Peru | Arts & Crafts

by Melanie and Jim

Roofs of many buildings in Peru feature two terra cotta bulls, often accompanied by a Christian cross. The bulls invite good fortune and protection to the home.

 

We were fortunate to tour five significant ruins sites during our ten days in Peru, and there were dozens of other sites dotting the landscape as we traveled. Our itinerary also offered a variety of experiences, like visits to a shaman, a beer bar, museums, and a village elementary school.

Peru has a long and proud cultural heritage. We had the privilege of seeing two artisans shops to learn some of the process of bringing this heritage to life.

Seminario Ceramics Workshop

On a neighborhood sidestreet in Urubamba is the workshop and gallery of Pablo Seminario and Marilú Behar. The studio is the center of creation of both decorative goods and original art that draws on centuries of tradition.

Our tour of the workshop included open-air rooms where many of the smaller decorative items are created. Some are cut from flat slabs of clay, while others are wheel-thrown pots of various sizes and shapes. Local workers paint the pieces with glaze, after which they are fired. Click on any photo to open the gallery and see more detail.

Both inside and outside spaces are decorated with the workshop’s pieces. Even the bathrooms feature intricately-designed wash basins.

The artist Pablo Seminario was in his personal office, and we were invited to speak with him. Every surface in the small room is covered with drawings, prototypes, finished works, photographs, and gifts from friends. Señor Seminario was gracious, answering our many questions about his background, his process, and his studio.

Pablo Seminario in his office.

After touring the workshop, we enjoyed seeing the gallery shop where we could purchase finished goods. We chose three small things as souvenirs.

Textile Workshop

Many of the villages around Cuzco have a specialty industry. For example, a nearby town is full of bakers, producing the breads used in both everyday and feast meals. Several villages specialize in textiles. Our bus made its way through the narrow streets of one, taking us to a low building with courtyard.

Inside the courtyard our group sat at tables for a light lunch. Afterwards, the tables were moved and we were treated to a demonstration of the textile workshop’s process. This particular workshop is owned by an elderly woman. She initiated the village’s movement toward economic growth through weaving. Her son now runs the shop. They are assisted by rotating groups of women. Each week a group of women comes from the countryside into town to work in the shop. At the end of the week, they return home, and the next week other women come. In this way they share the wealth of employment and also keep up with their home responsibilities.

The workers wear their native attire, with several layers of skirts and embroidered petticoats. Their capes and hats keep them warm and dry. The wool is naturally water-resistant.

The process of creating finished woolens begins with the raw wool from alpacas, llamas, and sheep. Baby alpaca is considered the highest quality. It isn’t from baby animals but is from the young animal’s first shearing. Our tour leader Walter told us that there are three kinds of alpaca fiber: alpaca, baby alpaca, and maybe alpaca.

Raw sheep’s wool must be washed first. A root is grated into the water and works up into a lather that transforms the dirty beige wool to a creamy fresh color. After washing and drying, the wool is spun into yarns. Our travel-mate Brenda volunteered to try her hand at spinning, something the local women do from a very young age.

The yarns are then dyed with natural products into a range of beautiful colors. Finally, the yarns are woven or knitted into the end products.

One of the most beautiful and fascinating dyes is brilliant red, called “cochinilla,” or “cochineal.” It is made from a parasitic insect that lives on prickly pear cactus, through much of South America, Mexico, and into the southwest of the U.S. The insects are scraped off the cactus and dried. After drying, they are crushed to release the vibrant color. Cochineal red was the best dye for red coloring until the mid-1800s, when synthetic dyes were introduced. This article from npr.org tells much more.

Jim’s video below shows how wools are dyed with different colors, fixed with a mordant of salt, and prepared for weaving.

After the demonstration, we were invited to shop. Available articles included hand-woven items made at the workshop, as well as machine-made items from near Cuzco. Some were all-wool, including the cap Jim bought, while others were called “blends,” an indeterminate label that could have meant blended wools, cottons, or synthetics. Melanie chose a scarf that was machine-made blend, and there was evidence of a previously-applied tag that was removed. But the colors and soft hand of the scarf still made it an attractive purchase.

If you’re interested in ancient Peruvian textiles and ceramics, please see our earlier post.

Would you like to read more about our travels in Peru? Please see these posts:

Peru | Lima | First Impressions
Peru | Textiles and Ceramics
Peru | Arts & Crafts
Peru | Pisac & Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu
Peru | Tipon and Sacsayhuaman
Peru | Beer Bar – Oxen – Blessings
Peru | Hillside Homes | Traffic Woes
Peru | Everyday Life
Inca Pot | c 1500
Noon @ Ollantaytambo
Peru | Machu Picchu Plus Much More

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7 thoughts on “Peru | Arts & Crafts

  1. shoreacres

    I looked through my photos, and sure enough, I do have a few that show the cochineal insect on the prickly pear. I’d heard about the color, but only vaguely. It is beautiful, and it’s so interesting to know that it’s still being produced that way. I laughed out loud at “alpaca, baby alpaca, and maybe alpaca.” There’s a shop in Paint Rock, Texas, that weaves rugs from alpaca, llama, and buffalo fur. It’s a small shop that employs some Hispanics and Native Americans, and as I recall they have a similar work schedule, rotating employees. I’m not certain, but I think that’s what I was told.

    It was interesting to learn about the bulls, too. I’ve seen those, but didn’t know what they represented.

    Reply

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