17 Colombian Master Craftsmen & Handicrafts

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Last updated on September 2nd, 2021 at 10:29 pm

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My name is Frank and I run a travel agency in Bogota, Colombia. Have fun while reading!

What does it mean to be an artisan in Colombia?

Colombia is an artisan country par excellence. This land is home to hundreds of masters who have mastered ceramics, weaving, wood carving and other arts that have been passed down for generations.

These artisanal creations have become a form of cultural transmission, both nationally and internationally. The cultural and historical value is not reduced to one person, but to hundreds of people who have dedicated themselves to the noble task of craftsmanship over decades and even centuries. For all of these reasons, on this blog, I want to introduce you to some of the most incredible artisans in Colombia.

What is an artisan and why are they so important in Colombia?

To be a craftsman means to be a master in a certain discipline, e.g. in the production of a certain item of clothing such as a hat or a ruana (poncho), in the production of ceramic figures, or even jewelry.

UNESCO defines an artisanal product as “a product made by artisans, whether entirely by hand or with the help of hand tools or even mechanical means, provided that the direct manual contribution of the artisan remains the most important component of the final product”.

The arts and crafts are far from being an art of only making beautiful and unique items for sale. It goes beyond that discipline and becomes a method for different groups and communities to share their history and culture. An example of this is the indigenous cultures of the Wayúu and Camëntzá, who seek to expand their culture through the art of weaving.

You don’t have to be a native to be a craftsperson. All over Colombia, there are thousands of masters who have learned ceramics, wood carving, weaving or other disciplines from their families who have devoted themselves to the same cause for decades or even centuries. Because something fundamental in the craft is the passing on of knowledge so that all these disciplines are not forgotten.

Recognition of artisans in Colombia

In Colombia, the Association of Colombian Craftsmen awards various recognitions. Some of the most important are:

Recognition as Master of Masters: This is the highest distinction that a craftsman can achieve in Colombia. This recognition certifies that the person is an outstanding figure in the field of the craft to which he is dedicated.

Medal for Traditional Mastery: This award indicates that a particular person’s work is characterized by the use of traditional and ancient techniques.

Medal for contemporary craftsmanship: This award recognizes innovations in the field of craftsmanship.

Legacy Craftsmanship Medal: This award shows that a person has passed on their craftsmanship to at least two generations (children and grandchildren).

Renowned artisans in Colombia

Renowned artisans in ceramics

Julia Castilla

Specialty: Ceramic chicken figurines
Status: Recognized as the Master of Masters

“Chickens, chickens, chickens”. You will hear this most often when you visit the workshop of Julia Castilla, one of the most important artisans in Colombia, whose ceramics have been shown in national and international exhibitions.

Julia has been making chickens from clay for decades. She has created soup troughs, bowls, teapots, egg holders and other objects in the shape of this animal. She is successful and her works have been exported to countries such as the United States, Mexico, Italy and Canada.

Julia has her workshop in the city of Guaduas, one of the Colombian cultural cities, and from there has become one of the most important masters in the country.

A few years ago one of my interns had the opportunity to visit Doña Julia’s workshop, which is run by her and her son, and I can honestly say that I consider her an impressive example of self-conquest.

When my intern was in her workshop with some companions, she gave a short course on making a chicken from clay. One of the boys found it difficult to shape the animal and he said to the teacher: “I don’t think I can do it, I can’t do it …”.

The teacher Julia replied with great patience: “Nothing is impossible”. At the same time, she raised her hands to show that one hand was missing a few fingers. This event really makes you think because it shows that you can achieve great things with a physical handicap.

The teacher knows how important it is to pass on her technical knowledge, she has already done this with her son. Julia said: “I don’t want to keep what God gave me and that’s why I passed it on to my son and my son has already passed it on to many people. For all of these achievements, Julia was awarded the title “Master of Masters”.

Julia’s social networks

If you are interested you can visit Cerámicas Julia’s website, where you can also buy some of their products. You can also visit her Facebook page where she shows some of her creations.

Diego Añez Yepes

Specialty: ceramics
Status: Winner of the Medal for Contemporary Craft Championships 2019.

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One of the most talented artisans of the past few decades is Diego Añez Yepes, who has been in the ceramics arts in Bogota for more than 20 years.

Diego founded Magma Cerámica, where he and his wife produce various ceramics such as bowls, sieves, containers, etc. But what really catches the eye is their lineage, which is based on Colombian biodiversity.

