The art of papel picado is steeped in Mexican tradition

Papel picado. Photo: Getty
Yuriria Independencia Torres Alfaro in her papel workshop. Photo: La Bandurria Marcha

Whether mass-produced or handmade, those colorful rows of perforated paper, or papel picado, represent a Mexican folk-art tradition that has endured since pre-Hispanic times.

And it remains a popular icon for festivities such as the Day of the Dead.

In Xochimilco, Yuriria Independencia Torres Alfaro has been a papel picado artisan for 30 years. Her craft was handed down from her father, Alberto Torres y Cordero, who learned it from his father.

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“Since I was a little girl I liked to draw … I also like the traditions, combining the papel picado and the drawing. The tradition, is what I was passionate about … preserving and spreading this ancestral technique,” said Torres Alfaro in an interview with the wire service Notimex.

A website called Mexican Skull Sugar sells handmade banners, said to be handmade by a 74-year-old papel picado master in Puebla.

While plastic knockoffs are about US$10 for 15 feet, the authentic, large paper banners have 10 panels and extend 18 feet long, selling for $US18. One panel has a detailed skeleton bride and groom and the other says “amor eterno” (“eternal love”) over flowers and sugar skulls.

Or for those “not into the skeleton thing,” the company offers custom designs. Their wedding banners, which were featured in Martha Stewart’s wedding magazine, can display the names of the bride and groom.

Torres Alfaro, interviewed in her workshop and surrounded by young workers, said that when her father retired, she turned a hobby into a career. The retired teacher now works full time promoting the Mexican tradition.

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She recalled that as a child she drew pets, faces and landscapes, but her father started the workshop drawing the ancient glyphs of Xochimilco.

For the Day of the Dead, customers mainly request skull designs, but the rest of the year, birds or flowers are in demand.

Torres Alfaro’s work is seen throughout the country and the United States. Her work is also found with the original pre-Historic versions, made from tree bark, at the Museo Dolores Olmedo and the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City.

See her video here:

Papel Picado from LA BANDURRIA MARCHA on Vimeo.

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