Beautiful Hand-Made Rugs Spread Ecuadorian Creativity and Culture

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Text: Carolina Matheus
Photos: Iván Ceballos

To think that it was a rug which opened the way for a weaving tradition, which still continues today!  This is the case of beautiful Guano rugs which have played an important role in promoting Ecuador’s cultural richness throughout the world.  This is because the textiles patterns are based on Ecuadorian traditional design and also because the rugs are of high quality.

“One day a man asked if he could call upon us. He introduced himself as Lincoln Kirstein. ‘I am the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.’ he said…. Among the things Kirstein noticed was a small rug, lying on the estera, which I had designed and was woven in Guano. Upon learning that the rug was my doing, he asked, ‘Would you like to make one for the Museum of Modern Art’  …with that money we opened the Folklore shop.”

After Olga Fisch’s rug made it to the MOMA, Ecuadorian rugs began to travel the world.  In the 1950’s the United Nations in New York and The Metropolitan Opera House, decided to purchase one.  Former Ecuadorian president Sixto Durán –Ballén also helped send one to Washington D.C. during his time in the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) during this time.  It wasn’t just Olga Fisch who saw the potential of these carpets; other artists such as famous architect Otto Glass also had his designs interpreted in wool by the skilled Guano weavers.   In fact, in the 50’s and 60’s “anybody who was anybody” had to design or own a Guano rug.

Weaving for the Spanish Empire

How did the rug industry begin in Ecuador?

Though quality textiles have existed in the Andean Region since Pre-Columbian times, the Spanish promoted the wool textile industry in what is present- day Ecuador.  In fact, by the XVII textiles were the primary motor of the Real Audiencia de Quito’s economy. The obrajes, large textile workshops in which indigenous people worked from dusk to dawn, sprawled all over the highlands. They were more common in the cool provinces of Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Pichincha and Imbabura. The fabric was highly valued and traveled thought the Spanish Empire, to the opulent capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru Lima in the South; and all the way to vibrant commercial port of Cartagena (present day Colombia) in the North.  During the XVIII and XIX centuries, many elite homes and haciendas flaunted these carpets, recognized for their warmth and delicate colonial- style floral patterns.

Elaboration process: 100% hand made:

Currently, in a small city called Guano in the Chimborazo province, and in Ambato, rug makers have passed down from generation to generation this textile industry they learned during the colonial period.  The rugs are still hand- made in looms in workshops, which fortunately no longer have the oppressive obraje system.

The process has several steps.  First, for a high quality rug, 100% sheep’s wool is purchased and cleaned, then dyed with aniline colors. Then, usually women wind the wool into a ball and separate it into one strand of yarn.  The weavers must strictly follow the design which is drawn on a large sheet of paper with squares on it. For the untrained eye, it looks like a prize-winning jigsaw puzzle, but for the weaver it is the map, the blue-print for the rug.

The warp is made by cotton and it is considered the “soul” of the rug.  The large vertical textile loom usually requires several weavers sitting next to one another (up to seven people!) and skillfully understanding the unspoken rhythm of combining warp and weft so that each knot is the same size. According to one textile shop owner in Ambato who has been making these rugs for 62 years, women are better workers because they are more meticulous and patient! Once the rug is woven after a process which can take up to three months, the women will cut the edged in order to even out the carpet.  As one owner explains “It is much like grooming a man’s beard which needs to be even so he can be handsome.”

Designs promote Ecuadorian Culture and Nature

 

Because most of the rugs are based on Ecuadorian archeology, colonial art and popular art, they promote Ecuadorian culture as they travel throughout the world.  For example, most of Olga Fisch’s rugs have native names such as Carchi  an ethnic group located in Northern Ecuador from 500 b.c.-1500 a.d.  However, her rugs have her own personal innovate design and interpretation.   Recently, other Ecuadorian artists are using the rug as a “canvas.”  They are making abstract designs based Ecuadorian animals, colors and scenery which are interpreted by Guano and Ambato weavers with precision.

Hopefully, in the future, this traditional craft will continue to transmit the richness of Ecuador’s diversity and culture as artist and buyers continue to value this craft.

What to look for when buying a good rug:

-THE MORE KNOTS AND THE TIGHTNESS OF THE KNOT WILL MAKE A BETTER CARPET.
-HIGH QUALITY ANILINE DYES
-100% SHEEP’S WOOL
-
HAND MADE.

Sources:

Interviews: Ruperto Muñoz, June 2008