From Oct. 22 to Nov. 7, Vitacura’s Parque Bicentenario will host the Catholic University’s 37th annual International Traditional Artisan’s Show. Celebrating and promoting hand-made heritage crafts and the people that produce them, the show brings together 120 artists from around Chile, an additional 30 artists from 16 Latin American countries and two others from North India have all traveled to Santiago for the two week long show.
Hand-woven alpaca shawls, carved wooden dishes and bowls, artisanal cheeses, unique geometric kites and hand-cut glass are on offer in the large, tented space, all sold directly by the people who made the goods.
According to María Celina Rodríguez, director of the Artisanship program at the Universidad Católica and organizer of the event, “the show provides a space for artisans to come to Santiago and show their goods directly.” More importantly, though, she feels the show gives consumers the opportunity to meet and get to know the artisans and to understand the fundamental importance of traditional craftsmanship in regional and national identity.
Carolina Aguirre, a weaver from the town of Lolol about three hours south of Santiago, offers demonstrations at her freestanding floor loom in addition to selling her naturally-dyed, handmade products. She has been weaving from sheep’s wool for 38 years, beginning at the age of 14. “Where I am from it is a tradition passed generation to generation,” she says, having inherited the skill from her Aunt.
Just a few stalls away, a Peruvian craftswoman demonstrates en entirely different weaving technique, the long threads of the weft held taught between a post and her hands. Though the rudimentary technology of this loom is more ancient than Ms. Aguirre’s, this simple loom uses the finest baby alpaca to produce some of the most intricate shawls, ponchos and scarves at the fair.
Depending on the type of wool and the intricacy of design, shawls and blankets at various stalls might range from as little as US$30 to well over US$200.
Bowls, dishes and pottery constituted an important portion of the show as well. Several stalls sold beautiful, hand-carved wooden bowls, native to the heavily-forested region around Lake Villarrica in the south. The town of Pomaire in the Metropolitan Region contributes several stalls of its signature earthenware pottery.
Among the more unusual offerings were Ovidio Melo’s bowls and baskets made from the hides and body parts of cows, a traditional craft of the indigenous Mapuche people from Chile’s southern Araucanía Region. In his studio in the town of Loncoche, Mr. Melo crafts large baskets made from the skins and udders of cows. These were traditionally used to carry grains and dried fruits. Dried bladders are made into a kind of water bottle, while hooves (in a less traditional style) are hollowed out to hold empty wine bottles. The smallest bowls here cost no more than US$10, while a large cow udder basket will cost nearer US$70.
Food and Music
A stage set near the front of the tents will host musical performers throughout the two weeks of the fair. Traditional snacks like Mote con Huesillo (a dessert made from the traditional grain mote, dried peaches and sweet, cold juice) and cuchuflí (a fine rolled pastry filled with manjar, or Chilean dulce de leche) from a handful of stalls provide sustenance after a few hours of browsing. Stalls near the front of the tents sell artisanal sheep’s milk cheeses, wines from small and organic producers, chocolates, marmalades and jams to take home.
The goods on sale at this week’s show are not merely commercial products, they are pieces of history that provide consumers and craftspeople alike with a link to the past and a way of maintaining otherwise fragile traditions in the present.
General admission to the show costs US$6 (CP$3,000) during the week and US$7 (CP$3,500) on weekends. Student discounts are also available.