Medium of Work:
Master artisan José Caisagauano creates shigra bags and purses using weaving methods traditional to the Cotopaxi region of Ecuador, and familiar to generations of Caisagauano’s ancestors. Despite how specific shigras are to Ecuador, the vibrantly hued and creatively patterned woven bags are popular not just regionally, but all over the globe.
Caisaguano first gathers indigenous penco plants, a large, spiny species similar to agave. Gathering its stalks, he returns to his workshop and cuts them into small segments before soaking them in a mixture of water and mud. There, the plant “marinates” for a little over a week, where it softens. These fibers are then mixed with hot dyes. Next, raw materials are separated by color and hung on a rope to dry. The craft of the actual shigra begins with a different group of artisans, who weave the dried fibers into bags. The weaving process begins with an oval base and continues upwards, mixing colors and forming geometric, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic figures.
Traditional to hundreds of years of indigenous communities of Cotopaxi, Caisaguano involves both male and female masters of the craft in his workshop. Most of the artisans he employs though, are women, who carry knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Despite this ancient methodology, today many shigras are woven with wool or synthetic threads. To Caisaguano, it’s crucial to preserve this age-old artform with natural fiber. That’s why, in addition to being a master artisan, he is also a master teacher, intent on sharing his knowledge of creating shigras to young people, with the hope that new generations will maintain this means of making beautiful eye-catching items.