Piezas en crin: un arte único en el mundo

Horsehair pieces: a unique art in the world

Multicolored butterflies, delicate hoops, elegant bookmarks, cheerful bouquets of flowers are just some examples of the wide range of pieces woven by the skillful hands of the artisans in horsehair. Unique in the world, this art was born more than two hundred years ago in Rari, a small town with adobe houses, located in the foothills of the Maule Region, 22 km away. from the city of Linares.

The beginnings: river willow and poplar roots

The origins of horsehair crafts are closely linked to pre-Columbian basketry in the area and to the thermal water sources of Panimávida discovered at the beginning of the 19th century. Oral tradition tells through various legends how the first pieces emerged. In all of them, the protagonists used the roots of the river trees to make baskets. Indeed, it is possible to determine the beginning of this artisanal tradition at the end of the 19th century, when women from the area began to use the fine and long roots of willow and poplar from the river, which once cleaned and peeled, were braided to shape different pieces. Local crafts had as a great ally the Panimávida hot springs, whose healing waters and mud attracted tourists and vacationers since the 18th century, to whom the artisans of Rari, a town located 1 km. from the hot springs, they sold their pieces.

The rise of the Panimávida Hot Springs and the evolution of craftsmanship

Starting in the 20th century, Panimávida acquired great fame in Chilean society. In 1915, with President Barros Luco, the tradition was established for presidents to vacation in the hot springs, which became the obligatory destination of high society and important artists of the time, such as the prominent tenor Ramón Vinay . Since the end of the 19th century, a bottling plant was installed next to the thermal baths. Panimávida mineral water, awarded for its beneficial qualities, was distributed throughout the country, even reaching the distant saltpeter offices of the Atacama Desert [1] . Fundamental in this context was the so-called “ small train ” that from 1914 connected Linares with Colbún. It made a stop in Panimávida, allowing the transportation of passengers visiting the hot springs and boxes with valuable mineral water.

The popularity of the hot springs allowed the Rari artisans to sell the pieces they made. On foot or by cart, the women traveled to Panimávida with their baskets and offered their basket work along with other artisanal and agricultural products in the kiosks located in the square, around the church or at the entrance to the hot springs. Others sold their pieces at the Linares station, which in turn were offered to train passengers.

Starting in the 1930s, a phenomenon occurred that led to the emergence of the horsehair craft that is known today: the pollution of the river waters weakened the roots so much that the artisans could no longer use them. for the weaving of its pieces. It was then that, as a result of creativity and experimentation, the women discovered that horsehair - a very common animal in this area - offered an excellent alternative to roots. Furthermore: its flexibility allowed the making of much more delicate pieces.

To give structure or framework to the creations, the roots began to be replaced in the mid-20th century by “itxle” or “tampico”, a plant fiber from Mexico that women knew, as it was used in cleaning items such as brooms. and brushes for washing clothes. From this combination of horsehair and “vegetable” - as the artisans call it - the most diverse figurines emerged: butterflies, flowers, witches, ancient ladies and animals, such as lizards, donkeys, among many others. Given the characteristics of the ixtle - shorter than the roots - the figures began to be smaller and finer. Later, the horsehair began to be dyed with natural dyes and later with anilines to make the creations more attractive. According to popular tradition, the lack of mane supply led to "coleros" or tail thieves entering the pastures at night and cutting off the horses' tails to sell them to the artisans [2] .

In the middle of the 20th century, a change occurred that affected the connectivity of the area with the rest of the country: in 1954 the small train made its last trip to Colbún. Some time later, the bottling plant closed its doors, leaving its workers without jobs. The 1970s and 1980s were difficult times for the families of Rari and Panimávida, as many men could not find work and life in the countryside became increasingly difficult. Due to this, migration occurred - especially of the youngest - to the city in search of education and better job opportunities. In 1989, a fire destroyed part of the buildings of the Termas de Panimávida Hotel, which had to close its doors until its reopening in 2006.

