Amate Bark Painting, new twist on ancient

Amate is a type of bark paper that has been manufactured in Mexico since the hispanic contact times. It was used primarily to create codices.

Amate paper was extensively produced and used for both communication, records, and ritual during the Aztec Empire; however, after the Spanish conquest, its production was mostly banned and replaced by European paper.  Amate paper production never completely died, it was revived in the mid-20th Century as an example of Folk Art.

Amate paper is still made using the same basic process that was used in the pre Hispanic period.  The process begins with obtaining the bark for its fiber. Traditionally, these are from trees of the fig. The softer inner bark is preferred but other parts are used as well.

The bark is best cut in the spring when it is new, which does less damage.The bark is then boiled for several hours to soften it.  The fibers are arranged on wooden boards and beaten together into a thin flat mass. The best paper is made with long fibers arranged in a grid pattern to fit the board.  The fibers are beaten to smash them together, then smoothed out and taken outside to dry into paper.  When dry the paper is then drawn or painted on and sold.

Amate, although called paper is more like a nonwoven fabric.  The paper is created from the bark of the wild fig tree, nettle tree and mulberry tree, each with a differnt color, ranging from coffee brown to, silvery white.

Men peel the bark from the trees and women make the paper.  the wash the bark and boil it in a large pot with ashes or lime (calcium hydroxide) for several hours, until softened.

Next the crafters rinse the pulp and lay it on a wooden board to beat it with a stone until the fibers fuse into a paste.  The paste is molded and left to dry in the sun.

At first the Amate paintings resembled the pottery figures, colorful flowers, birds, deer and rabbits.  As the art developed, the artists developed new styles that included village and religious scenes.

Amate Bark Painting