Traditional arts and crafts

Chile's traditional crafts are often specific to particular places and all have a long history. Present-day handicrafts represent either the transformation of utilitarian objects into works of art, or the continued manufacture of pieces that retain symbolic value. A number of factors threaten these traditions: the loss of types of wood and plant fibres through the destruction of forests; the mechanisation of farm labour, reducing the use of the horse; other agricultural changes, which have, among other things, led to reductions in sheep farming and wheat growing; and migration from the countryside to the city. On the other hand, city dwellers and tourists have created a demand for 'traditional' crafts so their future is to some degree assured.


Mapuche basketry is made for domestic, agricultural and fishing uses in Lago Lanalhue and the Cautín region. Apart from the Mapuche areas, one of the great centres of basket-making is Chimbarongo, just south of San Fernando in the Central Valley. Here, weaving is done in almost every household, usually by the men. One of the main materials used is willow, which is collected in June when it is still green and then soaked in water for four months, at the end of which the bark peels off. The lengths of willow are split into four and finished with a knife. Baskets, chairs and lamps are the most common objects made. Willow is not the only fibre used. Many items are made from different types of straw, including little boxes made of wheat; although the latter are produced throughout the country, the most famous are from La Manga, Melipilla. Note also the yawl made for fishing, typical of Chiloé. Other important centres of basket-making are Ninhue-Hualte in Nuble (Región VIII), Hualqui, 24 km south of Concepción, and San Juan de la Costa, near the coast of Osorno, Región X.

Carving and woodwork

The people of the Atacama region edge trays with cactus wood and make little churches - traditionally the doors of the old churches were made of cactus - and they also use cactus for drums, while bamboo is used for flutes of various sizes. Different types of wood are used in the construction of guitars,
, harps and
(fiddles), mainly in the Metropolitan Region. Villarrica is a major producer of wooden items: plates, kitchen utensils, but especially decorative objects like animals and birds, jointed snakes and
(small figures, which, when picked up, reveal their genitals). Wooden ships in bottles are made in Coronel, while in Loncoche, south of Temuco, a workshop specialises in fine carvings, in native wood, of country and Mapuche scenes. Another craft from the Mapuche region is the carving of horn or antler (
) in Temuco, to make animals, birds, cups, spoons, etc.


The two most famous places for ceramics are Quinchamalí near Chillán, where the traditional blackware is incised with patterns in white, and Pomaire, west of Santiago , which is renowned for heavy terracotta household items that are used in many Chilean homes. Less well known is the pottery of the Atacama zone, the clay figures of Pañul and Lihueimo (Región VI), the household items, clay figurines and model buildings of Pilén de Cauquenes-Maule (Región VII) and the scented pottery of the nuns of the Comunidad de Santa Clara (Convento de Monjas Claras in Santiago and Los Angeles). These highly decorated pieces have been made since colonial times, when they achieved great fame.

Cowboy equipment and clothing

Items can be found in any part of the country where there are
: Rancagua, San Fernando, Chillán, Curicó, Colchagua, Doñihue and also in Santiago. Saddles of leather, wood and iron, carved wooden stirrups in the old style, leather reins, spurs (some of them huge and very elaborate -
are always proud of their spurs) and hats of straw or other materials are the types of equipment you will see. The clothing comprises ponchos (long, simple in colour and design, often with one or two coloured stripes),
(shorter, divided into four with a great variety of colour),
, double-sided, decorated with fine patterns of vines, leaves, flowers, small birds etc) and sashes/
(either single or tri-coloured, made to combine with

Knitwear and textiles

Chiloé is famous for its woollen goods, hand-knitted and coloured with natural dyes. With the atrocious weather, clothing (such as sweaters, knitted caps,
, socks) is very popular; this and rugs, blankets and patch dolls are all sold locally and in Puerto Montt. The main knitting centres are Quinchao, Chonchi and Quellón. Other crafts of Chiloé are model-boat building and basketware from Quinchao and Quellón, where mats and figurines such as birds and fish are also made.

The Mapuche are also weavers of sheep's wool, making ponchos,
, sashes (
), reversible rugs (
) with geometric designs and bedspreads (
). The colours come from natural dyes. The main producing areas are around Lago Lanalhue, Chol Chol, Nueva Imperial and other small settlements in the Mapuche heartland between Temuco and the coast.


Although silverware is one of the traditional crafts of the Mapuche, its production is in decline owing to the cost of the metal. Traditional women's jewellery includes earrings, headbands, necklaces, brooches and
(pins for fastening the
or shawl). Nowadays, the most common items to be found for sale are
(earrings), but these are smaller and in simpler shapes than those traditionally worn by Mapuche women. It is a matter of debate whether Mapuche silversmiths had perfected their skills before the arrival of the Spaniards; certainly the circulation of silver coins in the 18th century gave great impetus to this form of metalwork. The Universidad Católica in Temuco is in charge of a project to ensure the continuance of the art.

Specialist crafts

The Mapuche make musical instruments: the
, a horn 1½ to 4 m long;
), a wooden whistle; the
, a string of bells; and
, similar to a Jew's harp. The village of Rari, near the Termas de Panimávida, some 25 km northeast of Linares (Región VII), specializes in beautiful, delicate items made from dyed horsehair: bangles and brooches in the shape of butterflies, little hats, flowers, etc.

Mined in the Cordillera de Ovalle, lapis lazuli is a blue stone, only found otherwise in Afghanistan. It is set in silver to make earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Many shops in Santiago sell the semi-precious stone and objects that incorporate it. Of growing popularity in recent years, combarbalita is a smooth, marble-like stone found only around the remote town of Combarbalá in Región IV. A very beautiful stone that comes in a variety of hues, it is used to make everything from jewellery and cutlery holders to bedside tables and can be very good value.

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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