Posting Buenos Aires December 11, 2008:
At La Rural, Buenos Aires' huge convention center, the first two weekends of December are devoted to the annual Artisans' Fair. At this huge juried event, artisans from all over Argentina as well as a smattering from Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru exhibit and sell an array of extraordinary wares ranging from embossed leather game boards, to double-spiral lamps carved from a single piece of carob wood, to virtuoso needlework textiles. Most of the goods are very reasonably priced with nearly endless selections under $50 US. On the high end, handbags, shoes and jackets made from suri (the South American ostrich leather) and inlaid marquetry wood murals are standouts that, while more costly, seem to be excellent value considering their beauty.

Needlework techniques vary by region. The women who keep these highly skilled traditions alive are as interested in educating the visitor about it as in actually selling the work. So, 5-needle crochet from Entre Rios, single needle randa from Tucuman and embroidery with plant-dyed wools from Santa Fe are all on view with demonstrations and explanations by lovely, serious women who devote their time and talent to keeping these traditional needlework forms alive.

randa embroidery I learned how randa needlework from northwest Argentina reflects a melding of South American and European skills and cultures:
"When the Spanish arrived the hills of Tucumán were inhabited by several distinct aboriginal tribes, among which the most fully developed were the Diaguitas and the Calchaquies who lived in the steep valleys in western part of the region. These aboriginal people were intimately related to the Inca Empire and were excellent weavers and potters. They also wove the "randa" in a very primitive way.

The 16th century colonizers came with their wives--ladies from Castile, Spain--who wove mantillas, fine laces and picot. These women liked the natives' rustic randa and they developed it further it by putting it into embroidery frames to be further embellished. In this way, the "primitive randa" or "malla criolla" and the "embroidered randa" were born.

Embroidered Randa Needlework from Tucumán
in the Artisans' Fair, Buenos Aires
Primitive randa (malla criolla) is woven with cotton thread by means of a needle and a little stick. Its ornamentation consists of small raised knots made at the time the malla is woven. Embroidered randa is made in a two-part process in which the malla is woven then put into an embroidery frame where it is stretched tightly then embroidered." Information courtesy of Rosa Elvira Pedraza de Arévalo, a descendent of generations of Tucumán randeras.

So, 600 years after Spanish colonization at the Artisans' Fair in Buenos Aires, history comes alive in a tangible way to anyone who will take just a moment to observe and listen.

Posting Buenos Aires November 13, 2008:
Showing me a stack of his student projects, Eolo Pons reminded me that abstraction, per se, was a new and exciting concept to the young artists in his milieu in Argentina in the 1930's.

Or course, New York painter Lynne Frehm (more than a generation younger than Pons) says:
All good paintings are abstract--(i.e. they work abstractly).

But the conscious manipulation of an image: developing it from minimal, monochromatic 2-dimensional elements into a complicated 3-dimensional, figurative work with light and color, then flipping the idea and reverse engineering the process--this imaginative and playful manipulation was a contribution of early 20th century modernism.

Whether or not it is obvious in a work of art, the ability to model such a transformation, not just mentally but with physical materials, provides a pliable net that helps sustain it.

Then, it became clear to me how Juana Lumerman (an Argentine painter from the mid-20th century) was able to make such a fluid transition from her figurative dance, candombe and futbol pieces to her interlocking circular geometric abstractions: these were all stages of development of related compositional ideas.

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