Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chicago art 3 -- Campeche wax

Ever hear of Campeche wax?  I hadn't either, until I ran into not one but two spectacular works of art in Chicago that use it.  Campeche is the Mexican state just west of Yucatan, and Campeche wax is a very dark beeswax originating there.  Because the wax is sticky, it's used for the substrate of art where you want to adhere a top layer of decorative stuff.

Eduardo Terrazas, 1.1.30, detail below

This large piece, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, was made by covering a board with wax, and fine wool yarn was pressed on in an elaborate pattern that must have taken ages to lay down.  (The piece is dated 1974-2014, and I hope he had time to make other things besides this during that half-a-lifetime.) The slight irregularities in the pattern showcase the artist's hand up close.
Santos Motoaopohua de la Torre de Santiago, The New Awakening, details below

Glass beads were introduced to Mesoamerica by the Europeans in the 1590s and became an important part of jewelry and ritual objects.  This huge work, at the National Museum of Mexican Art, references traditional motifs.  Tiny seed beads are pressed into the Campeche wax on a plywood support, painstakingly arranged so the holes point up (can you imagine how long that takes, and with what tiny tweezers?), although I was happy to see that a few beads escaped, slumped over on their sides and proved that even the most meticulous artisan takes a ten-second vacation every now and then.


  1. I was familiar with the beads pressed into Campeche wax into bowls and such. I even have a magnet made by a friend with a little fabric lizard surrounded by beads. Thanks for sharing!

  2. The beadwork is brilliant!

  3. In the 70's I took a class given by a Huichol native. There were 3 techniques as I recall, back strap loom weaving, yarn pressed into beeswax and beads pressed into beeswax.

    You are correct, it was beautiful but tedious. After the class I never did another piece in this

    Susan in Port Townsend, WA

  4. That top work, by Eduardo Terrazas, is incredible. I'd love to examine it up close. I can see the faint textures made by the different directions of the wool. So subtle.

  5. There is one of these here in Paris at the metro station Palais Royal/Musee du Louvre. You can see a picture here: Apparently there has been cooperation between the Paris and Mexico city métros. Every time I pass it I stop to have a look at it. Thank you for the information on how it was made, as I had always wondered

  6. My theory on the slumped-over beads is that they are deliberately put that way to fit into the space available. The mind boggles at the precision!