They make handcrafted figurines based on the fish found around the islands of Santa Catalina and Islas del Rosario. The product that attracts the most attention is certainly the handcrafted lamps that are modeled on animals such as sea urchins and others inspired by sea corals.

For innovation and the creation of new ceramic pieces, Diego was awarded the medal in 2019 that distinguishes him as a contemporary master.

Diego’s social networks

If you are interested, you can follow Diego on Instagram where he posts some of his creations. He is usually quite active and if you want to buy any of his products and are in Bogotá, you can do so through Magma Cerámica’s Instagram page.

Renowned artisans in weaving

Iris Aguilar

Specialty: Wayúu weaving mills
Status: Recognized as a Master of Masters in 2017.

If there is one aspect in which the Wayúu indigenous culture, mostly found in the department of La Guajira, stands out, it is the production of handicrafts using weaving. This group usually makes items like backpacks, chinchorros (hammocks), etc.

Among all the Wayúu artisans, there is one that stands out in particular. Her name is Iris Aguilar, who was honored as Master of Masters in 2017 and is responsible for transmitting the culture of her people through weaving.

The reputation and talent of this teacher have already been recognized several times. When Pope Francis visited Colombia in 2017, Iris was commissioned to make the first ornament the Pope would wear in that country.

The Wayúu style ornament she made is very colorful because it consists of more than 7 colors, with gold and sky blue standing out. The making of this object is one of the greatest works of this master.

Like some of the great artisans, Iris recognized as a child how important it is not only to learn this art but also to teach it. She said in an interview for the Masters’ Site: “Although I am very happy about this recognition, I always think that my teacher, who is still alive and still weaving with her hands, is the true master of the masters”. It is essential for an indigenous culture to recognize how important it is to pass this knowledge on.

Social networks

If you are interested, you can follow Iris on her Instagram page, but unfortunately, she is not very active.

María Concepción Iguarán

Specialty: Wayúu weaving
Status: Medal for the traditional championship in 2019.

Another great master of Wayúu weaving is María Concepción Iguarán or “Conchita” as she is often called. She has dedicated her life to passing on the culture of her people through her weaving, which is why she was awarded the Medal for Traditional Mastery in 2019.

She learned the art of weaving from an early age by watching her mother and the other women in the ward. During this time she learned the importance of Wayúu weaving. For this reason, she gathered a group of 25 weavers who make various objects in order to pass on the culture of their people.

Today this teacher is known for her blankets, chinchorros (hammocks) and backpacks that represent her culture. In addition, she was one of the initiators of the Wayúu cultural festival, which has been held in June since 1985. The festival takes place in Uribia (La Guajira), a community that is considered the indigenous capital of Colombia. During this festival, various artistic and gastronomic performances of the Wayúu culture take place.

The teacher María Concepción Iguarán is also considered the guardian of the Wayúu tradition thanks to her work in weaving and as a promoter of events that expand the culture of her people.

Narcisa Chindoy

Specialty: weaving with colored threads.
Status: Medal for traditional championship in 2012.

Narcisa Chindoy, originally from Putumayo, is considered one of the best artisans in this department, as she has an incredible talent for the art of weaving with colored threads and also tries to pass on her knowledge.

Narcisa is a member of the Camëntzá indigenous community based in the Putumayo department in the Amazon region. This group is known not only for their work in agriculture but also for their craftsmanship.

Narcisa’s work is based on passing on the culture of her people through her art. In the text “Los Kamentza para poseer la historia de los mayores en nosotros” the master mentions: “What I have learned from the masters is that in their weaving they weave a series of patterns that are based on experiences, stories and narratives of our people are related “.

Narcisa makes clothing typical of her culture, such as the sash (or tsömbiac, as it is called in the Camëntzá language), which is woven in a variety of colors and is used to hold the blanket worn by the natives. Their design takes into account the history of the people.

In addition, Narcisa produces various decorative objects that are characterized by their variety of colors. Since the work of this master helps spread the culture and history of her people, she was awarded the Medal for Traditional Mastery in 2012.

Artisans from Nobsa

Specialty: Ruanas (ponchos)
Status: Manufacturing the largest ruana in the world.

About three hours from Bogotá is Nobsa, a small community in the Boyacá department that generally goes unnoticed but has a decades-long tradition of craftsmanship: the production of ruanas.

Nobsa is also known as the Rwandan capital of the world. When you visit this community, you will find a wide variety of stores to buy these handcrafted clothing items.

