“To begin, I’m going to tell you the story of my father,” says Elvira Argandoña Morales. She stands before a two-burner gas oven and shelves of wooden hat molds (ormas) crafted out of rich cedar, pine and cypress. We’ve crowded inside her father’s legendary hat workshop, Sombrerería Teodosio Argandoña, located upon a sleepy and slightly inclined street in Maras. The shop’s blue wooden door hangs open and sunlight pours in, bouncing off the rows of stark white hats that line one of the adobe walls.
This is where her father, Teodosio, worked for nearly half a century of his 70-year career, making and mending the iconic high-crown straw hats of Maras, sombreros de mestiza. Since the passing of Teodosio four years ago, Elvira, the youngest of twelve siblings, has been working to preserve not only her father’s craft but a fading piece of Maras tradition.
“My father started with just one hat and ended up repairing 800,040,” she says, while pulling out a stack of dusty notebooks to back up her astoundingly exact number. “He began working in a hat factory in Cusco at a young age, was later offered similar work in Urubamba by his boss and, little by little, he became an independent worker…he knew from experience that before working on a hat it was important to note everything down in order to avoid any confusion or complaints.”
She opens one of Teodosio’s notebooks, the pages turned silky and tan by the passing of time, and flips halfway through to reveal the artisan’s final entries. Following her finger as it slides across her father’s handwriting, we admire the diligent organization of a trusted shop owner. Columns filled with blue and black ink track information such as customers’ names, hat sizes and styles, and even the origin of the client.
Noted between a client from the Sacred Valley town of Huayllabamba and another from Kacallaraccay, a community in Maras, is a customer from the U.S. Towards the end of Teodosio’s career, travel agencies began to bring tourists to his workshop as part of the popular circuit that includes the Maras salt ponds and the circular Inca terraces of Moray. Photos of international visitors donning the iconic Maras hats fashioned by Teodosio have accumulated upon one section of the shop over the years.
Elvira reaches for her own notebook, its crisp pages filled with just over 200 entries. “Now I’m following his exact process to carry on the tradition and to preserve the Maras style of hats,” she tells us, with a shy voice but proud smile. “I do this so that this traditional style doesn’t completely disappear. Already these types of hats are less and less a part of the wardrobe for women here…I don’t have any children to pass this on to, so I’m happy to share the process with anyone that wants to learn.”
As a young girl, Elvira would admire her father as he worked on the hats, often sitting in the shop’s entrance on a small wooden folding chair (which remains, like so many other of her father’s objects and tools, in the shop under Elvira’s thoughtful care). “He didn’t want me to help. He said it was too much work,” she recalls. When her father passed away, Elvira, who lives directly across the street from the workshop, began to practice, pulling from visual memories of her father’s hard work and finishing half-done projects he left behind.
She runs us through the hat-making process as she does with the periodic groups of tourists who stop by to marvel at the hole-in-the-wall artisan workshop. She begins by picking up an iron from its resting spot of an upturned recycled tuna can (just as her father left it) to shape the base straw hat and finishes with the hand sewn stitches across the colored fabric that runs the circumference of the crown. We’re told that black is used by widows; red and blue by single women, and violet is reserved for those who work in the salineras.
It’s a three-day process to create a sombrero de mestiza according to the tradition of Teodosio, and while she could, Elvira has taken no shortcuts to ease the handmade artisan process.
“The workshop is exactly as he left it, and I feel good coming here,” says Elvira. We glance around the workshop one more time. Having learned of its history and importance, Sombrerería Teodosio Argandoña now takes on the energy of an active shrine to a great artisan and father, a community figure whose legacy will live on thanks to his daughter. “When I’m here, it’s like I get another opportunity to talk with him, to reconnect.”
To schedule a visit to Sombrerería Teodosio Argandoña in Maras, contact Elvira: +51 984 024 466
All photos by Erick Andia