Papel Picado, Papel Amate, and
Papel Picado, Papel Amate, and Popotillo

Mexican paper arts such as papel picado (cut paper images) and papel amate (Mexican bark
paper) are wonderful traditions seen throughout Mexico.  Papel Picado are hand-crafted cut
paper images using colorful tissue paper.  Papel picado is displayed during special events
such as the Day of the Dead and the 12th of December (Virgen of Guadalupe Day).  This site
has more information on
the history of Papel Picado and how it’s made.

Papel Amate is Mexican bark paper, hand-crafted for centuries and still made today.  The town
of San Pablito in the Sierra Norte of Puebla is famous for making papel amate.  It is typical of
the Otomi Indians of this region.  You can find colorful images painted on papel amate
throughout Mexico, especially in the state of Guerrero.  Papel amate also makes wonderful
books, notebooks, and decorative greeting cards.

Please click here to read our article about the community of San Pablito in the state of Puebla,
where papel amate is made

Luz Maria Salinas is an artist specializing in a traditional Mexican folk art called Popotillo.  This
is a dying art form in Mexico and there are very few artists that make folk art from popotillo these
days.  Popotillo art has been a tradition in Luz’s family for over half a century.  Popotillo is a kind
of straw, which the artist dyes different colors, cuts into small pieces, and arranges to make
colorful paintings and sculptures.  Luz makes crosses, paintings, boxes, and these wonderful
Virgins, celebrating the Virgen de Gualaupe, one of the most important religious figures in

The Tradition and History of “Popotillo,” Mexican Straw Painting
An Interview with Teresa Ruiz Rivera de Torres from the Workshop
“Popotillo y Color”

The workshop “Popotillo y Color,” located in Mexico City, is an award winning group of artisans
who work mostly in the ancient Mexican tradition of “popotillo,” or colored straw painting. Teresa
Ruiz Rivera de Torres and her husband José Alfonso Torres Martinez work together with four
other family members to create these wonderful paintings that cross the line between fine art
and folk art.  

The workshop is now six years old, with six members currently making art.  Their work can now
be seen in Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Arte Popular (The National Musuem of Popular
Art).  Theresa and the other artists were recently interviewed by Canal 11, a public television
station based in Mexico City that features programs on culture and art.  In 2005, they were
invited to participate in an art exhibit in Spain.

In 2004, José Alfonso won first place for best original painting in the prestigious art show “Los
Motivos de Las Artesanías, Símbolos del Distrito Federal” for his painting “El Coyote
Emplumado” (“The Plumed Coyote”).  This painting is a work in popotillo that features a pre-
Hispanic design.

The History of Popotillo

We recently visited Teresa at her home, and asked her to talk about their work and the history of
popotillo painting.  She explained that there is not much in the way of information published on
the history of popotillo.  What is known is that popotillo straw has been used by the indigenous
populations of central Mexico both for art and for domestic purposes since before the arrival of
the Spanish.  

Popotillo (“thin straw” in Spanish) is a type of sacaton grass (genus: Sporobolus) that has been
used since pre-Columbia times in various forms of folk art.  This kind of straw is also
commonly used to make brooms.  It is also known as “popote de cambray” in Spanish.  In pre-
Hispanic times, natural dyes such as cochineal were used to color the straw.  These days, the
dyes are a combinational of natural and artificial dyes.

Teresa also explained that recent Chinese immigrants to Mexico brought a similar form of art to
Mexico known as straw patchwork art.  This is an ancient Chinese folk art that dates from the
Sui Dynasty (581 - 618 AD).  It is thought that Mexican and Chinese artisans recognized the
similarity of their work and thus shared ideas and techniques.  

Popotillo Techniques

Today, popotillo straw (popote de cambray) is commonly grown and harvested in the states of
Mexico, Morelos, Hidalgo, and Puebla.  These areas are also where the best popotillo artists
come from.  Teresa typically imports her popotillo from these states.

To make these paintings, the artist must first hand-dye the raw popotillo several different colors.
Then, they draw out a design. Next, the artist places a very thin layer of a special bee’s wax
known as “cera de Campeche” over the design.  “Cera de Campeche” is also used by the
Huichol Indians for their bead and yard designs.  

The straw must be cut and organized according the needs of the artist and the painting.  The
pieces of popotillo can be as small as 1milimeter in length.  The tiny pieces of straw are then
pressed carefully into the wax.   After completing the painting, a fixer is applied so that the
delicate pieces of straw will stay in place.  The artisans then frame all their pieces with hand-
made frames.  

A single painting can take weeks to complete.  Teresa and the other members of the workshop
have very unique styles.  Teresa enjoys making pre-Hispanic designs from the Aztecs.  Silvia
specializes in Dead of the Dead motifs and fanciful animals. You can see a sample of their
work at their website:

The other members of the workshop are:

Silvia Torres
Patricia Torres
Ana Torres
Maria Eugenia Torres
Papel Picado in a Day of the
Dead altar
Papel Amate, Mexican Bark
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We've been collecting unusual recipes from throughout Mexico for over a
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the history and origins of some of Mexico's most delicious foods.  Click the
link below to find out more!

Recipes from an Aztec Garden: The Pre-Hispanic and Traditional
Foods of Mexico!

Papel Picado, Papel Amate, and
A beautiful image of the Virgen of
Guadalupe made from Popotillo