Huichol lost art not lost in the digital age

24 April 2009 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in art | 8 Comments »

I purchased the painting shown in 2000 in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, México, for a hefty sum, as well as several other small pieces by the same author, Ramon Bautísta Cervantes.

The work measured perhaps 80 x 80 cm, and was made of dyed yarn pressed into beeswax spread over a wooden board backing.

huichol-frontThe painting appears to me to be an example of the native shamanic art of the Huicholes, an indigenous people of west-central México. I first became aware of the style in the mid-90s as part of my explorations of psychedelics and shamanism. There is a bit of confusion as to origins here, however, as the author writes “arte Tepehuano” (“art of the Tepehuán people”) on the back side. I don’t know how to resolve that disparity.

Before I left the US, I left this painting and a few other objects in the care of my dear friend, Chris Williams, at the home of him and his wife in Silicon Valley, California. Last August, their house burned down. A pet gecko perished in the flames, one cat suffered ear-tip and paw burns, and they lost a great deal of property, including this painting and those other objects. Chris blogs occasionally of the incident and its aftermath at My sympathy, of course, lies with Chris, his wife and their animals, and finding out that they went through this experience largely unscathed means a lot more to me than having lost some sentimental objects that wouldn’t fit into my luggage.


Click for full-size images

Some time ago, wanting to see the thing again, I asked Chris to photograph it. He did so, and posted photos of the front and back sides at his website. These are now reproduced here, so that this work may continue to be enjoyed for its pattern and form, even though its substance has been destroyed. Thanks, Chris! Thanks, internets!

My own Spanish being somewhat inadequate to the task, and the language used on the back side being somewhat non-standard, I commissioned a translation and correction into “standard” Castillian of the text. This was graciously provided by José Arnoldo Rodríguez Carrington of Ciudad Ayala, Morelos, México. Arnoldo’s work is below. ¡Graciás, Señor!


Cuando el sol se crusa con la luna el curandero no puede curar por que no se alibian los enfermos más se agraban porque el sol pierde la fuersa a sia, a la tierra la luna oculta los secretos de la sabiduría la chuparrosa espera
la comición que le da, el curandero al dios del agua los curanderos estan atentos dela Crusa del sol, y la luna.

arte tepehuano.
Ramon Bautísta Cervantes

Castillian “standard”

Cuando el sol se cruza con la luna el curandero no puede curar porque no se alivian los enfermos. Más bien se agravan porque el sol pierde la fuerza hacia la tierra. La luna oculta los secretos de la sabiduría. La chuparrosa espera la comisión que le da el curandero al dios del agua. Los curanderos están atentos de la cruza del sol y la luna.

arte tepehuano.
Ramon Bautísta Cervantes

English translation

When the sun crosses the moon, the medicine man cannot heal because sick people do not get well. Instead, they get more ill because the sun loses its strength towards the earth. The moon obscures the secrets of wisdom. The hummingbird expects the commission the medicine man gives the God of Water. The medicine men are heedful of the crossing of the sun and the moon.

Tepehuano art
Ramon Bautísta Cervantes

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  1. 8 Responses to “Huichol lost art not lost in the digital age”

  2. By jdavidb on 24 April 2009

    There is a building at Rice University in Houston that has a very similar artwork on the ceiling in its main room. I remember it well from attending two programming competitions there. One year they even gave us a T-shirt with the artwork on it.

  3. By jdavidb on 24 April 2009

    Ah; here it is.

  4. By Mike Gogulski on 25 April 2009

    That’s a wild piece! Completely different origins than this, though.

  5. By Sunni on 25 April 2009

    Wow, it is—just barely—conceivable that our paths crossed in Playa del Carmen. And that is a gorgeous piece of art … so sorry it was lost in the fire, but glad that you thought to have photos taken so it wouldn’t be lost forever.

    /me saves image on hard drive

  6. By Mike Gogulski on 25 April 2009

    @Sunni: Just checked, it was actually mid-April of 2001 that I was there. We stayed in Puerto Morelos, a bit north of Playa del Carmen.

  7. By Martin on 21 January 2010

    YARN PAINTING: One thing you’re missing, is knowledge, let me teach you, everybody thinks only the Huicholes do this art, that’s what most gabachos tell everyone so they can sell our art and not confuse people…in reality my ancestors, the Tepehuanos, do the same, I can tell just by looking at the art that it is not Huichol but exactly what the person said it was, Arte Tepehuano…Also out other relatives, the Cora did this but not as much as the Huicholes and the Tepehuanos, There…now you know and No I am not wrong, this is my field of work..peace, bye, M

  8. By HuicholHunter on 29 March 2011

  9. By wendi copper on 8 October 2013

    I have a piece of artwork which is handmade by exactly the same media that you describe. I am happy to send you photos of the work front & back. The depiction is explained on the back with the signature, ‘Arte tepehuono Bautista Cervantes’.
    Let me know if you’re interested.

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