Since Spain physically dominated so much of the Western world for centuries, its design has imparted an indelible effect on the Americas. The design it brought in to the West in the 15th century was a mixture of Christian and Moorish ingredients. The Moors came to the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th century imparting their own art forms, and before they were booted out after the battle of Granada in 1492 they had built up significant structures in many parts of Spain. Disallowed by the Koran to use natural forms or the human figure for ornament, they drew on their considerable skill as mathematicians to produce abstract patterns in elaborately interlaced straight and arched lines for the decoration of plaster, wood and tile. They used vivid colors, gold and silver in minor and complex patterns. Their motifs included stars, crescents, crosses, hexagons, octagons, pine cones and cockleshells. They polished the art of wood carving for doors and wooden ceilings. They tremendously amplified the use of ceramics and architectural tile. A lot of their rooms had quarry tile floors emphasized by small bits of colored glaze tile, with brightly colored and patterned tile wainscoting. Fountains, niches and domes, window frames and doors, the risers on stairs were adorned with the beautiful and long-lasting tiles. Borrowed by the Spanish, merged into their own designs, these tiles have been part of the American heritage.
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The quick, cruel and absolute subjugation of the Americas as Spain searched land and treasures is part of American history. The Spanish people discovered the gold and silver they were looking for and permanently settled in South and Central America and Mexico to colonize. They sent large amounts of silver back to Spain where its presence impacted the architectural style. Silversmiths were able to make objects of such beauty and artistry that their intricate and fragile designs were replicated for use as architectural decoration in a style called Plateresque. Moorish, Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles merged, and so under the influence of the Italian Renaissance with its stress on classical purity, there was a decrease in the use of ornament in Spain on the 16th and 17th centuries. By the late 17th and on the 18th centuries, the Spanish love of grandeur reasserted itself in a magnified version of Baroque and Rococo styles known as Churrigueresque. This bold, rich vogue was taken to the New World by the colonizing Spaniards. The colonial edifices were vigorous versions of those in Spain, with frontages and towers heavily beset with sculptural ornament. They had enwrapped courtyards having gardens and fountains, poly-chromed woodwork, gilded wrought iron grills and Moorish patterns on tiles and carvings. Mexico already had absorbed a baffling variety of cultures, all of which had at the least some impact on the future growth of Western design. The abstract, geometric design of the Mayans and Incas mixed with those of the Moors. East-West trade routes were well-established and mercantilism with the Orient was robust. Acapulco was the chief port. Soon Oriental influences were added up to the rich cultural mix as porcelains, textiles and lacquered screens were set down from ships and repacked on burros to be sent off to Veracruz for the long trip to Spain. A lot of these objects became part of colonial homes or churches. Others got their way to Indian villages, where their shapes and patterns were mixed with the native designs. Noteworthy examples of Orientalizing are seen in modern-day Mexican crafts in ceramics, tinware, and especially the unusual painted and carved gourds of Olinala in Oaxaca. From Spain, Flanders and England arrived furniture and other objects. The most common ones had flowing lines, ample proportions, a few with scallop shell motifs, and others with bulging vase shaped turnings. These turned to be a part of the ever growing repertoire of design that finally found its way north to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Building facades: Faces, Figures, and Ornamental Detail by Ernest E. Burden
The Mexican Americans by Alma M. García
America’s Historic Villages & Restorations by Irvin Haas