Bark Paintings

Bark Paintings

This section of our interactive art gallery features one of the most unique art forms in Latin America. The Nahua people of Guerrero, Mexico have transferred their skills of intricate painting on pottery, to painting on paper made from the bark of trees!

The art form begins with indigenous Otomi artisans in the Mexican state of Puebla. Following pre-Hispanic traditions, they craft the handmade paper using a variety of different tree barks, most commonly fig and mulberry tree bark. The mulberry bark creates off-white paper, while the fig bark creates much darker paper. The process begins by boiling the bark mixture for 3-4 hours in salted water. Afterwards, the softened bark is rinsed and placed on a large stone tool called a Metlatl. The Metlatl is used to smash, intertwine and extend the fibers to the desired thickness and dimension. The final step is leaving the flattened fiber sheets in the sun to thoroughly dry. The finished product is an ancient art form known as Papel Amate.

For hundreds of years, the handmade paper was considered a specialty of the village shaman and used only for special rituals. Today, it is much more likely the bark paper will be sold or traded to other indigenous groups for decoration. This is where Nahua artists in Guerrero have taken over, excelling for generations at painting bright village and wildlife scenes on the handmade paper.

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