This guide describes the way engraved gourds are produced in the Lima workshop of Teofila Canchumuri Sinche, a Quechua woman from Cochas Chico, and her family.
The art of engraving and burning gourds is an ancient one in Peru. Engraved and burnt gourds have been found in archaeological excavations dating back 6,000 years in the dry Peruvian coastal region west of the Andes. Before ceramics, gourds served as bowls for eating, drinking and food storage; baskets for carrying small items like nuts and berries; musical instruments such as rattles, maracas and guiros; owls and other birds and animals; masks and decorative plaques; even mobiles. All of these forms continue to be produced today and others such as bird houses, Christmas tree ornaments, vases, purses, barrettes and keychains have been introduced.
The gourds are engraved--properly speaking, they are not etched, as no acid is used, nor are most of them carved, since their shape remains unchanged--using a wooden-handled chisel-shaped instrument called a buril. Sometimes the design is traced in pencil on the gourd before the engraving but more practiced artists engrave the design directly. Burils with blades of different thicknesses are used to vary the effect. Sections of the gourd flesh may also be scooped out, throwing certain figures into relief. After the engraving other tools are used to burn the gourd. By varying tools and pressure, the artist can produce colors ranging from burnt orange through brown to black.
Different kinds of gourds have been used in Peru but the most common one is called mate. It is grown on the northern coast of Peru, around Trujillo, and from there sent to production centers. A major production center is Cochas Chico, a town near Huancayo, in the Andes east of Lima, the Peruvian capital. Engraved gourds have been made in Cochas Chico for hundreds of years. The majority of those sold in Lima today are produced there, although some are made in Lima itself, by immigrants from Cochas Chico. Teofila Canchumuri Sinche is one of these.
On the bottom of the stack in Teofila's hallway are natural gourds as they arrive from Trujillo, before being engraved and burnt. Those on the top have been dyed red with aniline.
Some gourds are colored red or green before the engraving. These colors are produced by boiling the gourds in water mixed with a powdered aniline dye.
Teofila's husband Pedro demonstrates the process of dyeing gourds on the family's small balcony.
The majority of gourds are not colored, but increasingly dyes are being used to add stylistic differences to a variety of gourd crafts--Christmas tree ornaments, owls, gourd boxes and closed gourds.
If a gourd is not to be colored, the first step is creating the design, either by drawing and engraving or engraving directly. Below, Teofila demonstrates with a wooden-handled buril. If the gourd is to be colored, creating the design is the second step.
Teofila uses a buril to engrave a gourd in the apartment that serves as both the family's living quarters and their workshop.
After the artist has engraved the design, the gourd is burnt in a process akin to wood burning or pyrography. In Teofila's workshop, two types of instrument are used--one electric and the other gas. The electric piro is used for delicate burning in tones ranging from orange to brown, the gas soplete for larger areas and for producing jet black.
Teofila's daughter-in-law Paula burns an engraved gourd with an electric device called a piro.
Teofila's son Javier burns an engraved gourd with a gas-powered soplete. His right foot is on a bellows that he uses to vary the intensity of the flame.
The burnt gourds are hot when finished and Javier tosses them in a pastic container to his side. For many gourds, that is the last step, but others are cut along a zigzag line around their upper portion. Seeds and other matter of the interior are removed and the top is fitted back on to form a box. A piece of wood is fixed to the top to make it easy to lift off the lid.
Wooden sticks are fixed to the elongated gourds that have been decorated as huachuas, a variety of goose found in high Andean lakes, standing owls, or penguins, to represent their feet and beaks. Smaller gourds decorated as owls also are equipped with wooden beaks. Other gourds undergo other changes to make them into masks and wall plaques, tree ornaments, bird houses, purses, mobiles, barrettes or keychains.
Additional steps are also required to fashion rattles, maracas or guiros. One end of the gourd is cut off, the interiors are cleaned and filled with small seeds, and the ends are glued back on. This allows he maker to produce rattles of the desired tone by placing more or fewer seeds inside. Uncut gourds also rattle when shaken but the sound is more muffled.
Copyright 2007 Don Pepito Imports LLC