Tropical Birds in Government House

Government House not only contains objects related to St. Augustine and Florida. It also stores items related to Spain and its former colonies collected by the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board. This particular piece we are highlighting today comes from Mexico. It exemplifies a long tradition of paper making in the Americas – known as papel amate (or amatyl).

Two birds painted in bright colors perch in a flowering plant.
An example of papel amate found in the Governor’s House Library.

Papel amate is type of bark paper made in Mexico since before Christopher Columbus. Production involves scraping, cooking, and beating different tree barks together. Papel amate served as a medium for communication, record keeping, and rituals. The Spanish tried to ban papel amate due to its ties to local religious practices. Yet, European paper did not completely replace papel amate. The rituals and production process continued in remote mountainous areas of Puebla and Veracruz.

In the mid-20th century, Mexican traditional crafts – such as papel amate – saw a resurgence. The Otomí and Nahua people began selling painted bark paper in cities such as Mexico City. Painters often depicted colorful scenes with tropical birds and magical landscapes – like this one.

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