Kieron Marchese

Artesanos’ slow design workshops return craft to a calm, masterful process

Artesanos is a Peruvian initiative uniting local artisans and designers in a slow, more sustainable revolution.

In a world where speed often trumps quality, a humble initiative nestled amidst the rugged beauty of Peru’s Andean peaks invites designers to take a pause. Called Artesanos (which translates from Spanish to mean “artisans” in English), the initiative is guided by the philosophy of slow design and seeks not just to create furniture but to weave a narrative of patience, dedication, and cultural reverence into every piece. 

The birth of Artesanos

Established in the 1970s as part of Operazione Mato Grosso (OMG), a youth movement initiated by Padre Ugo De Censi, Artesanos aims to offer not just nourishment, but also a means of empowerment for impoverished youth through the transformative power of art and slow design, which it describes as ‘a concept that transforms every product into a testimony of the patience and dedication employed in its creative process.’

“Every step leading to the final result is a tribute to slowness and reflection,” says Artesanos. “From the careful selection of wood to the moment of artisanal craftsmanship, everything happens calmly and with respect for the material and the surrounding environment.”

“This approach not only gives authenticity to every piece made but also results in long-lasting and valuable furniture, countering contemporary frenzy with the ancient slowness of civilizations now almost entirely disappeared.” Every chair, every stool, every table tells a story of artisanal skill, speaking also of respect, awareness, and solidarity. 

The Artesanos initiative has its roots in the political unrest of Peru during the 1980s. In the Peruvian Andes, where the Shining Path insurgency wreaked havoc on local communities, the need for social and economic recovery was immense. It was in response to such upheaval that initiatives like Artesanos were founded, inspired by principles of resilience and community support. 

A beacon of support and solidarity

The initiative employs the same approach it did in the 1970s, teaching skills in sculpting and carving in a bid to create a future free from poverty, intertwining beauty with social change. Over the decades, Artesanos has grown into a crucial support network for over 400 artisans, spreading its impact across the Peruvian Andes and beyond. This initiative has established schools, soup kitchens, hospitals, and more, serving as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. 

It has also focused on providing spaces for artisans to hone their craft, in workshops known as ‘talleres’. Among them are carpenters, carvers, wood and stone sculptors, glassmakers, mosaic artists, painters, and restorers, along with craftswomen specialised in knitting, weaving, and embroidery.

In 2021, curators Luisa Bertoldo and Davide Fabio Colaci joined forces with volunteers and other creatives to rejuvenate the essence of Artesanos’ legacy, breathing new life into the talleres. These efforts continue to shape not just clay and wood, but the destinies of countless individuals, crafting a narrative of hope and renewal in the wake of past conflicts.

Among those selected for this new chapter were Italian designers Maddalena Casadei, Giulio Iacchetti, and the design duo Zaven (Enrica Cavarzan and Marco Zavagno). They travelled to Chacas, the headquarters of Artesanos, located 4000 metres up in the Andes, to collaborate with the artisans on new wood designs.

Discover Artesanos

Slow Design by Artesanos 2
Ph. Alessandro Treves

Revitalising tradition with collaborative design

Industrial designer Giulio Iacchetti, a two-time Compasso d’Oro winner and co-founder of the Alessi sub-brand Il Tornitore Matto, worked with local artisans to create the JAKU seating and table collection. It features clear geometric shapes and an intricately crafted chair backrest with a 3D texture, showcasing the exceptional skills of the artisans from Chacas.

One significant integration of Peruvian culture was through the treatment of the chair backrest, which showcased the artistic abilities of artisans from Chacas, Peru. The intricate 3D texture applied to the backrests not only added visual intrigue but also served as a testament to the high-quality craftsmanship and artistic traditions of the region.

Architect and designer Maddelena Casadei gained international experience collaborating with James Irvine from 2004 to 2012 before establishing her own studio in Milan in 2017. During her time in Peru, she developed the Kero Series, a selection of low tables crafted from 30x30cm modules with distinctive carved edges that transform them into focal points. As well as sourcing local materials, her choice of intricate carving is a nod to the artisanal skills and cultural motifs found in Peruvian craftsmanship.

Founded in 2008 by Enrica Cavarzan and Marco Zavagno, the Zaven studio is renowned for its expertise in product design, graphics, installations, and art direction. Their design ethos centres around a meticulous analytical process, emphasising formal clarity and sustainable principles. 

At the collaborative workshop, the studio developed the Chaka armchair, a fusion of Andean cultural influences and local craftsmanship. It utilises natural wood sourced from Northern Peru and infuses it with vibrant colour accents for a universally appealing aesthetic—a striking red line weaves through the design, representing the interconnectedness of cultures, people, and nature.

The philosophy of slow design in a fast-paced world

Artesanos is much more than a design project: it is an expression of hope and trust in the future. At the centre is also a community identity of the Peruvian Andes, which extends to the rest of the world as an example of international collaboration and shared creativity. 

Born with the aim of providing work and dignity to disadvantaged people, the initiative has become a true creative hub, with a headquarters at 4,000 metres altitude and a network of workshops that today create excellent products, enriched by the visions of Italian designers through a process that embraces the true philosophy of ‘slow design.’

“Artesanos represents much more than a simple organisation: it is an opportunity for artisans from the Andean communities, who have the chance to express their creativity and mastery by creating authentic works of art, without having to leave their roots and their land – thus preserving a culture that risks being lost in the whirlwind of modernity.”

“In an increasingly fast and impersonal world, the slow design of the artisans reminds us of the importance of slowing down, appreciating artisanal processes, and connecting with the hands, people, history, and nature that surround us.”

DW Specials _ Artesanos logo

Artesanos is an expression of hope, a trust in the future, and the communal identity of the Peruvian Andes that extends to the rest of the world as an example of international collaboration and shared creativity.

Ph. Alessandro Treves
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