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A Shaman’s Path to Huichol Artist

A Shaman’s Path to Huichol Artist

Ryan Rehbock • August 6, 2015 • Art • 

The life of an artist means meeting change with well crafted creativity. It’s constantly moving to intrigue the collector’s eye. It’s that moment when someone loves a piece so much, they pay for it. But usually, its not even enough to comfortably get through the next one.

A Huichol Shaman, Ignacio Lopez knows the difficulties of such a life. Back in 1986, Lopez was fully immersed in his spiritual craft, inspiring hope and providing guidance through the tradition of his ancestors. That is before modernization began to change the culture around him turning America into his opportunity. So he moved to Boulder, CO in 2007 to spread the art form of his native people and provide stability for his family.

Lopez incorporates a unique approach to his art that originated in the mountainous areas near Jalisco and parts of Nayarit, specifically, the region of Wirikuta or the “Sacred Land” where it was used as a testament of religious culture during ceremony. By creating a contemporary version of the handmade “Huichol art”, a broad term used to classify the artistic ceremonial pieces, Lopez has embarked on a new path, connecting his ancestor’s traditions with today’s art culture.

Ignacio Lopez's Jag head, a beaded Huichol art sculpture made in Boulder, CO.

Ignacio Lopez’s Jaguar head

For ceremony, Huichol shamans would craft unique representations of yarn paintings and beadwork covered in religious symbols. It was a common practice for spiritual healers to use them as gifts in honor of significant life events. The symbols were incorporated to reflect a range of stories and ideals. For example, eagle patterns represented the wisdom of the gods, and the sun was regarded as a great display of happiness given through the shaman helping with the healing process. These keepsakes were highly valued as a tangible connection to society and the tribe’s belief system. They were considered a form of prayer, theoretically, to encode and channel ancient knowledge allowing direct communion with the sacred realm. According to Lopez, these objects were commonly viewed as “vibrating patterns and brilliant colors”.

Unfortunately, celebrity and monetary influences in the early 90s have exhausted their meaning as they have strayed away from their iconic place in religious ceremony. But financial opportunities have opened for Huichols like Lopez even though the authenticity of Huichol art has deteriorated in a traditional sense.

The evolution of Huichol art has been a blessing for the impoverished Huichol tribes of north-central Mexico facing the tribulations of modernization. Over the last 20 years, the Huichol artists have begun to acquire colorful beads of a consistent size, shape and texture catering to the interest of their big buyer: America. Limitation on resources within the Wirikuta region, the pressure of urbanization and the specifically desired features of the Huichol style have lead to the transformation of their work into high-end art. Religious relics made out of bone, clay, coral and jade have turned into gallery-worthy, animal-shaped wood carvings decorated with vibrantly colored beads.

Pieces of Ignacio Lopez's work in Huichol art - Boulder, CO

Modern Huichol Art

It is no easy task to provide for a wife, eight children and six grandchildren within a social structure falling away from a tribe-based community and into a modernized society.  Luckily for Lopez, beautiful designs like the “Beaded Jaguar”, a remade wood carving covered in bees wax and accentuated with brightly colored glass beads, have become the lucrative push away from the traditional representations.

Huichol art has led Lopez far beyond the “Sacred Land” of Wirikuta and the life of his ancestors. By spreading the contemporary style in Boulder, the beauty of Huichol art and the memory of his native people will exist long after his native culture succumbs to the growth of industrialized society.

purchase Ignacio Lopez’s work through:

The Crown Collection
Ignacio Lopez - Jaguar Head and Huichol Necklace - Made in Bouler, CO

Jaguar Head and Huichol Necklace


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