Several Oaxaca City family factories turn out fine cutlery, forged ironwork, and a swarm of bright tinware mirror frames, masks, and glittering Christmas decorations.
Cutlery tradition—knives, machetes, scissors, swords, and more—arrived in Oaxaca with the Spanish. Today, several family shops offer their wares in town shops and market stalls, notably at the Benito Juárez market in Oaxaca City.
Traditional ironwork, admittedly heavy to carry home in your luggage, is made to order, boxed, and shipped at a number of specialty shops in Oaxaca City. Some of the more commonly requested items, such as medieval-style lanterns and garden benches, are available on display.
Tinware (hojalata, oh-hah-LAH-tah), especially the colorfully lacquered Christmas decorations—winsome angels, saints, Santas, butterflies, and fruits—constitute Oaxaca City’s most sought-after metal craft. Running closely behind are the hosts of old-fashioned lead figures—soldiers, ballerinas, antique automobiles, angels—and fancy silvery mirror frames, metal boxes, birds, flowers, and much more. Many downtown handicrafts shops, in addition to stalls at the 20 de Noviembre market and the Mercado de Artesanías (Handicrafts Market), sell metal work.
Moreover, be sure to ask at the same shops and stalls for milagros, one of Mexico’s most charming forms of metal work. Usually of brass, they are of homely shapes—a horse, dog, or baby, or an arm, head, heart, or foot. The faithful pin them, along with a prayer, to the garments of their favorite saint, whom they hope will intercede to cure the ailment or fulfill the wish designated by the milagro.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition