If you haveMexican or Native American heritage, you might already be aware of traditional Mexican folk art dolls. If not, they could be an excellent addition to your doll collection—and the newest residents of your dollhouse.These dolls have distinctive stylesand are sure to look beautiful out on display or in your dollhouse.
There are three main types of traditional Mexican folk art dolls. Each come from different regions, and have certain construction, folklore and history attached. Here’s an overview of three of the most well-known types: LeLe or María(Mexican rag dolls), Jalisco and Jamiltepec dolls.
Mexican rag dolls (LeLeor María)
The most well-known traditional Mexican dolls are also known as a “María” or “LeLe” (“baby” in Otomí) doll. These are rag dolls(muñecas de trapo)that originated with the Otomípeople, an indigenous tribe located in southern Queretaro. They’re soft, cloth dolls with wide smiling faces, indigenous-like clothing and ribbons in their dark hair. These dolls can be found throughout Mexico today, and are extremely popular in tourist destinations.
These dolls have a somewhat controversial history, however—they exploded in popularity in the 1970s.
Mexico City created a program, Programación y Estudios Económicos(PYEE), in an effort to give migrant Otomí women a chance to produce traditional art in exchange for education, nutrition and childcare. The women were taught to use industrial sewing machines and produce the dolls on a larger scale than they could do by hand.
According to Mexico News Daily, “The doll’s dress is roughly based on that of the more colorful Mazahua dress but simplified to make it easier and quicker to sew.”
The program eventually dwindled, but the women took their new knowledge back home.
Today, the rag dolls are the most popular and recognizable traditional Mexican folk art dolls, but they have evolved. The makers now model them after Disney characters, brides, different indigenous groups and other characters from folklore, so “the doll’s identifying characteristic is shifting from the ribbons and dress to the wide, multipaneled head, found on no other doll handcrafted in Mexico.”
When you visit Mexico and see these bright, cheerful rag dolls, pick one up from a local artisan! Be sure to ask if those specific dolls represent the Otomíor a different indigenous group—you might be surprised, educated and delighted by the answer.
If you find yourself in Amealco, Querétaro, be sure to visit the Museum of the Artisan Doll to see more than 500 examples of this beautiful folk art tradition.
Jalisco’s capital is Guadalajara, which is famous for producing tequila as well as its cattle and agricultural industries. It’s also the birthplace of mariachi, the Mexican music style known for its trumpets, guitars and violins. The next time you come across a mariachi band and dancers, watch how their costumes twirl and sway to the music. They create quite a dramatic effect, which can help the music tell a story.
Jalisco is famous for their traditional folk art—while it mostly centers around ceramics, their traditional dolls are dressed for Baile Folklorico, a catch-all term for Mexico’s folk dances.
(They’re often set to mariachi music!) You’ll recognize them by their big, colorful, ruffled skirts and blouses.
These costumes are perfect for dancing—who wouldn’t want to twirl around in a dramatic skirts like theirs? In the traditional Jalisco dance tradition, the costumes are modeled after the China poblano style—traditional Mexican women’s wear. These outfits have Pueblan origins as well as influences from Spain and other colonials.
Finally, Jamiltepec—a district in western Oaxaca—has its own style of traditional Mexican dolls.
Unlike the brightly colored costumes of the rag dolls or Jalisco’s dancer dolls, Jamiltepec dolls tend to have more subdued outfits. Many of them wear huipils, a traditional garment that identifies the wearer’s community or tribe. In fact, Jamiltepec women consider wearing huipils from other communities a serious taboo.
The huipil is a large, rectangular piece of fabric sewn to create a loose-fitting tunic. It might be left plain, or include ribbons, decorative stitching, lace, embroidery and other decoration. They can be shirt-length or reach the floor, and are often worn for serious occasions like weddings and burials.
Huipils originated before Spanish colonization, and is the most common female indigenous garment still in use.
Should you travel to Oaxaca, make sure to look for huipils and traditional dolls for sale. The seller may be able to tell you what makes Jamiltepec huipils different from huipils from those in other areas. (And if you have to travel to other communities and Mexican states to find more traditional dolls, well, who could blame you?) : )
Finding your own Mexican folk dolls
If you’ve decided you must have your own Mexican folk dolls for your dollhouse, you’re sure to love their beautiful outfits, rich history and regional flair. There are many sellers online who offer traditional folk art dolls. Whenever possible, consider buying from a local artisan—not only are you more likely to get an authentic representation of the region and doll type, but you’ll support artisans in their traditional craft. That’s the best way to ensure they can continue to produce these gorgeous dolls!
As always, if you need dollhouses or printables, Ooh...Sparkles! Dollhouse Boutique has plenty of beautiful options. Check out our Etsy shop to see which printables and miniature houses best complement your traditional Mexican folk dolls!
Feeling inspired to make your own DIY Doll? Check out this post here to get started!