Party favor or art? Preserving the craft of the piñata.
June 24, 2022
Would you take a sledgehammer to the David? A flamethrower to the Mona Lisa? A
shredder to the latest Banksy? (Actually, scratch that last one.)
Why then, some people are beginning to ask, would you want to pulverize a piñata?
Alfonso Hernandez, for one, wants you to lower the bat and take off the blindfold and
appreciate the artistry of a form that dates back hundreds of years.
The Dallas-based artist has crafted life-size piñata sculptures of Mexican singer Vicente
Fernández and Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” He wants the
public to help turn an industry into art.
“Piñata makers never treated it like an art form,” he says. “They’re taught to make it fast.
It doesn’t matter what it looks like, just hurry up because they’re going to break it.”
Unsatisfied with the generic mass production that has characterized their discipline for
decades, piñata makers are pushing the artistic limits of the party pieces. These piñatas,
bigger and more detailed, are made out of wood, foam, wire, and clay, and sculpted to
look like beloved icons and life-size low-riders. Some move, some are political, and some
even talk. Rihanna is a fan, as are, increasingly, art galleries.
For generations, the real cost of bargain piñatas has typically been borne by the piñata
makers themselves working long, arduous hours for less than minimum wage. By
proving that piñatas can be more than just clubbable party pieces, people like Mr.
Hernandez hope they can both create art and bring a wider respect and dignity to a craft
long viewed as cheap and disposable.
“It’s been an underappreciated art form,” says Emily Zaiden, director and lead curator of
the Craft in America Center in Los Angeles.
“Piñatas are so accessible. They speak to everybody,” she adds. But there’s also a flip
side. Piñatas “can be about appropriation, can be about, I think, the trivialization of a
A new generation of Hispanic artists, she continues, “see how much metaphorical
potential piñatas have, and how deeply it reflects their identities.”