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Global Gifts: Artisan stories from Peru 

click to enlarge Emilio Hurtado
  • Emilio Hurtado

Tragedy, ingenuity, hard work, family. Sam Carpenter and Alison Schumacher spent their time chronicling the stories of artisans represented by Manos Amigas. Here are their stories.

All information provided by Sam Carpenter and Alison Schumacher.

Emilio Hurtado

Artesanía Hurtado

Emilio Hurtado produces carved & burnt gourds, called mates burilados. "My most popular product at the beginning was musical instruments. Now it's a mix of everything: jewelry boxes, small containers, instruments."

He first learned the basics of mate burilado from his parents. He mastered the craft while working in a workshop, and subsequently taught his brothers. This skill has served them well, as each brother operates his own workshop and is able to employ a number of others to fulfill their many orders.

He was born in Cochas Chico, just outside of Huancayo in the highland mountains of Peru, and became an artisan out of necessity. His father died when he was 13 or 14 years old. Three months later his mother got married again and left his brothers and sister alone. They were approximately 14, 12, 8, and 6 years old. As eldest, Emilio became the head of the family. He had to give up his studies and look for work. For twelve years, he worked in a mate burilado workshop and received clothing and food for himself and his siblings as payment.

When he was 24 years old, he married Ana Estrada Mayte and they started their own family. As he still had a commitment to his siblings in addition to his own, new family, he needed to earn more money. He worked for six years with the Medina family, another local family known for their skill in mates burilados. Then he started his own workshop.

He and Ana would go to the popular Huancayo Sunday fair every week, but as they didn't have enough money to rent a stand, they and his brother Pablo and Pablo's wife would sell their gourds on foot as they walked around the market.

Clients from Lima purchased some of their mates. "That is how we really got started. We began getting invitations for artisan fairs in Lima. My wife said, 'Let's go!' We went to lots of fairs in Lima and started finding clients there, including Manos Amigas. Pablo started working with Yannina, then I started. I've now been working 15 years with them," he shares.

"As we each opened our own workshops and grew, my brothers and I agreed that we would each make different items so we wouldn't compete with each other. Other clients found each one of us and we each found success. Now we share everything."

Emilio employs seven workers. His workshop has a slightly unusual schedule: it is open Wednesday through Saturday only. On Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, all of his workers volunteer in a community church program for children living in extreme poverty. His son Joel is the secretary, two of his workers are teachers, one is the treasurer, and another is the head cook. Participating in this church project is not a requirement to work in his workshop, but rather is a project that many in his community are committed to.

Emilio is committed to hiring people who otherwise would not have a job. The workers Emilio hires initially are unskilled and do not know how to create mates burilados. He hires them expressly to be able to teach them a skill and help them get themselves out of poverty. Generally his workers haven't held a job before, and keeping a rigid, regular schedule is something new for them.

At the beginning, his workers agree that they will initially work for a month. If, after that month, they want to continue in his workshop, they sign a contract for one to three years. Not all of the people he hires are interested in continuing in his workshop after the initial trial period.

During their period of employment, they gradually learn all the various skills that go into creating mates burilados. If and when they are ready to set out on their own, they give notice up to two weeks prior to their contract ending. They don't have to leave after their contract is up, though; they can extend it with the same amount of notice, up to 2 weeks ahead of the end of their contract. In fact, one of Emilio's workers has working with him for over 15 years!

After they open up their own workshop, Emilio continues to give them work, passing on parts of his orders and giving them projects to complete for several years while they build their own client base. When they no longer need work from him, he gradually stops sharing it with them.

Emilio produces several different types of mates. In one, Emilio draws on the design with a pencil. Then the design is carefully carved out with a small knife. Next, the mate is burned with a small flame that acts as a paintbrush, delicately burning different parts of the mate different shades of brown or black according to the design.

