrication techniques.
Their efforts have taken Mexican artisanship and artistry to a new level and made it highly sought after in the global market place.
San Pedro Tlaquepaque – known to most simply as Tlaquepaque – is one of five municipalities (think NYC boroughs) that make up Metropolitan Guadalajara.
It’s long been the home of talented artists and craftsmen, and today their work is sold here in boutiques that would fit in nicely among the shops on Fifth Avenue, Rodeo Drive, or Magnificent Mile.
It’s not surprising that Tlaquepaque is best known for its fine pottery, since the town takes its name from indigenous Nahuatl words meaning “place above clay land”, but its artisans also produce elegant blown glass.
Shops here also sell work from all over Mexico including ceramics, wood and bronze sculpture, wood furniture, paper-mâché art, and embroidered cloth.
Tlaquepaque was a village in its own right long before the Spanish Conquest, but today retains its Spanish colonial character, and much of its architecture dates back to the 19th century.
It holds a special place in Mexican history, for it was here in a house on the corner of Independencia and Contreras Medellin Streets that the Plan de Iguala, which granted Mexico independence from Spain, was signed.
A statue of Miguel Hidalgo, father of Mexican independence, towers over the central El Jardín Hidalgo plaza.
During the San Pedro patron saint festivities in June, many street stalls and art sellers set up their wares in the plaza.
Adjoining the Jardin are the Santuario de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Solitude), and the Templo de San Pedro Tlaquepaque, which dates from the 1600’s.
Several of the main streets are closed to all but pedestrian traffic, which makes for unhurried strolls through cobblestone streets and alleyways, and plazas and gardens.
One of my favorite galleries is that of Sergio Bustamente, a Mexican artist and sculptor and a Guadalajara area resident since childhood.
First exhibited in Mexico City in 1966, his early work was done in paint and paper maché, but by the mid-1970s he was creating works – many reflecting animal themes – in wood and bronze.
He began designing furniture in 1979, and creating ceramic sculptures into the ’80’s. Latest among his creations is a line of limited edition jewelry in which each piece is hand crafted and bears a certificate of authenticity.
Photography is prohibited in the gallery, but you can browse the full catalogue of Bustamante’s work at www.coleccionsergiobustamante.com.mx.
Just down the block from the Bustament gallery you’ll find the Museo Regional de la Cerámica (Regional Ceramic Museum), which gives a great historical overview of this craft.
There are plenty of great dining choices here. Catty-cornered from the Jardin, the El Parián pavilion is home to a number of restaurants and bars.
You’ll also find a number of cafes and restaurants – many with patio seating – scattered throughout the district. Among these, I recommend Casa Fuerte.
El Abajeno, which has another location in Guadalajara on the Glorieta Minerva and had been serving locals for almost 50 years, is also popular.
Be advised, though, that breakfast offerings are limited, and restaurants here are most crowded on Sundays, when many of the shops are closed.
Expect at any of these to be serenaded by one the mariachi bands for which Tlaquepaque is well known.
Since many cultural activities here are scheduled in the evenings, it’s worth making your visit an overnight stay here.
The area’s hotels are a short drive from Guadalajara’s city center, and there are a number of delightful B&B’s (click each for TripAdvisor ratings and photos ) including:
Casa de Las Flores, Quinta Don Jose, La Casa del Retorno, Rosa Morada
The new Plaza Forum Rio Nilo mall is located about 3 kilometers from El Jardin Hidalgo at the intersection of Avenidas Rio Nilo and García Barragán.
Stores there include the Liverpool and Suburbia department stores, Best Buy, Office Max and a Cineplex. Nearby you’ll also find Home Depot, WalMart, Auto Zone, Radio Shack.