Valuation of Rari craftsmanship

Starting in the 1990s, Rari horsehair crafts began to become more widespread. With the support of various NGOs and government entities, the artisans began to organize. From weaving alone in their homes, trying to obtain raw materials and sell their products, the idea arose that together they could achieve what they had not been able to achieve individually. Great achievements in this direction were the direct importation of Ixtle to Rari [3] and the formal organization of artisan groups in Rari and Panimávida. The efforts bore fruit: in 2010 they obtained recognition as a Living Human Treasure [4] and five years later the town was declared “Craft City of the World” by the World Crafts Council. These distinctions have made it possible to make the work of the artisans visible and dream of new possibilities: they have invested in signage so that visitors can access the town more easily, they have learned accounting and how to use smartphones and computers to be able to sell their products better. With the creativity that has characterized them for generations, they have faced the challenges of new times and expanded the range of their products, keeping alive a unique and unrepeatable art.

The stages of meticulous work

For María Inés Baeza, horsehair artisan from Panimávida, it is a pride to carry out each of the stages in the making of her pieces, because in addition to the figures she sells the materials to make them. The first step is to wash the mane before using it:

“The mane has to be washed very well. At least I wash it three times, rinse it well, put it in Fuzol, so that it whitens, for 6 to 8 hours, and then it is rinsed well... then a brine is made, with water and coastal salt, it is put Boil, add the aniline and add a drop of lemon or vinegar. That's to give shine to the mane. Leave it for 5 minutes, with a watch in hand, because if you leave it any longer you could burn your mane, that's all. Then let it cool and then rinse it well. It cannot be rinsed hot... Then it is laid out, dried and then we weave…”

An important aspect is that not all manes are dyed: “Only the white tails are dyed. Black, brown and gray are woven natural. It washes well and weaves naturally. They are natural colors…” , highlights the artisan.

For the delicate work, women use only their hands, as María Inés emphasizes: “What we use are our hands, a scissors and a needle, nothing more.” The pieces are made in parts: the frame of the figure is made with the plant fiber and then it is woven with the mane: “it is woven with the horse's tail one by one, it has its process” explains the artisan and proudly adds: “ With horsehair craftsmanship we beat everything worldwide, because it is hair by hair that has to be woven. "It's a lot, it's a very delicate job." Each piece requires a lot of time, dedication and creativity. Laughing, María Inés remembers: “ I had a time when I dreamed and I had to get up at 2-3 in the morning to write the article so that I wouldn't forget, seriously! For a commission I made 200 pairs of earrings and none were repeated. Imagine how I had to maneuver to avoid repeating them!”

Horsehair crafts: source of support

Throughout its history and up to the present, horsehair crafts have been an important source of income for the women of Rari and Panimávida, since many of the men work sporadically in the fields or mines in the area and in other regions. Despite this, crafts are generally an additional activity to other tasks or jobs, so they take advantage of every free minute to knit: some early in the morning, others after lunch or at night. María Inés works at night for hours. She puts on the television, but she doesn't watch it, she just listens to it while she dedicates all her attention to her hands: “I've been knitting since I was 8 years old. It's the only thing I like. “I would like to have a lot of time to knit a lot, because I like what I do.”

The love for this art is also linked to the awareness that it has helped families get out of trouble in difficult times, as Patricia Sepúlveda explains: “We respect our craftsmanship as ourselves, we trust it to help us, it gives us company, it relaxes us, it distracts us, it helps us financially, it gives us health, because it lifts our spirits and values ​​us. That's why we love it and maintain it and we don't want it to disappear" [5] .

*This is the fourth in a series of articles and research dedicated to traditional crafts, the work of our great collaborator Christine Gleisner @christine_gv

[1] In 1930, it was proudly declared that the bottling plant had been equipped with a large refrigerator and could ship a thousand cases (48,000 bottles) daily. Source: Diario La Nación, January 30, 1930, p. 14. Available at: http://culturadigital.udp.cl/cms/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/LN_1930_01_30.pdf

[2] Slavia San Martín, Rari, the hands that fly , AAGRAG Service, Linares, 1999, p. 14

[3] Foundation Overcoming Poverty, Rari, weaving its history , A documentary by Servicio País. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cVm4Zeci3I

[4] Official recognition by the State of Chile to people and groups that have made significant contributions to the safeguarding and cultivation of the country's intangible heritage.

[5] Slavia San Martín, Rari, the hands that fly , AAGRAG Service, Linares, 1999, p. 19

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