Arts and crafts

Gaucho crafts

There's a strong tradition of working precious metals, such as silver, into fine belts and buckles, since the gaucho's way of carrying his wealth with him was originally in the ornate silver
and buckles which are still used today over leather belts, or to tie
cloth belts). Silver spurs, stirrups and the fine silver decoration on saddles are all extraordinary
examples of traditions dating from the early 18th century. The gaucho
an all purpose knife used especially for cutting his
, is made with elaborately wrought silver handle, and the
(the vessel itself, rather than the drink) which is often just a hollowed out gourd, can also be an exquisitely worked piece of silver which you'd probably rather display than use. Associated objects with the same fine silverwork today include earrings, belt buckles and scarf rings. Leather was always important for making all the items associated with horses, and obviously widely available, and the complexity of the traditional bridles, belts and straps is impressive. Long thin strips of leather are woven into wide plaits, or
and used still for all parts of horse bridlery, as well as more decorative pieces.

Indigenous crafts

Argentina's many indigenous groups produce fine handicrafts, and in the northeast, the Guaraní produce woodwork, much of it inspired by the rich animal and bird life all around them. Delicate fabric for bags is woven from the tough fibrous strands of tree creepers, and there are necklaces made from seeds.

Handicrafts are richest in the northwest, particularly the Valles Calchaquíes, near the
and along the Quebrada de Humahuaca, where there is abundant llama wool and vicuña, which is woven into
, or knitted into jumpers, socks, scarves and hats. Brightly coloured woven textiles from Bolivia can also be found at many markets. The
ubiquitous pan pipes are the most available examples of instruments from the rich Andean musical tradition, and can be found in abundance at Tilcara and Purmamarca markets.
Ponchos are woven throughout the northwest but particularly fine examples can be found in the Calchaquíes valleys and around Salta, where the red ponchos of Güemes are made, and in western Catamarca province, where there are the finest ponchos of woven
vicuña are made. You can also fine beautiful woven wall hangings in Los Valle Calchaquíes,
often depicting scenes of churches in the valleys, and the local symbol, the ostrich-like
and wood from the giant
cactus is used for carving distinctive small objects and furniture, with the spines of the cactus leaving attractive slits in the wood.

In the Chaco region, bags are made from textile woven from
fibre by Wichí, Toba, and other indigenous groups of the area, as they have done for hundreds of years. The Wichí also make fine wooden objects, animals mainly, from
palo santo
, a greenish scented wood, also used extensively in wood carving by communities who live along the
Río Pilcomayo which forms the border with Paraguay. In northeastern Salta, painted wooden masks are made by the Chané culture to be used in traditional agricultural ceremonies.
Isolated indigenous groups of Toba, Chané and Mataco in the lowlands to the east of the province produce exquisite carvings of birds and animals, using a variety of local woods. Cowbones are used to make the beaks and feet, as well as an inlay to decorate spoons and other utilitarian items. And
Palo santo
is also used for
replacing the traditional gourd. Throughout the south, there are superb Mapuche weavings
in natural wool colours with bold geometric designs.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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