Domingo Carranza. Talent and creativity of the best hatmakers in Montecristi and possibly in the world.

Domingo Carranza’s family and their story

  • Domingo Carranza
  • The MoMA
  • The School

Domingo, as I call him, is in my opinion and many recognized experts on the subject, one of the most extraordinary artisans of fine toquilla straw hats I have ever known. He was born on December 20th, 1969 in the commune of Pile, Canton of Montecristi. Son of Aura Margarita and Jorge Ignacio, he is the eldest of twelve siblings. 

Since he was 7 years old, his parents and his grandmother Ana María, taught him the art of weaving toquilla straw. Records of this activity of the Carranza Alarcón family have been kept since 1878, being Domingo the sixth generation of artisan weavers in the family. 

Weaving was, and still is, one more of the routines of the inhabitants of the province of Manabí on the coast of the country. Hats were woven for use in the field, for cowboys and muleteers who, with their reams of mules loaded with merchandise, supplied the markets of the provinces. They toured the area habitually and they knew the great quality of the hats of this commune. Thanks to them it was possible to commercialize part of the incipient production.

At first, the child’s small fingers were trained with thick straws, which became mats. Gradually, the result of hours and hours lying on the weaving bench became finer and more delicate, in the most uncomfortable position that a layman could imagine. 

The first hat that passed family scrutiny and quality control to be marketed is still engraved in the mind of that 9-year-old. Proudly, he gave the 90 sucres he received for that job to his mother to make the weekly family market. Since then, his skillful hands have not stopped weaving for a single day, each time with greater skill and talent.

He met Doña Mary more than two decades ago, a woman who, like him, comes from a family of artisans. Together they have formed a beautiful family of 5 children and three grandchildren.

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The Pile Commune is the home of the fine hats of Montecristi

Although he is also a fisherman, peasant, barnyard animal breeder, bricklayer, community leader and weaver instructor, it is still this activity, weaving, the most pleasing for him and the one that makes him feel proudest. Consecrating him as an artisan of incredible talent and abilities. 

Life for this humble and happy family passed without great upheavals or excessive luxuries, until one unfortunate day, Domingo suffered an accident that had him hospitalized for several months and a long year bedridden, with the logical patriarchal concern of how to support his offspring. It was then, when all the family led by Doña Mary and directed by the convalescent Domingo turned to the manufacture of hats, which were badly sold to continue forward in those difficult times. Domingo’s five children emerged as skillful artisans, all together managed to overcome this crisis and never abandoned the art of weaving. With years of practice and the teachings of the best master artisan they could have, some of the best fine hats the world has ever known have come out from this family workshop.

The fame of the hats made by Domingo transcends the borders of Ecuador. In spite of himself, his works of art are widely recognized and valued in London, Dubai, New York, Milan or Moscow, rather than in Quito or Guayaquil. However, life had a good surprise for him, which arrived in the spring of 2017. THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART of New York (MoMA), contacted him to order a hat, which would be exhibited in this cathedral of contemporary art. This is the turning point in Domingo Carranza’s artistic career, not because of the obvious recognition that connoisseurs give to their work, but even more because of the justice that the Carranza family can live with dignity from their art. Therefore, today it is possible to buy directly one of these jewels from the hands of their creator, my dear friend Domingo.

The MoMA. Items: Is Fashion Modern?

Domingo Carranza from Montecristi to The MoMA in New York

 

Until a couple of years ago, I had no idea what this name meant, let alone what relevance it could have in my life. A museum and its managers wanted one of my hats to be exhibited in a fashion show ITEMS: IS FASHION MODERN? 

Even today and within my everyday life I can say that nothing has changed. Except from time to time, some crazy gringo appears through the door of my house with eyes of surprise, asking if I am the same person who exposed a hat at the MoMA. Question that is answered in chorus by my family, neighbors, friends, even I answer proudly YES. 

It is a sad thing that in our own country we do not value the meaning that a symbol of the level of the fine toquilla straw hat, has been exposed in a museum of such status. Some of these pieces are or have been in showcases of the Smithsonian Institute, the fashion week catwalks of Milan, the private collection of the Buckingham Palace, the wardrobes of the White House, the palaces of rich emirs of the Persian Gulf, the Zarzuela’s Palace, the dresser of Madonna, Pavarotti, Brad Pitt, Fernando Alonso and the King of Jordan among others

For this lack of importance that for us producers has, is inversely proportional to the great interest that generates between traders and intermediaries, who take care of putting these pieces within reach of those who value them and pay better. Even ignoring that the famous Panama hat is actually an Ecuadorian hat, produced in the humble commune of Pile.

