Meeting artists in Ñamarín and Saraguro: Part 2 – The Jeweler – Saraguro, Ecuador
Antonio is a university student in Cuenca studying to become a teacher. He’s also a young jeweler with a home/studio/shop in the center of Saraguro (about 2hrs from Cuenca). Most importantly, though, he’s ALSO the focus of the second part of my soon-to-be-Emmy-award-winning series: Meeting artists in Ñamarín and Saraguro. Watch for it in the soon-to-exist-category of Short Blog Documentaries!
Getting back to Antonio… while trained by a local jeweler in Saraguro, but he’s still a relatively new jeweler exploring the world of creating in silver. Like many new jewelers, he’s taking classic old forms and putting his own spin on them. Unlike many new jewelers, he’s also doing things like creating his own alloys and his own solders! I have to admit I was taken aback when he asked me what percentage my silver solder was…sometimes I forget how easy I have it in the US where I just purchase soft, medium or hard solder without knowing what that means creation-wise. Yes, I can say how the solders react to heat, but do I have the slightest idea what percentage silver they are? Sure don’t! Antonio can say for a fact that his is 50% silver and 50% of some copper alloy since he has to make it himself!
Speaking of how easy we have things in the US. I’ve constantly heard how amazed jewelers here are with all the possible tools that can be bought in the US to make things easier. They seem to be able to get dapping tools (steel punches designed to give domed shapes to sheets or discs of metal), flex shafts and rolling mills (like you might have seen if you watched the videos of me making a copper basket), but that’s about it. Everything else they are adapting or making themselves. It’s really impressive to see and a great reminder that it’s the artist that makes the work, not the tools!
I asked Antonio about his take on the tupu, the silver pin I described the indigenous Weavers wearing in Part 1 to hold their shawls together. The pin is traditionally about 9″ long with a 2.5-3″ cast top soldered to a 6″ silver “spike” that goes through the shawl. The top piece is traditionally a sort of sun shape with a gemstone in the middle and the rays of the sun ending in faces that, I believe, represent the stages of life, though they are essentially the same stylized face.
Antonio has been making traditional styles, but also his own version which is a bit smaller, perhaps 7″ total, with a top that has only engraved sun rays or, as we started on together, a top that is half sun/half moon. It is nice to see him trying a creative update on a classic! I mentioned in the last post that the pins can also be used for self-defense. Luiza, our guide at the weaver’s, showed me how she could hold the sun top in her palm and then the pin/spike could be used to stab if needed. That’d be much tougher with Antonio’s version due to it being smaller and the sun’s rays being pointed, which would probably hurt your hand if you had to grip it for stabbing with!
At the end of our visit Antonio took a moment to show me just the start of how he does filigree earrings like they make in Chordeleg. Once again, he has to make his own filigree wire by cutting down sheet and then rolling it flat – very time consuming and making me thankful again for how easy we have it in the US. He creates frames, this one for a “flower”, and then pours a type of gesso on them which hardens in 2 minutes. It’s then strong enough to solder on and, after soldering, dissolves when the silver flower is dunked to cool! A very cool new technique for me (see it in the video below).
One final piece of amazement: Antonio’s torch, which he keeps going by means of a foot pump, runs on automobile gas! Not acetylene, not butane, not propane, not natural gas, just gas like you’d put in your car! I can’t imagine that’s safe in the long run, but it’s what he has available, so that’s what he uses.
Quite amazing what he’s already done and I hope I get the chance to see what he creates in the future!
Now photos are great, I hear you cry, but how about some video? Can’t win an Emmy without video (all kudos go to Anner for video snipping – the videography Emmy is all hers)! Here you go: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UgAuf90alIg
Thus ends this second installment of ‘Meeting artists in Ñamarín and Saraguro’. I hope you enjoyed Part 1: The Weavers and stay tuned for Part 3 in our serial where we meet The Potter of Saraguro!
I love hearing how you are meeting your “colleagues” on this trip. I visit libraries around the world … 🙂
It truly is a highlight for us – art connections have really opened doors for us (not to mention our eyes)! We’re hoping to meet some artists here in Cajamarca, Peru (where we are as I type this), though I still have a post to write about the jeweler and leather worker couple we met in Vilcabamba! So much exciting stuff to share!!!
Does he have internet connections or a mailing address? I have a friend who has a business encouraging folks like him by buying his stuff and selling through her company. She focuses on folks who need a hand up. She would be a possible connection for him to sell his stuff. Plus, I wouldn’t buying a couple of his pieces myself! Beautiful work.
That’s wonderful, Casey! I don’t know if he has internet connections, but I’ll email Lauro and see if he can get us in touch.
Another thought: how about a PBS or NatGeo show on these artists? Think big!
We’re thinking of starting with a talk to my local Seattle Metals Guild when I get back…but if anyone knows a contact at NatGeo, we’re all for making it happen!!! Anyone?
I think Casey is on to something with both her comments. It’s fascinating to see how the creative people you’ve found have developed ways to work with what they have to produce such beauty.
We totally agree!
In Indonesia, the jewelry artists use auto fuel for soldering their silver work, as well. Worried the heck out of me to be in the same building with that fuel, but the Indonesians have been using that system for a long time.
Note: I would be interested in buying a piece from your Antonio, too, if that is possible!
I totally know what you mean about the gas – smelling it in a closed space sure made me wonder as well! I’ll look into making contact with Antonio and let you know if we can make the connection. I know it can be hard to ship safely out of Ecuador (or anywhere down here), but it’d be great to support him by making it happen!
Aaron, I’m so glad you are getting to meet and learn from jewelers everywhere you go. That must be exciting. And Anner is taking the loot, the pretty pieces to wear and remember.
It’s win-win! Like so much of this amazing journey.
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