Artisans of the Andes

We were so anticipating the Otavalo Market, and better yet we were there on a Saturday, its largest day. As promised, the streets were full of vendor stalls radiating for blocks from the Artisan Square.  Unfortunately, many stalls featured everyday essentials for the local populace and not the high quality crafts that the market had previously built its legendary status on.  At the very center on the Artisans square, what looked liked machine woven textiles, made in Ecuador, were available and priced accordingly.

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We opted to visit one of the local weavers, Miguel Andrango, at his home workshop in Agato to view his unique and one of a kind textiles, all woven by hand on a backstrap loom.  A fourth generation weaver, he explained to us how everything was done by hand. From the shearing, cleaning, carding, spinning and then dying the wool using local plants or insects to create the colors needed.  A hand woven blanket wide enough for a double bed takes two months to weave by hand.  It is so important to support these local artisans as they are knowledge keepers of their craft and maybe the last, as the younger generation shows little interest in keeping these traditional crafts alive.  Please try to avoid buying cheap foreign knock-offs at these markets. The local craftspeople suffer terribly from this competition.

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The town of San Antonio de Ibarra has two large plazas, one block apart, which are lined with numerous traditional woodcarvers shops.  Here we found artisans creating religious statuary for homes and churches and more contemporary pieces for decoration, in workshops fragrant with cedar and sawdust.

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