Twenty-nine-thousand beads, 182 hours, a mother-daughter duo and a lot of love went into decorating a pair of Broncos and Jaguars helmets that celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
Commissioned in May, the beaded helmets were crafted by the indigenous Huichol community in northern Mexico.
After three months of precise work, a bead shortage and careful transportation, the helmets were unveiled Sept. 20 for Broncos en Español and will be back on display this Sunday for the Denver Broncos' Hispanic Heritage game.
"When we were thinking about doing something for Hispanic Heritage Month that was genuine and that would be cool, there were a number of opportunities," the Broncos' senior marketing manager Marisol Villagomez said. "One of the things that we found during this process was that art is something that is very celebrated in Mexico and very much a big part of Mexican culture."
Huichol beadwork is unique because of its rarity and the meticulousness of the process, so the Broncos worked with NFL Mexico to find a broker to help commission the project within the Huichol community.
During the Denver Broncos Cheerleaders' yearly bonding trip to Mexico, Villagomez and the broker delivered the miniature helmets to the Huichol artist as a prototype. Satisfied with how the artist's colorful beadwork adorned the head gear, Villagomez handed over the full-sized Broncos and Jaguars helmets.
Xochitl, a 29-year-old artist, has been practicing the art of Huichol beadwork since the age of 8. The skill has been passed down between generations, and Xochitl asked the Broncos' permission to allow her daughter to help with the helmets and, thus, develop her skill.
The mother-daughter team — who uses the art as a way to support their family, while sharing the richness of their community and their ancestors — used keywords from the Broncos' website and began to integrate them into their design.
Then, there was a problem.
In June, Villagomez received word that the Huichol community ran out of their beads which come from clay, shells, corals and seeds.
Villagomez remembers the shock that came with the news: "What do you mean we ran out of beads? How do we get more beads?"
The community usually works only with materials they produce, but because the helmets needed to be ready for transportation in August, the Huichols ordered more beads from the Czech Republic, and Xochitl went back to work.
The artist and her daughter freehanded the designs, attaching the thousands of beads to the helmets with honey from bees for two hours every day over the course of the next three months.
Once the helmets were completed some 182 hours later, they were tightly wrapped to ensure that the beads wouldn't shift or fall off if the honey got too hot or too cold during transportation.
The Huichol community hand-delivered the helmets to one of Villagomez's friends who was visiting northern Mexico in August and had agreed to carefully transport the helmets back to Colorado.
When the packages arrived in Denver, Villagomez unpacked the pieces and likened the experience to performing surgery. Carefully cutting away the wrappings, she was meticulous in her process to respect and admire the work the Huichol community had done for the Broncos.
"Even though this is a piece from Mexico and we're celebrating Hispanic Heritage month, which is not just Mexico, our second largest fan concentration is in Mexico," Villagomez said. "[This was] in appreciation for all of the years that they have welcomed the team, specifically the cheerleaders."
Three months and 29,000 beads later, the helmets reflect a labor of love from a community and a country that loves the Broncos.
"On our end, it was an opportunity to do something really, really cool," Villagomez said, "that also allowed us to show our appreciation and respect for the entire country."