Folk art in Paraguay is an expression of the cultural mixture of the Spanish and Guaraní and it has its roots in the old handicraft workshops created in the first towns of the colony. This branch demonstrates the admirable fusion of elements and techniques of the two cultural heritages that it represents.
The great innovations that contribute to the new folk art are the use of kilns for ceramics and the use of the loom for weaving, along with the use of leather and metals in new art forms.
In the field of weaving, the old indigenous geometric motifs became the new wool handicrafts of San Miguel and the cotton handicrafts of Guairá. The Typói, an old traditional outfit worn by Paraguayan women, represents not only the introduction of the loom for working the material called Ao Po’I, but also the embroidery, learned in the workshops in the colony. The Ñandutí, a fine lace shaped like a spider web, made in places like Itauguá and Paraguari, was born as a local adaptation of the lace of Tenerife, Canary Islands.
Basketwork, performed especially in towns like Luque and Limpio, showed equal innovations in the use of new dyes and designs, and by doing so changed some its old guidelines into new objects like woven mbyá-style screens.
Ceramics achieved great development in some towns such as Itá and Tobatí, ancient settlements of indigenous. And as is the case with other handicraft expressions, it introduced new techniques and forms, like manger scenes, whose original models were brought by evangelical Christians, but transformed into unique designs in Paraguay. The ancient ña’ë and other large vases adopted handles modeled after Spanish designs, and the ceramic forms diversified into a large variety of human-like objects, such as the erotic figures of Itá, and into animal-like objects that likened the most diverse animals.
In the area of wood carvings, the colonial missionaries introduced religious handicrafts, promoting the carving of saints and diverse objects for worship. The carving of saints such as Saint Son, Saint Judas and Saint Death has spread considerably, so that the ancient indigenous masks changed to the worship of the “Kamba Ra’anga” (figure of the Black King), each 6th of January, in Tobatí.
Silver handicrafts, which encompasses everything from fine jewelry to religious objects, found its place in Luque, and at the same time adopted Spanish guidelines. On a smaller scale, there was development of handicrafts using gold and stones such as coral. And in the area of metals, ironworks also appeared, with the creation of admirable railings and other forms, in the style used in Spain.
Finally, leather handicrafts, likewise started during the colony, is expressed in a great variety of objects that includes horseback riding accessories, to furniture, to trunks to jugs that flaunt beautiful embossed arabesques, like those made in Carapeguá and other places.
An admirable sample of the most exquisite folk art can be seen in the Museum of Clay, inside the Center for Visual Arts, in the Paraguayan capital. And those who wish to acquire objects of this type, there is a large number of businesses specializing in these wares in the main cities throughout the country.