Friday, June 4, 2010

Gaucho leather and silver and artisan markets in Montevideo

In an effort to understand some of the history of craftsmanship
in Uruguay,we went to the Gaucho Museum in Montevideo
actually combined Gaucho and Mint Museum. It is housed in the
Palacio Heber whose entryway you see above with the building
reflected in the modern one across the street. Built in 1896 it is
an intriguing eclectic high Victorian structure with both Italian
and French influence and worth checking out just to see the building.

I suspected that the longest craft tradition might be related to
leather and silver work connected with Gaucho life. At the
museum intricate carved leather saddles and bridles are
displayed but I was most taken by the silver...and of course
the bird imagery in them.

Most mates for drinking yerba mate are made
from gourds often with leather covering, but in
the 1800's these silver ones were made for special

The one above which I purchased from a street vendor
is more typical (if a bit small - I wanted it to fit my
hand) of those you see being carried everywhere along
with a thermos of hot water.

The Gaucho museum also had an abundant display of
stirrups of a variety I'd never seen and intricate
spurs. Look carefully and you can see the fantasy
bird in these spurs from 1840.

An extra treat at the museum was the retrospective
of Norman Bottrill on the second floor. I'd never
seen Bottrill's work and was fascinated by his
pen, ink, watercolor and acrylics which depict
a world of fantasy with an edge of mystery, satire,
and sad depth. I was disappointed not to be able to find
any books with images of this very well known
Uruguayan painter. Googling him will show you
some images. It's definitely worth a search!

Enough of the past, I was looking for present
day artisans in Uruguay. I had been disappointed
by some of the craft shops we had seen outside of
Montevideo so was pleased to find the two stores
managed by the Uruguayan Craftsmen Association.
The cooperative Mercado de los Artesanos has
small display areas representing 300 different
workshops in Uruguay. Artists share staffing the
2 locations. I talked to a couple of the artists
about how the shop worked and managing
in the present economy. It's difficult there
as here. (In case you're upset about the price
of gas these days. It's about $6.00/gallon
in Uruguay!) We brought home this
8 1/2'" wire sculpture by Gustavo Genta.

Gustavo works in Montevideo, but exhibits in other
countries as well. He writes:" I make lamps and light metal
sculptures. Each lamp is of unique design where colors,
movement and transformations play with each other. I love
adjusting lights and metal in a near equilibrium that evokes
a feeling of tranquility, yet recalls the weirdness of the
irreal world around us." Check out his sculptures and lamps
on his website and you'll definitely see what he means!
I'd love to get a bigger one of his sculptures someday!

Since I've been home from Uruguay, I've been spending
a lot of time helping the kids at a neighborhood after
school program complete their own fantasy project -
a model of a courtyard inspired by their visits to
the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum complete
with mosaic and superheroes....Images in my post
next week!

Journey on! Wendy

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