The young silversmith bringing new colours to Argentina’s gaucho traditions
Carolina Fernández Crespi adds her own touch to typical pieces like mates and boleadoras
An essential item in myriad forms
To drink Argentina’s popular mate infusion, you’ll need yerba of course, the green leaf used to make the drink, but just as importantly, as the name of the drink suggests, you’ll need a mate - the cup used to drink it. And ideally, you want one that looks the part.
Mates, with the accompanying bombilla – the metal straw used to drink the infusion – are an essential item in Argentina, and they come in all shapes, colours and materials, from the traditional hollowed out gourds originally used by the gauchos to simple easy to wash plastic cups in the colours of popular football teams. Drinking mate is such an important cultural ritual that locals will tend to own several – a couple for use at home, one for the office, one for the park, perhaps a more elaborately decorated one as an ornament on a bookshelf, . . .maybe even one for the car. We never want to find ourselves anywhere without a mate for company.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that mates were one of the first items that Carolina Fernández Crespi began to craft after she fell in love with silverwork while studying at Raggio Technical School in the neighbourhood of Nuñez. After graduating, she up a workshop in her grandmother’s house nearby and set to work blending form and function to add a modern touch to the more traditional mate designs.
New variations on tradition
Silverwork in Argentina has a long history of tradition associated with the gaucho cowboys, and had long been considered something of a male preserve, but Carolina’s work convinced shops to accept a young female designer with new ideas.
“When I started when I was 25, I’d walk the entire centre of the city with my bag full of mates looking for shops that would sell them,” Carolina says. “It was really tough at first because people didn’t believe that I’d made them myself. It was unusual to find a female silversmith, especially one so young. I had to work a lot to win people’s confidence through the quality of my work. My parents supported me a lot. I still remember the day I phoned them to tell them I’d dols a mate! I was so proud.”
“I use traditional materials – the gourd and silver or nickel silver – but I try to be different with the quality of the engraving. Once I’d won people’s confidence, I started developing my own style more and making more modern variants, more crazy designs, so that people can have a distinct mate that stands out – coloured mates, fuschia mates. At first a lot of shops were hesitant, but I knew that people wanted mates that were different and stood out.”
Keeping the boleadoras swinging
Now an established craftswoman, Carolina makes a range of traditional Argentine craft items as well as mates. Among the most requested are the boleadoras, the traditional lasso that gauchos would used to catch cattle. Carolina makes them out of silver or plata with an ivorine centre with a hand braided leather cord.
“The boleadoras are really beautiful pieces and although they’re something so traditional in our country, there aren’t so many people making them. It’s a pleasure to keep this tradition going because they use these pieces in horse parades and it’s difficult to find them.”
Carolina is one of new generation of local artisans respecting and preserving, but also continuing to develop Argentina’s long and unique crafts tradition from small workshops in the city itself. For a visitor looking to sample these longstanding traditions, there’s plenty of choice, and there’s a mate for every taste.