“When I finish a poncho
and I see it is beautiful I find it hard to believe
I did that
with simple materials and my hands”
A lot has been said recently about artisanry. With the new ecological tendencies people once again undertake practices that take care of the environment. New traditionalist movements are also appearing to go back to one’s roots in such a materialistic world.
But not much is said about the actors in this process: the artisans who work hard on a daily basis to provide products of the finest quality to the different audiences. They are outstanding workers of what they do with a know-how envied by many; precise, skilled and efficient.
Without them, artisanry would be impossible. Without people capable of making with their hands what others can only try to imagine, the manufacturing market would fail to exist, and a thousand-year practice such as this would be forgotten. We need to start recognizing them, extolling them, because they are making the effort every day to improve their work and offer more detailed products every day.
Our main objective at Vakiano is to show the world the different works of art of these artisans as a nexus between the world at large and them. That is why today we bring an interview with Alfredo Diaz, the artisan responsible for several of the Vakiano ponchos.
Who is Alfredo Diaz?
Alfredo is from Catamarca, Argentina. He is 31 and has been working on artisanry for over a decade. He has been making a number of products since he was a young man, all related to different varieties of ponchos, which was in fact his main concern. During most of his career, he concentrated on weaving for an important family in his native region, the Salvatierras. He is one of their many workers and during all these years he has been focused on weaving.
But for a few months now, having gained important experience all these years, he decided to start his own undertaking. He started selling ponchos on his own account until he met with someone who really appreciated what he was doing: Vakiano.
“Is this a tradition you extracted from your life on your own, or is it something that comes from your forefathers?”
“I have uncles who are artisans, but in my closer family there is no one. My parents were never artisans. I began with ponchos on my own because when I saw them for the first time I was very curious and wanted to learn how to make them. I started to learn gradually and finally got to sell my own ponchos”.
The core of Alfredo’s family never included artisans, but that never stopped him from following his dreams. From his youngest years, his heart beat for artisanry. He had started a university career, but he soon realized his curiosity led him in a different direction. He wasn’t interested in numbers, but in art. So he decided to focus on his handicraft abilities and how skilful they might get to be.
His curiosity led him to an interest, and soon this interest became a passion. “I saw photographs of ponchos and asked myself how a poncho was actually made,” Alfredo states. “I still haven’t stopped wondering, it appears to be something precious and I can’t explain why because - it is simply something I do”.
He also adds that his curiosity didn’t end there. To this day he still looks for new ponchos to learn how to make them, heavier ponchos, with different yarn or more complex designs. Who knows how far this concern may take him.
Artisanry in Catamarca
Several years ago Alfredo’s town had a scarcity of artisans. These ancestral customs seemed to have disappeared, only visible as flashes in the historical eye. In spite of being an essential source of work that is of basic importance to the community, artisanry was losing its intrinsic value and its importance as the fundamental part of the cultural inheritance of the region. Only traces of its beauty could be perceived through the lens of the past.
But during the last few years there has been an artisanal resurgence in Catamarca. Many people have started to develop their own products and sell them in local markets. “When I first became aware of this, there were three families making ponchos, but now there are many more artisans doing it,” Alfredo explains. Gradually young people are beginning to focus on new undertakings and are bringing back such a precious skill.
Artisanry versus industrialization: The value of the exclusive
“What does artisanry mean to you?”
“For me artisanry would be the ability anyone has to make their own products with their own hands, or locally made as they say. Simple things are used, like the wood with which we make our looms, but with them great things might be produced.”
Simple on the inside. Complex on the outside. Then, what changed? The mastery of the artist. They are the ones who, with their undoubted experience and dazzling skill, are able to transform the simplest materials into exclusive products. From a simple sheep shearing they work toward an awesome poncho.
“What is your opinion of the artisanal loss in an industrial world?”
"It would be deplorable to lose something so beautiful. An industrial poncho will never be comparable to an artisanal poncho or one woven on a criollo loom. Never. That’s why the value of a handmade poncho is very different from one made on a machine."
“It’s true that machines can make ponchos faster, without effort and very neatly. For us making a poncho is very hard work, undoubtedly. But our ponchos are really quality products.”
Alfredo tells us that when he launched his own business, selling ponchos was complicated work. He had to establish a network of contacts, friends and acquaintances to promote purchase of his products. That wasn’t at all simple, but through one of these connections his products reached Vakiano…..
“What is it you most appreciate of Vakiano?”
“What I appreciate of Vakiano is that they help several of us artisans by taking our products to different kind of places, where people can find out what we do,” Alfredo says with pride. “They are the kind of places where what we do has value, where our hard work is recognized. They really lend an important hand, and that’s why I hope we will be able to continue working with them because there really is a lot more we can still offer.”
Alfredo’s objective is to make the best ponchos of his region, and he knows he will do that by improving every day. That is why every week he puts all of his effort in his undertaking, for his quality to be the finest. Together with his group of friends, every morning and every afternoon, from Monday to Saturday, they work, supervise, weave and sharpen so they can become the best artisans in Catamarca.
Also, many youngsters looking for work go to Alfredo because, like him at their age, they are enticed by artisanal curiosity. The ponchos call them. Thus, not only does he live out his passion but he generates a whole ecosystem of workers, making the effort of bringing out the artist from inside them.
It’s time to start identifying the important work done by these artisans. It isn’t only their handiwork that they offer, but their histories, their passions, their unique visions of the world they portray in every piece they create.