Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Traditional Chilean Rawhide Making and Braiding Class Comes to WSU

If you are looking for diversity and culture the WSU Learning Center, Klickitat Co. is your answer. Early this spring we offered a free introduction to “Traditional Chilean Rawhide Making and Braiding.” Centerville, Washington rancher Max Fernandez invited the Learning Center to offer this one of a kind, hands-on class. Spanish-speaking sheepherders and master craftsmen Rolando and David Barrientos taught the class to English-speaking participants using slow and demonstrative hand movements, very few words and a little translating help from Mr. Fernandez.
The first morning started with a fresh hide taken from one of Max’s favorite oxen that had been diagnosed with cancer of the jaw. The huge hide was laid over an 8 foot round watering trough and cut to match the diameter. Mr. Fernandez stated, referring to the holistic use of the ranch animals, “on our ranch the only thing we waste is the bad breath.” David and Rolando carefully cut the entire hide into 3 two-inch circular (spiral) strips measuring approximately 75 feet long, using only a large knife and a keen eye. The strips were then stretched and left to dry. Max then took the students on a tour of his tack room and office. Both rooms were filled with handmade Chilean rawhide items, some of which were made by David and Rolando using rawhide from animals raised on the ranch. Other items were museum quality family heirlooms.
The second day, students had a real chance to try their hand at the art of rawhide. The strips were dehaired using the same razor sharp knife. While taking a rest from the dehairing process David showed the participants several different braids and decorative knots using a piece of rawhide cut into six strands. By the end of the second day students had seen the fresh skin of an ox transformed into useable rawhide.

Day three started with the re-stretching of the rawhide. Students watched earnestly as the strips of rawhide were transformed into a reata (lasso), which would be used by the sheepherders in their daily chores.
Participants left the series of classes with their eyes opened to another world, a world alive, rich in tradition, culture and meaning. The WSU Learning Center – Klickitat Co. and Max Fernandez plan to continue offering classes like this to all who are interested.