Another technique is used to make the gourds which narrate a story. Most of the gourd is carved, in this design, and is very intricately detailed. Emilio picks up a gourd to demonstrate his process. "First, you carve out your design. Then you rub it with cooking oil. Then you take this grass," he shows us a handful of dried grass, "it's a type of grass that animals graze on. It's dried, then burned." He crumbles it in between his hands, then rubs it into the greased gourd. "You rub it in over and over, then you wash it with water, dry it in the sun, and then you're done. It will last for 30-40 years this way."

Emilio designs all of his own products. He makes a product sample, takes a picture, and loads it into the computer. "My son Joel helps me do this!" Then he sends it to his clients on the computer. He creates religious designs and traditional designs from his native community, showcasing the area's primary crops and ranching animals. "The photos are very detailed and the details on the mates show up well on the photos."

His four children are adults now, ranging in age from 24 to 40, and each is skilled in the making of mates burilados. However, most of them make a living doing several things in addition to artesanía. "[Because of the uncertainty of the market, my youngest child] Joel is studying. Isabel is a teacher in Lima. Her husband is in construction and is looking for work. Ana Maria and Marisol are also in Lima and work in artesanía."

His wife, Ana, was sick for six years with untreatable cancer. She was hospitalized in Lima for two years and they had lived there for another 1-2 years prior to that to be closer for her treatments.

"For those three to four years in Lima we were not working. At that time, Joel was studying commercial exportation. We had 18 workers back in the workshop. Joel ended up quitting his studies to return to Cochas Chico to run the workshop. We had 75 enormous bags of mates in our storage. During the time that Joel ran the workshop, he used up 50 bags with all of the orders."

Emilio went into a lot of debt paying for Ana's treatments. "She had three operations and 33 radiation treatments. I don't know how much each of the radiation treatments cost. She had two operations that cost $7,500 each, then one operation that cost $25,000."

He exhausted their savings, took out a loan from the bank, and even received help from Manos Amigas. "Thanks to Manos Amigas, I was able to pay for my wife's medicine. When I asked for help, they never said 'no', they always made it work somehow. They would ask me if I wanted a loan or if this was my advance for one of their orders. They also helped me pay for Joel's education."

In 2010, he was about to sell his house to finance a fourth operation when Ana passed away.

As we discuss all of Ana's treatments, all of his debts, Emilio shares, with obvious relief, "I just paid off my last loan last month." It is clear how much Emilio misses Ana, several years after her death.

Now Joel is studying again, this time international business administration. He has a particularly demanding schedule, as he juggles responsibilities in the workshop, church program, and college. He attends university classes from 6:30-10:30 in the morning and again from 5-10:30 at night. From 12-4 he is either at the church program or at the workshop.

Emilio's daughters and their spouses also help out in various ways. "Ana Maria's husband drives a taxi, and he helps us out by bringing our merchandise to Manos Amigas so that we don't have to make the long trip to Lima ourselves. Marisol sells her artesanía to another exporter but also works in packing there when she doesn't have orders."

When I asked him what he likes the best about his work, he answers, "Finishing a product that turns out really well. I like producing everything, especially the traditional designs. But since the market requires different designs, we must create different designs too."

Emilio continues, "Sometimes I feel embarrassed since our workshop is not as advanced as other workshops are, but since we spent so much money on Ana's cancer, we didn't have the money, focus, or priority on improving the workshop. Now we would like to improve, get more orders, and continue to give work to others who don't have it."

click to enlarge Vilcapoma with son Franco
  • Vilcapoma with son Franco

Fermín Vilcapoma

Labán Inversiones

Fermín produces beautiful jewelry: earrings, pendants, brooches, rings. He is a native of Canta, a province three hours from Lima. Fermín moved to Lima with his mother when was in 1st grade. His wife, Magdalena, is from Lima. They have two sons, Franco (14 years old) and Aaron (11 years old).

