One of popular culture's most evident expression
is craftsmanship. From generation to generation,
secrets and skills pass on, maintaining a tradition
that is deeply rooted in the identity of the land
from where it comes from.
It is hard to classify with an aesthetic criteria
what hard-working hands produce daily. However,
there is no doubt that some handicraft traditions
have reached in Chile an artistic level of which
we can't be but proud.
Unfortunately, there are also some traditions
that have lost their spirit and enthusiasm, as
well as some that have been influenced by external
agents that have nothing to do with our ancient
roots. Others, like the perfumed-ceramics of the
Claras Nuns, have died along with its makers;
its techniques lost forever, leaving us only a
few testimonies of something that may not come
In this article we want to highlight, from a critical
point of view, those expressions that have reached
a creative level that makes them unique and loyal
reflections of the roots still present in specific
areas. We look for the coherence between the components,
hoping that the original sense is expressed in
its shapes, making it a recognizable reference.
Nevertheless, we omit some representations that
may be well-known and promoted, but that do not
reach a fine composition nor a notable making.
Some handicrafting has been affected by consummer's
society, adding techniques and motifs that have
nothing to do with their essence, eventhough a
serious work may return them to their traditional
Spread throughout Chile, the handicrafters work
individually, and their knittings, baskets, tiles,
etc., are not shown as a whole. A lot of artists,
some of them very talented, don't seem able
to place themselves inside a collective effort,
which is a basic requirement for an artistic movement
that wants to project itself. There is no doubt
that this is a pending issue in those schools
now teaching Design, and in the offices in charge
of promoting Chile's tourism.
The following is my very subjective selection, based on the above criteria:
—Mapuche silver work:
During the 18th and 19th Centuries, one could find silver coins at the Mapuche region, a result of their commercial exchange with Argentina. These coins might have started with the development of the Mapuche silverwork, which started showing more sophistication with the passing of time, until making unique pieces of work. The "caciques" (Mapuche chiefs) had at their service artists in charge of creating jewelry for women, ritual ornaments, tools and house silverware. Their legacy is still alive, with the hammering and smelting of silver at the Araucania zone, where one can still find a large number of designers investigating and recreating ancient works, such as Amalia Chaigneau.
The humble practice of cutting and braiding the horses manes started a wonderful artistic expression, which can be found at the town of Rari, Linares province, near the Quinamavida and Panimavida thermal baths. Transparent and coloured butterflies, angels and witches, baskets, Virgins and Natitivity scenes, are some of the most typical pieces.
This small town, South of Chillan, has the unmistakable objects made out of black ceramics, which is painted with white patterns over its surfaces. There are practical objects, such as jars and "mates", money-boxes and all kinds of decorations figures.
Near Cauquenes, we find the artistic expression that, in my opinion, is the most authentic in the work with clay, which is completely red in this part of the country. Just like its ancestors, it can be shaped into dishes, flowerpots or small churches. It is simplicity itself, like a hen's head acting like a cover for a deep dish, but with a moving dignity and pure beauty.
Near Santiago, this small town holds the last workers of a kind of ceramics which is painted in colorful tones. Its figures are typical street characters, or maybe the participants in the traditional Cuasimodo procession, with the priest, the "huasos" and the flags. It is urgent to teach the younger generations about this art, which is at extinction risk.
—Chamantos de Doñihue
Doñihue is a town near Rancagua, about an hour South of Santiago. There we find the "chamanteras", women that knit in silk and cotton beautiful cloths inspired on the Inca, Mapuche and Spanish traditions, incorporating the flowers of our central zone. Their work is so precise that it may take months to be ready. That's why this is a rather expensive product, and a symbol of luxury during official activities, such as rodeos and "ramadas".