#TBT: A Volkswagen Beetle adorned with millions of beads links Mexico's past and present

Nov 12, 2020

Volkswagens have always been vehicles of expression, from the Volkswagen Light Bus to the Wedding Beetle. But perhaps no car is as intricately and meticulously crafted as the “Vochol,” a 1990 Volkswagen Beetle adorned with over two million carefully placed glass beads.

The name “Vochol” is a combination of “vocho,” a common term for Volkswagen Beetles in Mexico, and “Huichol,” another name for the Wixárika indigenous group in the western states of Nayarit and Jalisco, Mexico. Separated from modern Mexico by the Sierra Madre mountains, Huichol artists have preserved many of their pre-Columbian traditions through the centuries, including their decorative beadwork.

Originally, the Huichol people used beads made from seeds, shells and other natural materials to adorn jewelry, animal skulls, bowls and masks. Today, their beadwork incorporates colorful glass or plastic beads, depicting geometric patterns and scenes of animals and crops.

In 2010, a combination of public and private organizations commissioned the creation of the Vochol, a complete covering of a Volkswagen Beetle with ornate Huichol beading. The goal was to create artwork using folk techniques on a modern canvas, demonstrating the ongoing traditions of Mexico’s indigenous communities.

A team of eight artists from two Huichol families worked for eight months to decorate the chassis and interior of the Beetle, meticulously covering sections of the car with resin and applying the beads in elaborate patterns by hand.

The entire car was covered in beads and symbols that pay tribute to Huichol culture, from the side mirrors to the seats to the steering wheel. The final product is an exclusive design that not only decorates the car but expresses Huichol spiritual beliefs.

On the Vochol’s hood, two snakes in the clouds represent rain. The sides depict deer, scorpions, birds and peyote flowers, which are all important symbols in Huichol culture and spirituality. On the roof, a large sun symbolizes the union between humans and gods, and four two-headed eagles offer protection to the passengers inside. An image of a shaman steering a canoe adorns the back of the car. The phrases “200 years of Independence” and “100 years since the Mexican Revolution” are spelled out in the Wixárika language along the fenders to mark the bicentennial of the start of the war of independence from Spain in 1810 and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution in 1910.

In total, the artisans used about 2,277,000 beads in their finished product and totaled over 9,000 hours of work. The car is perhaps the largest individual piece of Huichol beadwork ever created.

The masterpiece was unveiled at a museum in Guadalajara, Mexico. It was then featured in Mexico City for exhibition, and later embarked on an international tour at museums across the United States, Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East. When it is not on loan, the Vochol resides at the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City.

By combining the Volkswagen Beetle — a pop culture icon in Mexico and around the world — with the Huichol traditional craft, the Vochol is a unique display of the persistence of folk art in a modern world.

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