The locals pride themselves on creating the largest ruana in the world with a length of 35 meters and a width of 20 meters. This project lasted 6 months and was completed in 2009.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit Nobsa and one of the 50 artisans who worked on the project told us, “We did this with all the artisans during Ramon Cristancho’s reign and we looked at it from top to bottom attached to the church “. He told us with a smile that this creation was a source of pride for her.

Julio Ramón Cristancho, one of the architects of the largest ruana project in the world, also had the privilege of making a ruana for Pope Francis. This happened in 2017 and he needed more than 4,000 grams of white sheep’s wool for it.

Ana Silvia Rincon Ojeda

Specialty: spinning with wool
Status: Medal for handicraft championships “Legacy” in 2019.

Great artisans begin their journey in childhood. This is the case of Ana Silvia Rincón Ojeda, who discovered her love for wool when she was only 4 years old.

For decades Ana dealt with sheep’s wool, cleaned it and spun it in order to later sell it at the market in Sogamoso, a municipality in the Boyacá department. The grandmother of the spinners, as she is called, has managed to pass on her passion to her 16 children and some of her grandchildren.

She managed to get her eldest grandson to help her in the art of wool spinning and at the same time to introduce him to the art. For her efforts to pass on her knowledge, she was awarded the “Legacy” medal for master craftsmanship in 2019 at the age of 94.

Despite her advanced age, the wool she spun could still be found in Sogamoso markets in 2019.

Artisan masters in the Guarnielería

Rubén Darío Agudelo Bohórquez

Specialty: clothing manufacturing
Status: Winner of the medal for traditional handicraft championships 2016.

In the department of Antioquia, about three hours from Medellín, is the city of Jericó, one of the 17 cultural heritage cities of Colombia. This place is characterized by its colonial style and colorful streets.

In addition, Jericó is also characterized by some craft traditions. The city is known as the world capital of the “Guarniel”, one of the most traditional objects in the city.

The Guarniel is a type of bag that has been used by farmers in Jericó since colonial times. It is made entirely of leather and has 12 pockets, 5 of which are secret. It used to be useful for carrying things like documents or love letters that you didn’t want to be discovered. Nowadays the inhabitants of this village use it to transport their most important belongings.

Many years ago the guarniel was common in several places in Antioquia, but gradually this tradition has been lost and today there are few places left where this bag is used. It is for this reason that the artisans who make this item are so valued and one of the most famous of them is Rubén Darío Agudelo Bohórquez.

Rubén is a craftsman who learned how to make the Guarniel from his father, who won the National Prize for Masterwork in 1987 and taught his son everything he needed to know about the Gararnielería.

At the age of 17 Rubén began working in the saddlery and passed on his knowledge to his children and relatives throughout his life. Thanks to his dedication and persistence in spreading the Guarniel culture, this master was awarded the medal for traditional craft championships in 2016.

Rubén’s website

Rubén currently has his workshop in Jericó and, together with his daughters, started an initiative called Carrielarte, where they sell the Guarniel and other items such as purses and bags. You can discover his products on the website.

Artisan masters of wood carving

Angel Marino

Specialty: traditional mask carving
Status: Winner of the “Master of Traditional Crafts” medal in 2001, recognition as “Master of Masters” in 2015.

Another member of the Camëntzá indigenous community and recognized artisan is Ángel Marino. This man has been making traditional masks that represent the stories and beliefs of his people for more than 20 years.

The master grew up with the myths and legends of this indigenous community. His father was an artisan and made musical instruments and traditional backpacks. He started his work at the age of 23 and decided to devote himself to spreading the Camëntzá culture.

Ángel has made ancestral faces, bateas de ofrenda (a kind of basket), and other works related to his community. You can see some of his creations at this link.

Angel currently runs the JACAM handicraft workshop, which is located in an indigenous reserve in Camëntzá in the Putumayo department. Thanks to his efforts, he was awarded the Championship Medal of Traditional Crafts in 2001 and was named the Master of Masters in 2015.

Fernando Roa Caviedes

Specialty: woodworking
Status: Medal for contemporary championships 2014.

Fernando Roa Caviedes is undoubtedly one of the people who have the most knowledge of working and dealing with wood. He has been in this field for more than 20 years.

The master creates many kinds of bowls, containers, vases and decorative items with unique and beautiful designs. He has received numerous national and international awards and is also active as a teacher. He was also a teacher at the Fundación Escuela Taller de Bogotá in the field of carpentry. Thanks to his talent and teaching vocation, he was awarded the 2014 Contemporary Mastery Medal.

