BackgroundGoing back to pre-Columbian times, the area of Michoacán, Mexico had above ground copper mines and a rich craft tradition. The indigenous Purépecha people (also known as the Tarascan Indians) fabricated tools, jewelry, animal effigies, and figurines out of copper. In the 1500's when Spanish priest Vasco de Quiroga was sent to the area, he organized individual towns to specialize in one particular craft. Santa Clara del Cobre was chosen as the site for copper smithing and remains the foremost place in Mexico, perhaps in the world, for both utilitarian and artistic hammered copper.
Santa Clara is tucked away in the lush mountains of the state of Michoacán about 10 miles from the town of Patzcuaro and an hour or so from the capitol city of Morelia. From Mexico City, Santa Clara is due west about six hours by car. A very picturesque village with cobblestone streets, a colonial plaza, and open air markets, the air of the village is permeated with the sound of "ting, ting, ting" from hundreds of hammers striking copper vessels.
Around one thousand people, about ten percent of the community, work in the fabrication of copper vessels. These artisans spend their days heating and hammering copper in family workshops that are attached to their homes. The tools used in the workshops are homemade, and no electricity or gas is used to assist in the process. Often much of the family life revolves around the workshop, with women making tortillas or washing clothes off to the side, and children scampering about underfoot.
Over the past few years, the craft of hammered copper has been discovered by arts and crafts lovers around the country. Hammered copper from Santa Clara del Cobre has started showing up in major museum exhibits, on public television programs, and in prestigious galleries in Santa Fe, Scottsdale, Los Angeles, and New York City. Collectors are excited about the high quality work, the magnificent designs, and the uniqueness of this extraordinary craft.