After a lot of thinking, the best thing that the experience of exposing my hats at MoMA has left me is: to make a great effort and assume the investments necessary to sell directly the fruit of the labor of my family, my community and my own. In this way we try to ensure that some of the wealth generated abroad, around the fine hat, is reinvested in this forgotten area and in these good people who work day by day in what has been their only reality.

It all began one morning, when my son Javier Carranza received an email asking us to contact the Italian curator of an exhibition, at the MoMA museum, which none of us knew how to identify, but it was in New York.

 

Montecristi fine hats are honored at MoMA

 

That same afternoon we traveled to the city, from where we called the person in question. Thanks to his assistant, a very attentive Colombian who served as a translator, we received the order clear, concise and peremptory. They wanted a hat of the highest quality, made entirely by me and had to be delivered on a precise date in mid 2017, by air to an address in that city. The details were agreed upon and I immediately set about the task of making the desired hat to punctually deliver weekly photographs reporting the progress of the work. Throughout the months the hat was taking shape without any inconvenience, so much so that we were well ahead of the agreed deadlines. When the time came to send the hat, I made a bad decision about the company that would do the shipping. The hat took longer than indicated by the carrier and the packaging was seriously damaged. Automatically all the alarms went off at the MoMA and they sent to me many documents that I could not understand, fortunately at that moment I was able to turn to the help of my great friend Hugo, who took control of communications with the museum, the curator in New York and the Ecuadorian postal company. I decided to do the only  thing I know how to do the best, that is to weave like a madman, day and night, while they agreed on what would be done. 

Fortunately my eyes, my hands and my ability to concentrate responded to complete this titanic task. I managed to finish a new hat within the deadline and it was delivered to the museum. A few days later we received an invitation to the opening gala of the exhibition. Here comes another big problem because I didn’t have a visa, nor the resources to pay for the flights and the stay in New York.

 

Providentially, thanks to previous works sold to relevant people of our society, I had the great luck to receive logistical, economic and moral help from the first lady of Ecuador, Mrs. Rocío González Navas, wife of our president Lenín Moreno, the Ambassador of the Republic of France in Ecuador, Mr. Jean-Baptiste Chauvin, the Ambassador of the United States of America in Ecuador, Mr. Todd C. Chapman and all the members of their teams who advocated for my cause, to get such precious help. I take this opportunity once again to give them Eternal Thanks.  

I finally got the tickets and visa on time, in addition to Hugo’s company, who acted as translator and interpreter during my trip to New York to attend the gala. This trip is one of the most important experiences I have had the pleasure of living. For all those who know my humble home and how happy I live in it together with my family, will sound familiar my greatest astonishment  from the very landing at JFK airport, the accommodation we had arranged in Manhattan, on the fifth avenue, the MoMA, the gala and the recognition of many people who greeted me and were interested in my work during the exhibition. It was incredible for me to witness how my art was known outside. To think that there are people who know, even better than me to whom they have been sold and where some of my hats are.  

This trip and all these experiences led me to take the decision to directly manage this website that allows me to approach customers who want to know my hats. I consider it the best teaching of this great moment in my professional career. Therefore I invite you to know a little more about my art and about toquilla straw hats in general. 

 

The school of craftsmen, a dream, a necessity

 

For some years now I belong to ASOPILEHATS, this is an association that groups part of the artisans who are dedicated to the production of toquilla straw hats. Many of us are linked to the Weavers’ workshop school. Some of us as teachers, others as apprentices, we wish to preserve this art that has been transmitted from generation to generation; only and exclusively through oral tradition and the irreplaceable routine of seeing and repeating when we are children what we see our parents and grandparents weave for hours.

Weaving is innate to our community, but we must professionalize and perfect our art in order to offer our products directly. This is one of my objectives, that is why whenever I can and when my community requires it, I try to participate in all those activities aimed at ensuring that young people do not abandon this art

The school is one of the fundamental projects to fulfill this purpose. Each of us must contribute our grain of sand so that the century-old tradition that we treasure in our intangible heritage may be known by our grandchildren and by the grandchildren of our grandchildren.

Occasionally some of our clients, wants to collaborate in this arduous task, if this is your case and you want to make a contribution either financially or materially, I will be very grateful to receive that help and to involve all members of our community. The last donations I have received were destined to buy a specialized ironing station and to finance this E-Commerce project, made by my great friend Ausberto Hernández, from Spain in July 2018. Thanks to these contributions many humble families can have an opportunity to dignify their work.