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Art in Ecuador, Art Galleries, Artists, Culture

Much of the art in Ecuador is traditional and usually the skills involved are passed down from generation to generation. Most of the locals make no distinction between fine arts and crafts. Most of the art is therefore not only beautiful but has a practical use. Some of the items you will find in cities are commercialized and are poor quality but if you make your way down to some of the craft markets, such as the ones found in Otavalo or Salcedo, you will find some really good genuine hand crafted goods at decent prices.

The Panama hat originally came from Ecuador despite its name. Though the hat has been made in Ecuador for over a hundred years, it was named after the place from whence they could be purchased – the Panama Canal – instead of the place they originated from. Panama hats are made from the Carludovica Palmata plant which grows in Guayaquil. The plants are boiled, dried and then woven into their distinct shape. The process can take as many as three months to complete. The “Superfino” Panama hat is reputed to maintain its shape regardless of how roughly it is treated, and to be able to hold water without leaking a drop.

Weaving is another aspect of Ecuadorian art that is popular. The craft of weaving was first brought to the country by the Spanish who exploited the natives for cheap labor. Little did those early Spaniards know that the proud people of Ecuador would embrace this craft and make it their own – creating a celebration of color and pattern that is sought after all over the world today. Along similar lines, plant fibers are used to make bags, backpacks and other articles. For a while the ‘shigras’ bags made from sisal fell into disuse but they have gained popularity in recent years. Often used to store food, moisture swells the reeds causing them to become watertight. These kinds of bags are generally very sturdy and last a long time.

Woodcarvings are also quite popular in Ecuador. Originally only churches used them during colonial years but it wasn’t long before the rich of the country began to use them to adorn their houses. Intricately carved chairs, benches, chests and mirrors began to be produced. San Antonio de Ibarra is considered to be the most important woodcarving center in the country and almost everyone here is involved in this decorative trade. If you are looking for something to return home with and do not think a chair or a chest would quite fit in your luggage, you can purchase one of the small wooden figures that are sold in the shops here.

Bread figures are quite popular in Calder. Here people have perfected the art of making small, colored dolls in the shape of men, woman and donkeys from bread dough. While the little figurines were originally used in the celebration of All Souls Day, they soon became popular as gifts. Another popular gift item is the traditional Andean dress pins that are used by the Andean women to close her ‘urku’ or cloak. Its traditional use has declined somewhat but the pretty dress pins are still popular.

Besides all these crafts, you will be able to see some primitivist paintings that are done on leather and depict village scenes. The subject matter is very traditional and the paintings can prove to be very attractive. Many artisans sell their own wares and are willing to bargain so you will be able to get a good price for these goods.