He learned jewelry making from his father. Fermín wanted to study systems engineering but was not able to go to university, so he started making a living based on his training. He was the oldest brother and therefore felt somewhat obligated to be an example and join the family business. He has 3 siblings, two brothers and a sister. While his sister is an English teacher, the brothers are also jewelry makers. Although he was not able to attend university, he's been able to study administration and accounting to benefit his business.

The number of people he employs in his workshop has fluctuated over time. For example, in 1995 he had 5 employees. In 2000, he employed 15. In 2012, he has 5 (in addition to himself and his wife, Magdalena). Of the current seven employees, 2 are women.

He's been in his current workshop since 2000. Prior to moving here, he has worked in workshops first in his mother's home and later in his father-in-law's house. His living and working conditions have improved considerably from when he started: he was living and working in a tin shack. Now Fermín has a four-story cement building that continues to serve as both his home and workshop, although the spaces are well-divided.

His dream for the futursa e is to move his living space out of his workshop building and use that space as a jewelry school. He and his wife would like to be able to teach poor people the craft of jewelry making so they can improve their living situations and lives.

Fermín hopes his sons will be involved in the family business as adults but strongly believes they need to discover what makes them happy and do it.

Fermín is the secretary of a fair trade organization called APTEC (http://www.aptecperu.com/), the only one in Peru that is formed exclusively of producers. Different product lines are represented, like weavers, clothing, potters, and jewelry. He's been part of this group for 3 years and while he is proud of them, he feels like there has been a lot of work without much success so far. Still, he has hope that investing time and resources into this group will help each of the producers be more successful in the coming years.

His business has been hit hard by the recession. In the last 2 years, he has had to lay off 8 workers. He is hopeful that business will rebound as the worldwide economy improves.

When Fermín was asked what he likes most about his work, he offered several examples: how his business has grown in the last 25 years. How he and his employees have been able to support themselves and be successful through fair trade. Seeing his products in stores. A funny aside is that Fermín asked us where we were from. After hearing that we lived in Indianapolis, he told us he'd visited Indiana University in Bloomington last January at the invitation of a college group. Sam told Fermín that he runs a fair trade store in Bloomington. "I went into a fair trade shop there and saw some of my products!" Fermín said. After several more questions, we were able to verify that Fermín had indeed visited Global Gifts. How amazing that Fermín was in Indiana and saw his products displayed and sold at Sam´s store, and a year later Sam is at his workshop, seeing where the products he sells originate and how they are created!

click to enlarge Rosa Pariona
  • Rosa Pariona

Rosa Pariona Antonio

Artesanías Señor Ccechccamarca

Rosa Pariona produces small stuffed animals made from different types of wool: alpaca and sheep, for example. The animals are common Peruvian animals like guinea pigs, vicuñas, llamas, rabbits, and chicks. She also makes hats and gloves, throw rugs, and seat cushions from the same wool. "Anything that can be made from wool and skins, I make. I can sew anything!"

Her most popular product is the vicuñas. She has had her workshop since 1984.

Rosa is from Huancayo, a city in the mountains approximately 8 hours from Lima. She never knew her mother; she and her two sisters were raised by her father. One sister now lives in Lima, the other in Italy. Rosa learned all of her artesanía skills from her father, who, she says, knew how to make nearly anything. "He didn't make large quantities of products but rather made many different types of products, all beautiful. In addition to making bags, clothing, rings, hats, he was skilled in carpentry and also built houses. He really knew how to work!"

She married and had nine children. Rosa's husband began to drink heavily and abuse Rosa, including selling their comfortable, 2-story home in Huancayo without telling her and without giving her any of the proceeds from the sale. She realized she had to leave.

She had land where she grew vegetables (the chacra), apart from their home in Huancayo. "When he started to drink and treat me badly, I thought, where am I going to go? Am I going to go to the chacra? No, because the kids didn't know how to farm. I have to go to Lima for the opportunities."

She left with her children, ranging in age from 5 to 15. They left with just the clothes on their backs, without even money. They slept on cardboard "beds" on the floor of an empty house for three months near the center of Lima. She sold drinks and ice cream, anything she could sell to begin saving a little money.

