A magnificent collection of Mexican handicrafts can be enjoyed in the MAP or Museo de Arte Popular (Museum of Popular Art). This fantastic museum, located half a block from the Alameda Park in downtown Mexico City, is a remarkable example of what can be achieved with a little commitment, elbow grease and collaboration (in this case between the Mexico City government, the Federal Government, CONACULTA or National Council for Art and Culture and a very active and highly visible group of volunteers). The museum building is an outstanding art deco 1920s firehouse, which has been painstakingly re-purposed into a noteworthy showcase for a formidable array of arts and crafts and folk art hand-picked from artisans and private collections around the country.
Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon (worthy of separate blog entry) masterminded the architectural make over, taking full advantage of the once open patio where firetrucks were once parked (and I may add, the backdrop to the hilarious 1952 Cantinflas movie El Bombero Atómico – the Atomic Fireman). Have lived many distinct lives over the years (aside from a firehouse, it held Treasury Ministry offices, and Naval offices), it was given yet a another reincarnation after the devistating 1985 earthquake.
The museum’s fare is is curiously grouped by themes (daily life, festivities, etc.) rather than by typical geographic or ethnic divisions, which allows for more interesting viewing, since sundry baskets from around the country are displayed side by side, showing the vast creativity and variety of workmanship. Indigenous garments, many of which are still worn today in the nation’s remote countryside, line a wall in tribute to persistent creativity, as is the case with ceramics which contrast in technique, craftsmanship, glaze and purpose, sitting side by side, once again highlighting the impressive diversity of Mexican crafts. Thus, the MAP’s three floors are chock-full of examples paying tribute to Mexican artists and their talent.
Unusual for a museum is the MAP’s outreach efforts. Much more than a platform for displaying assorted handiwork, the museum actually promotes what was becoming a dying tradition, reinventing new trends in this field and injecting pride and attention among youth. Aside from ongoing workshops for children, since its inauguration in 2006, it has underwritten annual piñata competitions, hosting Day of the Dead altar exhibits, and sponsors a highly-acclaimed and much-anticipated Alebrije parade with larger-than-life phatasmagoric paper mache animals and figures that are marched through the streets downtown and set up on Reforma Avenue for weeks, drawing heavy crowds.
The MAP is also a superb spot for picking up a unique or unusual present. Although a bit pricey, the museum gift shop offers carefully selected items of top-notch quality, as well as hard to find pieces, such as ex-votive painting, hand embroidered blouses, tinware, straw figures, marquetry, ceramics, jewelry, books and calendars. Plus shoppers can rest assured that the artisans producing these wares were paid fairly for their painstaking labor. So even if you think you have seen enough Mexican handicrafts to last a lifetime, the MAP collection is a treasure not worth missing.