Website of the Fundación Escuela Taller de Bogotá

I did not find a website or social network of master Fernando, but it is possible to buy some of his handcrafted pieces through the website of the Fundación Escuela Taller de Bogotá. There are also works by other carpenters there.

Artisan masters in hatmaking

Marcial Montalvo

Specialty: Recognized as a Master of the Vueltiao Hat.
Status: Recognized as a Master of Masters in 2013.

One of the most important symbols of Colombian culture is without a doubt the Vueltiao hat. This garment has been worn by important personalities such as former US President Bill Clinton, the current Pope Francis and athletes such as tennis player Roger Federer.

This hat is a tradition of the indigenous culture of the Zenú, a community mainly located in the department of Cordoba on the Caribbean coast. Members of this community never thought it could become so popular, but its history began in the 1980s.

In 1985, Miguel “Happy ‘Lora”, a Colombian boxer, became the bantamweight world champion and wore this headgear during the festivities, which made the garment famous. Later, a member of the Zenú community, Marcial Montalvo, saw the opportunity to popularize this garment. Thanks to the proliferation of “Happy ‘Lora” and other artists like singer Alejo Durán, the country now knows what the Vueltiao hat is.

Since childhood, the master Marcial has worked with the “caña flecha” (the material from which the hat is made) and after observing the increasing interest of the country in this garment, he began to work hard to increase the popularity of the Vueltiao To receive hats.

Marcial not only made hats, but in 1996, together with other artisans, founded the hat festival Vueltiao, which is celebrated every January in his hometown of Tuchín (Córdoba).

Thanks to his efforts, the Vueltiao hat has gained increasing recognition both nationally and internationally. The master was able to meet various important personalities over the years, for example in 2014 the British heir to the throne Prince Charles, who visited Colombia and even wore the hat.

Thanks to all his efforts, Master Marcial is recognized as a master of masters in the development of the Vueltiao hat.

Marcial Montalvo’s social networks

You can find the master on Instagram, through his initiative called Tejeduría Caña Flecha, from where you can place orders across the country.

Celvina Ramirez

Specialty: Recognized as a Master of the Suaceño Hat.
Status: Winner of the Medal for Traditional Craftsmanship 2017

A humble and hardworking woman named Celvina Ramírez lives in the Huila department, who is considered a master at making Suaceño hats. With their white color and elegant design, the Suaceño hats are considered one of the traditional Huila garments. Celvina has been making these hats for more than 60 years.

She learned to weave from her mother and has passed her knowledge on to her daughters. In an interview with Artesanías de Colombia, she said: “I have seven daughters and I taught them to weave when they were five, six and seven years old, they all learned it. I had to put them on high seats so they could get the fiber Now one of them has died, but all the others are still weaving “. This ensures that this technique will last for a long time.

Thanks to her talent, she has succeeded in promoting her creations in more than 37 communities in Colombia, including Neiva and Florencia, but also in cities such as Bogotá and Cartagena. Thanks to all her work, she was awarded the medal for traditional craft championships in 2017.

Ernesto Gutiérrez Jara

Specialty: Recognized as a master of the Palermuno Pindo hat.
Status: Recognized as a Master of Masters in 2020.

Also in the Huila department, we find another hat typical of the region, the pindo palermuno. Ernesto Gutiérrez Jara is one of the leading representatives in the manufacture of this garment. This hat is made from pinal, a traditional crop from some parts of Huila, the fibers of which can be used to make bags, purses or clothing.

Ernesto Gutiérrez is one of the greatest eminences when it comes to making this type of hat. He learned the necessary technique from his mother and has been making hats for more than 50 years. The master currently has his workshop in Palermo (Huila) and works with around 200 people. Thanks to his talent, he was named the Master of Masters in 2020.

Ernesto Gutiérrez Jara’s networks

You can find information about him on this website, such as: B. His bio, and you can also find his phone number and email address. You can also follow him on Facebook to see his latest creations.

Artisan masters in varnishing

José María Obando

Specialty: Master in the technique of grass varnish or Mopa-Mopa.
Status: Recognition as a Master of Masters in 2012.

As mentioned earlier, many of the great master craftsmen have inherited techniques that have been used for decades or even centuries. This is the case with José María Obando, a master of the pasto lacquer technique that dates back to the 18th century.