Soon, however, Rosa realized she needed to move her family. There was a lot of unsafe behavior near their home, and her kids were frightened.

A friend told her that in Huaycán, on the outskirts of the district of Lima, there was available land. Rosa commented, "I like the climate here. There is always sun in Huaycán, it never rains. It's good for drying out the skins."

So they moved to Huaycán and spent one year living on the hillside, a place where the poorest of the poor make their homes. The hillsides rarely have access to utilities and life is a barebones existence.

She had slowly started to construct their house; they had walls but no roof. An earthquake caused her neighbor's house to fall onto hers. It destroyed their home and almost buried them there too. While they went to the clinic to have their injuries examined and treated, all of their belongings were stolen. She had to start over, yet again.

Rosa's big break was when a buyer from Ten Thousand Villages ordered 10,000 stuffed alpacas and gave her a $5,000 advance. "With that money I was able to buy land in Huaycán and start building our own home. He took a chance on me, giving me that money without really knowing me. I was really grateful."

Her son Enrique built the workshop for her. The front room is a small store, showcasing the artesanía produced inside as well as selling soft drinks and water to neighbors. Rosa commented, "He deliberately made the front room with a curved wall so that a large window could be placed there, bringing in a lot of light to the store to more beautifully display our products."

Rosa later remarried, had two more children, and her husband now works with her in the business. She designs all of her products and has taught her husband the skills needed to work in the workshop. She likes everything about running her business, from the drying of the skins to the sewing and stuffing; even the quality control. "While it takes a lot of time to do quality control and correct items when necessary, it is expensive to have others do it and it isn't done as well."

She currently has 9 workers, in addition to herself: three are family members (her husband and two of her oldest children). The six others perform their work in their homes, coming and going from the workshop as needed to pick up materials and drop off completed products.

While she has always been involved in artesanía in one form or another, before starting her own business she made little bags, jackets, socks. She also spent a lot of time in her chacra, tending to her crops. "I have worked so hard to provide my kids with food and clothes and an education."

All of her children are artisans and are skilled in various forms of artesanía in addition to working with leather and wool. Some carve wood, others carve gourds or make beaded jewelry. Even her youngest, a 15 year old who is still in school, is skilled at artesanía, making beaded bracelets. Rosa is proud that they each can support themselves with these skills from her family.

Her orders have lowered since the economic crisis started. Whereas she used to produce 15,000 vicuñas per year for clients, she now receives orders for approximately 6,000 vicuñas annually. When she doesn't have many orders, she augments her income by preparing typical Peruvian food to sell such as cuy (guinea pig) and pachamanca (a dish of meats and potatoes, cooked underground). She rents a kiosk nearby when she has food to sell.

A local parish often has international visitors who come and place orders after seeing her products in her store. These are smaller orders, though, dozens of products instead of thousands.

She explained that she doesn't have a store in Miraflores, the main neighborhood in Lima that tourists visit, due to the high costs involved. "How am I going to survive if I have to pay out all that money? People come and make small orders from our store here. And every few months I receive an order from Manos Amigas for about 2,000-3,000 vicuñas. I appreciate that Manos Amigas immediately pays me, since then I can go back and immediately pay my workers. They always give me an advance, too, without asking."

Manos Amigas is her primary client. Rosa appreciates that Manos Amigas treats her well and always fulfills their promises. They are very prompt with their communications. "They are part of my family," she says.

Rosa can point to very specific ways that her life has changed and improved since she has worked with Manos Amigas. Going from sleeping on cardboard boxes with nine children, with no support from her ex-husband, to building a home and workshop, running a successful business and ensuring that all her children were educated as well as learning the family trade, even after having had to restart from scratch several times... Rosa is resilient!

click to enlarge Mario Nolasco
  • Mario Nolasco

Mario Nolasco

Mario Nolasco lives in Ventanilla, on the far north side of Lima. Many of Ventanilla's current residents either arrived as part of land invasions (a group of homeless families squat on an undeveloped or undesirable piece of land, hoping that eventually the government will include them in city planning with services such as water, sewers, and electricity) or were moved here by the government to relieve crowding in other districts. However, being moved to Ventanilla did not mean that any services or structures were provided; another artisan explained that when he, his wife, and their five children were moved there by the government in 2000, "there was nothing but sand. We slept in the sand with plastic and cardboard boxes for protection. Not many people stuck it out. Life was rough. There was no water, no electricity, no access to transportation, no nothing." While their neighborhood has electricity now, 12 years later, they still do not have water.

Mario is young, just 24 years old, and has an immaculately kept workshop that he's built by himself. Compare some pictures from 2009 with ours from 2012; the changes he's effected since then are striking.

The second oldest of eight children, Mario comes from a line of artisans. His parents couldn't afford to buy him toys, but there was always ample clay around. Mario would create his toys out of clay and his father would later fire them in the kiln along with his items for sale.

His opportunity to come to Lima came when an artisan asked his older brother if he'd help him out at his workshop for several months. Mario's brother wasn't interested, but 18-year-old Mario was. He had never been to Lima before. "I'm from the jungle. I only knew places with lots of plants and animals. I had heard lots of stories of the big city, the ocean, the cars, and the buildings."

June is wintertime in Lima, and Mario wasn't used to the cold. "I didn't like the weather at all and didn't plan to stay." But after his month of work was over with and Mario was making plans to return to Ayacucho, another artisan asked him if he would work with him until December. Mario agreed. Once December rolled around, Mario had slowly gotten accustomed to Lima. The artisan offered to pay for Mario to return to Ayacucho and spend Christmas and the New Year with his family, if Mario would agree to work with him for the next year.

By that point, Mario decided that if he was going to spend this much time in Lima, he might as well open up his own workshop too. He had friends who knew of available land in Ventanilla for his future workshop. "But it was just sand; there wasn't an existing structure to build onto." Mario spent 2007 working at two workshops, his friend's and laying the groundwork for his own. He'd work for one week for his friend, followed by a week working on his own workshop.

Since his land was just sand, his weeks in his workshop were spent sinking posts in the ground and building walls with thin wood. He used woven mats for his roof. As Lima is a desert, it rarely rains, so woven reed mats were sufficient as well as typical of his neighbors' homes as well. But they are not very strong or permanent. "I lived in the workshop too, of course. You have to guard your stuff. People would say, 'finish your floor; how can you work with a sand floor?' But, if your pottery piece falls off of the table and onto the sand, it doesn't break. If you have a floor, it does. And if you are painting it and it falls into the sand, even though the sand sticks to the paint as if it were glue, you can just rinse it off and start again."

He strengthened his workshop in 2010. Mario now has a cement floor, reinforced and painted walls, a stronger roof. His home is now in back.

The time involved in getting from anywhere else in Lima to and from Ventanilla is significant. "I spend three hours in a bus to get to Manos Amigas on time. If I have to bring a big order in, I take a taxi, which would normally take less time, but right now there is construction on both roads in and out of Ventanilla, so it's about the same amount of time."

Due to the distances involved, he always makes sure that he has scheduled different days for merchandise to be due and transported to his clients, so that he doesn't have to trek to more than one place in one day. On the day we visited, for example, Mario's brother left Ventanilla at 4 a.m. to take an order to a client in Lurín, far on the southern edge of Lima, by 7 a.m.

Mario's main plans for the future are to keep growing his business, of course, and to obtain the title of his land. "The government has the title. I am working on getting the title, but it will take time. You have to keep asking for it." Getting the title to the land is tricky in areas where land invasions have been frequent and the government has relocated people. Only the people who keep asking for it and are persistent - over years - are the ones who eventually are granted them. We hope that Mario is one of the lucky ones.

click to enlarge Ernesto Arango
  • Ernesto Arango

Ernesto Arango

Ernesto Arango's family is huge: he grew up with 14 brothers and sisters. When he was eight years old, his father died. His mother supported the family by weaving and dying wool. Ernesto learned her craft as a young child, starting at age nine when he could no longer attend school because of terrorist violence in his hometown.

He makes tiny retablos inside eggshells and recently, granadilla skins. He was walking along the beach when he found an open granadilla on the ground and it occurred to him that he could develop a product made out of its dried skin. After three years of searching for the best way to dry and preserve the skin, he successfully began producing products from granadilla skins.

He organized a group of artisans in Lurín, his far-southern neighborhood in Lima, in 2008 so that they can work collectively to penetrate more markets and increase their capacity to handle bigger orders. He organizes and delivers capacity building trainings on things like designs, market trends, or accounting. He and others are creating new techniques to improve efficiencies in their workshops. So far they have had few orders as a group but hope to increase their orders as they make more contacts.

In addition to this artisan association, he has also established a small community fund to provide microcredit loans. Eventually, he would like to distance himself a bit from artesanía. He would like to spend more time running the microcredit fund and developing the artisan association.

In what little free time Ernesto has, he plays in a band with six other musicians.

click to enlarge Zoila Davila
  • Zoila Davila

Zoila Davila and Ruth Palomino

Zoila and Ruth are two ceramicists in Villa El Salvador, a neighborhood on the far south side of Lima: a mother and daughter, each with her own workshop, living side by side.

Zoila learned how to form and fire ceramic figurines out of necessity when her husband abandoned her with no means of supporting their three children, ages 12, 6, and 2. She didn't have any skills for a trade and sold little treats on the beach to get by. One of her friends did ceramics and Zoila thought, if she needed to learn something to make a living, why not learn ceramics? But her friend was reluctant to teach her, so Zoila hung around and attempted to learn by quietly watching her friend. Then she went home and tried to replicate her work. It took her a full year of trial and error before she produced a piece she was satisfied with.

Her kids grew up in the workshop and each had their responsibilities. Ruth, the oldest, used her creative flair and vast imagination to design the pieces. Oscar, the middle child, painted the detail work. Clara, the youngest, helped Zoila form the clay and paint the background colors. And so they survived.

They moved around the southern districts of Lima frequently but finally secured their own land about 15 years ago, a small plot in Villa El Salvador. It's not far from the beach; the ocean is on the other side of a huge sand dune and across the Panamerican Highway. Now Villa El Salvador is a large district but it started as a land invasion in 1971.

As her children got older, they continued helping Zoila in the business but also began following their own pursuits. Ruth, now 36, opened her own ceramics workshop seven years ago, and loves any kind of artistic expression, from painting to designing carpets of flower petals for the local Good Friday processions.

click to enlarge Ruth Palomino
  • Ruth Palomino

Clara, now 26, works in a factory to make ends meet, in addition to helping Zoila as needed. Oscar completed a degree in commercial exportation and was the logistics side of his mom's and sister's businesses.

Three years ago, Oscar was helping Zoila finish an order when he decided to go hang out on the beach for the afternoon. "I'll paint the eyes when I get back," he told Zoila. Hours passed and Oscar didn't return.

Oscar had drowned. He was 27 years old.

Several weeks passed and Yannina started wondering where Zoila's order was. It was past due and she was surprised she hadn't heard from her. She called and Zoila recounted what had happened. Yannina assured her that she would talk to the client and get more time to complete the order. "But I can't finish the order. I don't know how to do the eyes," Zoila told her. "Oscar did that."

Zoila eventually somehow finished the eyes and was surprised when Yannina kept calling her to inform her of new orders every two weeks or so. As this was far more frequent than usual, she thought she knew where they were coming from: "Oscar is sending us these orders."

Ruth's figures do not have eyes or detail work on their faces. An homage to her late brother?

A mom trying to survive teaches her daughter the tools for her own trade. The daughter takes her skill to the next level and produces art.

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