In September of this year I traveled to La Paz Bolivia with my nephews Art and Theo Simondetti to both create a new collection and to document the work and the place.
We arrived as dawn broke over the soaring Andean Mountains. The air was thin and crisp, and the light laser sharp as we absorbed our first impressions of jumbles of cars and unfolding markets on the sides of the busy El Alto streets. At 5000 meters, it is the highest city in the world.
It was wonderful to watch Art and Theo’s wonder and awe at the mountains surrounding the city and the vibrant Aymara culture on the streets. Cholitas in their perched bowler hats, alpaca honey coloured shawls and full swinging skirts were eating their quinoa porridge while setting out their vegetable stalls.
This was my 6th trip to Bolivia in the last few years and every time I seem to inevitably fall with all the symptoms of altitude sickness. But after a few days and many cups of steaming coca teas I feel better.
The boys and I glided gracefully and silently like birds over the city in their new telephonica’s that are the most wonderful form of public transport ever; little cable cars fly over the city connecting all the mountains and valleys of this extraordinary city.
We went to meet Javier at his workshop to discuss the new collection of work and the sourcing of the gold we wanted to use for it.
Javier started to learn goldsmithing at 11 from his uncle, at 14 he began working down the mines of Tipuani mining for gold as did his father and grandfather, having seen a friend die and himself becoming trapped twice in collapsed tunnels he decided to eventually settle on working with the gold rather then digging for it. He has a busy workshop making traditional filigree pieces for the indigenous Cholita ladies of La Paz.
We discussed ideas over drawings and the potential sourcing of gold. A mine called Yani at over 4000m was certified last year as Fairmined by the Association of Responsible Miners and supported by Cumbre De Sajama. The standard insures through independent auditors that the mine is abiding by standards on environmental protection, social responsibility and fair prices for the miners.
With over 2000 gold mines in Bolivia and most of those working illegally or in dangerous and environmentally hazardous practices Yani is a beacon of hope. Every year the certification requires that higher standards are met to keep the certification and premium. This means with time things will only get better.
While Javier started the work Art, Theo and I went off on a rolling road trip from the warm cloud forest of the Yungas to the icy clear waters of Titicaca and forgotten villages with dwindling communities of farmers – people who have lived on the lakeside and farmed its fertile soils for thousands of years. Now they stand helpless as climate change slowly melts the icy glaciers from the peak tops.
We watched parrots hanging from trees and gleefully chased after great herds of llamas, took an old swan shaped peddle out to explore the lake with giggling village children directing us.
The trip showed us the most extraordinary and inspiring landscape, remarkable people who inhabit it and the fragility of this great land. The gold is smooth and warm to the touch and in the tradition of the pre-Columbian civilizations who created such masterpieces in this venerable material, the land and the gold from within it are one and if we can ensure the gold is extracted as cleanly as possible we are really happy.
Hung on rainbow shades of alpaca these gold nuggets are little treasure, each one unique and beautiful.
To read more about this trip, and the Fairfined Pebble Collection, pleases see:
See a video by Pippa’s nephews Art and Theo Simondetti below: