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Pitiado: A Tradition in Transformation
Pitiado, a late 20th century art form that has developed in western Mexico, involves the embroidery of pita fibers into leather for belts, saddles, holsters, hats, knife holders, vests, and other cowboy-themed products. Pita, a bromeliad species (Aechmea magdalenae) known to the collector as “cactus fiber”, is found in the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. Recently, carried on the melodies of Mexican banda (popular cowboy) music, the embroidery transformed itself from a symbol of Mexican wealth and status into a fashion statement of the working class, and back again into the highest circles of international haut couture. Because of its exceptionally fine and strong fibers, pita is most valued for embroidery in leather. A high degree of mystery and secrecy surrounds the exact identity and locations of these plants. This pita makes its way into the workshops of craftsmen located in the central western states of Jalisco, Zacatecas, and Nayarit. A major center of pitiado production is the small town of Colotlan, located about 200 km. from the city of Guadalajara. Working with simple tools, highly skilled craftsmen, using time-consuming and meticulous techniques, embroider thick pieces of leather with bleached pita fibers producing very intricate and ornate designs. The ornamentation depicts floral and geometric patterns, and animal and human scenes, which have evolved to include modern urban mythological figures. The popularity of the pitiado belts and other products is surprising considering their relatively high price tags. A pitiado belt is considered an essential element of fashionable dress by teenagers and adults in western Mexico. Its popularity has spread from Mexican immigrants into the southwestern United States and even into such bastions of high couture as Armani and the English Royal family. Pitiado belts and other products are not just highly decorative modern fashion statements; they also reflect Mexican identity and cultural pride.
Written by Sharon Gordon Barber