My mind was being assaulted with unexpected visions of devil masks and Picasso pictures; flashbacks of peyote-induced yarn paintings. My friend and I were completing our second day in Zacatecas and we were both suffering severe cases of PMED – Post Museum Euphoria Disorder.
Like the city where I live, Zacatecas is one of Mexico’s colonial “silver cities”. The people are super friendly. The weather is perfect and it is home to some fabulous art collections.
Museum Rafael Coronel
The Museo Rafael Coronel is reason enough to make a trip to Zacatecas. Ruins of a 16th century convent hold this incredible collection of Mexican folk art. Pre-hispanic pottery, musical instruments, incredibly detailed puppets and drawings by Diego Rivera are among the attractions.
But the main reason people go to the Museo Rafael Coronel is to see the amazing compilation of masks. Indeed, it is often referred to as the “mask museum”. There are literally thousands. Masks made of wood, leather, hair, even of armadillo skins. Faces of men, animals and devils look back at you. Generally speaking, the masks were created to be used in dances. Some, especially the animal masks, are used in indigenous ceremonies. However, many of the masks and dances – such as the dance of the Moors vs. the Christians, reflect the Spanish heritage. (This epic battle, La Morisma, is re-enacted every year in Zacatecas during late August or September.)
Contemplating a collection of devil masks, I concluded that the modern image of the devil must have evolved from the Greek god Pan.
Museo Pedro Coronel
Entering the Pedro Coronel Museum, we passed through a library of old books. Really old- some were brought here by the Conquistadors. But books aside, the overall flavor of the Pedro Coronel Museum is modern. And it can stand with the best modern art museums of the world. This 17th century former Jesuit college holds a fabulous collection; Picasso, Miró, Chagall, Kandinsky, Ernst, Dali. Wandering gape-mouthed through the halls, I couldn’t help but thinking, “What is this doing here?”
Keeping up with the high standards of the other Zacatecas museums, the Museo Zacatecano also has an intriguing collection focused on the history, archeology and art of Zacatecas. The museum has a lot to offer, but we had come with a purpose – to see Huichol folk art. The Huichol are an indigenous group who live in north-central Mexico. Best known for their peyote-based spiritual system, the Huichol transplant their visions into incredible works of art. Millions (there is a piece in the museum which contains over two million beads) of vibrantly colored, tiny beads are pasted on boards, egg shells or animal shapes to form brilliant mosaics. Intricately embroidered cross-stitch decorates the clothing they wear to cross the desert. Yarn is wound back and forth and pasted onto wood to make brilliant “paintings”.
Along with examples of all these handicrafts, the museum offers up a peyote-simulation experience. (Unless, you are a Huichol, the use of peyote is illegal in Mexico.) Holograms and a small tunnel allow you to better imagine what a peyote trip is like. I cannot speak to the accuracy, but I enjoyed the museum.
Other Sights in Zacatecas
There are two other art museums in town that I still need to visit. A converted seminary is home to the Museo Arte Abstracto Manuel Felguérez which specializes in work by Felguérez and is said to be excellent. Another fine art museum, the Museo Francisco Goitia, is housed in an old Governor’s mansion (which we were told was built as a replica of Tara from the Gone With The Wind, but who gives a damn). Other popular sight-seeing activities include taking a cable car to the top of “Cerro de la Bufa” to enjoy a spectacular view of the city, and touring the El Edén Mine (which is a bit on the cheesy side, but still fun).
I’ve been to Zacatecas three times and I can’t wait to go back – a first rate destination for any art lover!