The antagonism of the driest desert in the world and the majestic ice fields of Chilean Patagonia find their balance in the central valley of this 4,329 km long country.
The pleasant climate and the fertile soil render the central region of Chile into an ideal place for the production of the various natural fibres traditionally used in basketry.
This tradition originated in pre- colonial times, led natives to use supple but hardwearing fibres such as ñocha, poplar roots and copihue.
At the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, wicker was introduced as an alternative to the native fibre. The new imported techniques turned it quickly into the prevalent material for the making of furniture, baskets and decorative pieces.
Distinguished by its characteristic sobriety and lack of ornamentation, the basketry of the Mapuche people and of Chile’s Central region mirrors the sober and discreet character of its people, strongly connected to the land and to the cycles of nature.
In the last few years Chimbarongo has seen the recognition of one of its most diffused and traditional industries, and it is now known as “The Wicker Capital”.
This area of 35,000 inhabitants, situated 150 km to the south of Santiago, divides its economic activity between the cultivation of fruit, viniculture, and the production of wickerwork crafts. This last activity has become widespread amongst the local population due to its heritage and the increasing professionalization of the activity.
This has culminated in the creation of an important annual fair where regional craftsmen exhibit and sell their most advanced and complex wickerwork creations.
This recognition, and growing acceptance of wickerwork products, has encouraged many artisans to integrate their families in their activities, thus creating an adhesive element in the society which in turn has been one of the most important factors in the conservation of this ancient craft so representative of the centre of the country.
Chile has offered us one of the most complete experiences throughout the basketry tradition and each of the processes it involves. Chile´s perfect climate and soils turns it into one of the main global producers of wicker, the raw material employed in weaving and basketry.
We have witnessed the harvest of wicker, its storage and previous preparation to the weaving labour. Even if wicker is recognized for its flexible stems, it still remains a quite rigid material which is usually handled by men, since strength is needed. Men work with wet stems in order to gain more flexibility. In addition, Chilean artisans have developed their own tools in order to calibrate the width and thickness of the wicker stems so they harmoniously join the plastic stripes of the PET bottle.
Wood moulds are used in order to maintain the given shape, previously designed in Madrid.
Due to its great production of wicker, Chimbarongo has developed a whole activity and economy based on handcrafts exportation. This lead to the creation of little individual workshops of professional artisans, in contrast to Colombian way of working in groups. The only difference between Chimbarongo lamps is their shape and density of weaving, since all artisans mainly preserve the wicker natural colour.
More than 400 km south of Chimbarongo we enter the heart of the Araucania region, home to the native Mapuche people, who undergo a slow process of integration with the rest of the country. Within this area, generally stigmatized by violent conflicts, we have found a group of women eager to move forward and to share their valuable traditions with the rest of the world.
The opportunity to work with women in the community of Ñocha Malen has been fascinating. The array of personal stories and dreams seem now woven into the PET bottles with each new stitch weaved with the ñocha fibre.
The new collection explores a social community environment, a native fibre and an ancient technique preserved for over 500 years.
Thanks to the love and passion of the artisans, this adventure fills us with awe and pride.
The first experience together with Ñocha Malen Collective consisted of two workshops celebrated at the location of this group, in Huentelolen, a few kilometres away from Cañete, the 8th region of Biobío, Chile, during February of 2016.
The workshops taught us again all necessary steps until the final piece. The artisan women use a natural fibre called ñocha. They collect it, then boil the leaves and dry them. It is now when ñocha fibre is ready to be woven and shaped as desired.
On the other side, the artisans started by learning and practicing the PET bottle cutting; they continued to weave the PET strips and the vegetal fibre. They used a wood mould in order to preserve the given shape and added a last band with gaps in the woven material.
We were amazed by the fact that each PET Lamp got the creative, personal footprint of its artisan. Their experience has been reflected in the rapidity and quality of their work. The 10 Mapuche artisan women have demonstrated their commitment with the learning process of weaving with plastic and improved their technique day by day. The experience has proved to be successful since it represented an incentive and a recognition gesture to very talented craftspeople who live in the so-called Red Zone of Mapuche conflict. The first workshop achievements are the proof that hopeful projects can be born in a stigmatised conflict-affected area and contribute to improve the image of such a beautiful region.
Alvaro Catalán de Ocón
Enrique Romero de la Llana
Sponsored in Huentelolen by: