Folk Art of the Andes,
figures, that people put on their roofs. There are fine silver spurs and silver-on-leather horse gear. Of special interest in a display of silver vessels is the little pava con hornillo (kettle with furnace), which has separate chambers for hot coals and water.
In one case are paintedtinwork ( hojalaeria) crosses, frames, and candleholders from Cuenca, Ecuador, and Ayacucho, Peru. In another are Mapuche jewelry pieces from southern Chile; Mauldin noted that these “have more of a pre-Columbian feel, because those people were never conquered by the Spanish.”
The cavalcade of useful paraphernalia includes cowhorn canteens carved beautifully, akin to scrimshaw, and the ceremonial drinking vessels known as cochas. “The people believed animals evolved out of springs,” Mauldin said, pointing out that the ceramic cochas have small animal figures in the center. “As you drink, they appear through the liquid.”
The curator is also showing a great assortment of figurines — including boxing men, soldiers, and musicians — that were made to populate Nativity scenes, as well as dolls, horses, trucks, and kinetic toys. There are several examples of portable boxes filled with miniature scenes. The earliest of these were moveable altars, but the subject matter was later expanded to scenes and stories from secular life. (These boxes are called retablos, which in the Hispanic tradition of New Mexico is the name given to religious paintings on wood.)
One section of the show features delicately carved gourds. A stunning example is by Bertha Medina, a Peruvian who now lives in Santa Fe. For centuries, the people of the Andes have made containers from dried gourds, decorating them with etched designs. One of the chief early uses was to make cups for drinking the cherished yerba mate beverage, and after a while “mate” came to mean any of these dried and carved fruits of the calabaza plant.
Peruvian artists in the colonial period used gourds to make platos (plates) and azucareros (sugar containers). In more modern times, pieces by the materos (gourd carvers) have been made as art objects, no longer having practical uses. Today’s materos have resumed the early practice of rubbing a charcoal-grease substance onto the etched gourd. After absorption, the gourd is cleaned, leaving the artist’s incised patterns defined in black. The entire surface of Medina’s Decorative Gourd (2009) is filled with miniature scenes of life in Peru.
With their incredibly detailed tableaux of people, animals, buildings, and trees — and often with abstract designs as border elements at top and bottom — today’s materos are, Mauldin writes, “pushing the art of carved mate to new limits and requiring patience and skills beyond what had come before.”
Kinetic Toys, left to right, Molinos, Junin, Peru; Chile; Mérida, Venezuela; all circa 1960; all images courtesy Museum of New Mexico Press