It is said that some settlers from Pasto moved to the Putumayo department around 1750. There they discovered that some indigenous groups used the resin from a tree called Mopa-Mopa to impregnate household items and for other purposes, such as improving the accuracy of their arrows.

When the colonists returned to Pasto, they began to carve the resin from the mopa-mopa tree into lacquer panels and realized that, with proper handling, it could be used to decorate pottery, vases, and other items.

Nowadays this technique is still alive thanks to the master José María Obando, who has his workshop in the town of Pasto (Nariño) and decorates pieces of wood, vases, and other elements with the lacquer plates made of Mopa-Mopa resin.

Although the master tried to pass this technique on to his family members, he mentions in an interview with Página 10 that, in his opinion, the Pasto lacquer has an expiration date: “I think that it will take another 20 or 30 years at most, until it (and the technology) disappears, because my children still work with it, but my grandchildren no longer “. This shows once again how important it is to convey this ancient knowledge in order to prevent it from disappearing.

Nevertheless, this technique is also practiced by other artisans but is currently only known to a few people in Pasto. Thanks to his work and his mastery of the pasto lacquer technique, he was named master of masters in 2012. Here you can see a video in which the master performs the technique.

Lesther Narvaez

Specialty: Master in the technique of grass varnish
Status: Awarded the master’s medal “Social Work”.

We return to the town of Pasto once more to talk about another artisan who has mastered the technique of mopa-mopa, in this case Lesther Narvaez. Unlike other master craftsmen, Lesther did not learn the technique from his parents or grandparents, but when he married his brother-in-law, who worked with lacquer, began to teach him.

Lesther learned to use the mopa-mopa resin, but what is really remarkable is that he began to use his talent to help young people in need. Master began taking in young people with family or behavioral problems and using varnish to help them become better people. In an interview with El Tiempo newspaper, he said: “I don’t close the doors to anyone and that’s why several young people have come to me to learn and give them a chance … Then I guide them and tell them that this is not a job, but a way of creating something “.

Thanks to his many years of work, he was awarded the master’s medal “Social Work” in 2019.

Artisan masters in jewelry

Nuria Carulla

Specialty: Expert in handmade jewelry.
Status: Awarded the Contemporary Master Craftsmanship 2016 medal.

One of the greatest experts in jewelry and silverware in Colombia is undoubtedly Nuria Carulla, who, with more than 50 years of work in these fields, is considered one of the most important personalities in this handicraft branch.

Nuria studied various techniques in Europe, which she later implemented in Colombia, which is why she is considered a master in the implementation of artistic and contemporary jewelry.

What she calls functional jewelry is based on her experience in creating jewelry. In addition, she endeavors that her creations are not exclusively intended for men or women, but that everyone can appreciate and wear them.

Thanks to all these achievements, she was awarded the medal for contemporary master craftsmen in 2016.

Nuria Carulla’s networks

Nuria created her own brand called Nuria Carulla Joyas. You can follow her on Instagram to see her latest creations.

Artisan masters of basket weaving

Crucelina Chocho

Specialty: baskets with Werregue fibers.

Status: Recognized with the Medal Maestría Artesanal Tradicional 2020.

The Waunana indigenous community lives in the commune of Litoral Del Bajo San Juan in the Chocó department (they can be found in different parts of the department and in Panama). Thanks to the famous Werregue, its members have a traditional craftsmanship.

The werregue is a beautiful basket made of very colorful plant fibers, which usually has patterns that allude to nature, geometric figures or the beliefs of the Waunana. The Werregue is made from the fibers of the Werregue palm. Although many of this tribe are recognized as great artisans in this technique, it is one woman who excels at this art, Crucelina Chocho.

Master learned the art of werregue weaving from her mother and grandmother at the age of eight. Her talent has led her to be invited to the Folk Art Market, which is considered the largest craft fair in the world.

Thanks to her commitment to this technique, she was awarded the medal for traditional craft championships in 2020.

Expoartesanías: an opportunity to get to know the work of the masters

Website: https://expoartesanias.com/

In some cases, these masters’ works are difficult to acquire because they are in remote locations, or they sell their works to third parties who have them displayed in stores in different cities.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t purchase these items. In Colombia, there are several fairs in which artisans participate with their creations, and the most important of these is the Expoartesanías.

Most of the artisans exhibiting here have already had the opportunity to sell at this fair. In case you are interested, the Expoartesanías takes place every December. This year (2021) the Expoartesanías will take place from December 7th to 20th in Bogotá.

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