The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

‘Art of Cacao’ Event Held through UMFA’s Series on Mexican Art

August 3, 2021


The history of chocolate in America signifies the importance of traditional, cultural and societal growth throughout communities, but how does chocolate have such an impact on people? How can art record the timeline of the use of chocolate? 

The “Art of Cacao” exhibits, showcased by Artes de México en Utah, an organization with a mission to shed awareness of the multiculturalism demonstrated in art specifically derived from Latin and Mexican backgrounds, represent groups of voices that share how practices from the past play a role today.

History of Chocolate

On July 13, The Utah Museum of Fine Arts held an online event over Zoom, composed of speakers and presenters on chocolate’s journey from ancient times to now. “Chocolate: From Mesoamerica to Utah” tracks indigenous communities’ traditional handlings of the cacao beans, bringing multiple perspectives on its cultural value.

Ashley Farmer, Fanny Blauer, Lisa Thompson, Esmeralda Torres, Luke Kelly and Meggie Trolli spoke about ancient artifacts, family practices and art dating back to as early as 600 BC. What people now know and associate with chocolate is more mundane than how cacao was first perceived. 

Thoughts on the Presentation and Art Found

Blauer and Thompson dissect the history of cacao from Aztec and Mayan communities and how it all started to connect to Utah’s history from Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. 

The artifacts, consisting of pottery and ceramics, allowed historians to understand that cacao was more than just a delicious dessert but ceremonial and luxurious in use. Hieroglyphs marked vases, bowls and plates with messages that informed on the chocolate’s purpose, whether that was drinking it or using the beans as bargaining chips. 

In the Zoom presentation, the art shown captured the beauty within the history of chocolate. One artifact, found in 1984, had originally been valued for its illustrations of the jaguar pelts that signified the Mayan elite. Later translations of the glyphs indicated that the vessel was for drinking “tree fresh cacao.”

Rich Roots in Art

This rich history of art allows for people to take a closer look at cacao and the privilege Americans have because of it. The common consumption of chocolate is possible because of the Indigenous communities that resided here before. 

The amazing thing about the operations of cacao in early times and now is how a bean can bring people together. The chocolate process which involves the harvesting and drying of the crop is still practiced today in Utah. Torres spoke on this process through family and experience of creating the traditional drinks, spreading awareness of its effect for honoring their ancestors. 

These practices not only bring attention to the bond brought on by cacao before, but the influence it holds now. As Torres gave her video demonstration of the preparation of the cacao, it was clear that the art form lies in the chocolate itself, not just in illustrations on artifacts. 


The event was educational and inspirational, giving insight into how beans from a tree can link societies together positively. Along with the history of it all, the presentation teaches people from all backgrounds not to take the cacao bean for granted. The exhibitors acknowledge the Indigenous groups here on these UMFA and University of Utah lands before us and commit to amplifying Latin and Mexican voices to reflect the culture in those communities. 


Find more about the Mexican Art and History event series on the UMFA wesbite and through Artes De México En Utah.


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About the Contributor
Photo of India Bown
India Bown, Arts Writer
India Bown is an arts writer for The Daily Utah Chronicle and is working towards a B.S. in communications with a journalism emphasis. India enjoys reading and writing outside of journalism, along with fashion, ceramics and photography. In her free time, India isn't without a coffee in hand and is most likely watching true crime/comedy or out in the sun on a nature walk.
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