Folklore Olga Fisch Quito is home to one of South America’s finest private museums. Our small museum in Quito contains artifacts from Ecuadorian pre-columbian civilizations and post-colonial art. Our collection will give you an awe-inspiring taste of the rich heritage of Andean art in Ecuador.
You can view these pieces and more like it in our Quito Museum. Purchase your own unique Ecuadorian art in one of our 5 shops in mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos during your next Ecuador tour. If you are interested in learning more about Ecuadorian culture and the history of Ecuador, please visit our Art in Ecuador page for many great articles about each region’s artisans and arts. View our main location to visit our Quito museum and do some Quito shopping.
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Visit our Virtual Tours page for a visual walk-around of the Quito museum or take a more in-depth look at a few of our thousands of pieces with the below photos and written descriptions:
Chorrera - 1500 B.C.E. – 400 B.C.E.The Chorrera were located especially in the provinces of Guayas, Manabí and northern Esmeraldas. Their ceramics reached a high level of perfection. They worked with select clays with which they achieved thin, fine and highly polished surfaces with multicolored decorations.
With the Chorrera we find a diversity of containers such as bowls and plates, whose decorations reflect the high level of technology they achieved. For example, they applied iridescent paint with which they achieved brilliant and opaque black surfaces.
Chorrera vessels reproduced human figures and figures reflecting the kind of food they ate: cereals, and vegetables such as pineapple, squash, guava, and pumpkin. There are also containers representing animals such as monkeys, snails, ducks and dogs, as well as images of the surrounding environment, such as ocean waves and vegetation.
Guangala - 350 B.C.E - 600 A.C.EVestiges of this culture are found along the coast in the provinces of Guayas and southern Manabí. Their delicate ceramics were made in diverse forms and colors, including black, gray, and a range of reds.
The human figure had great importance for this culture. Men and women are frequently standing up, kneeling, or sitting with a solemn attitude, suggesting some type of adoration or religious cult. There are perforations in the ears and nose which surely relate to the bodily decorations they used. Cranial deformation was another custom related to decoration of the body.
There exists an abundance of containers made of shell to hold llipta, an alkaline substance with which they mixed the coca for chewing, another ceremonial tradition. These ancestors of today’s Ecuadorians were already practicing agriculture. Their remains also show their development in the exchange of products with the inhabitants of other areas both near and far.
Valdivia- 4500 B.C.E - 2500 B.C.EValdivia was located in Guayas and Manabí in the north, and their vestiges reached El Oro Province to the south. This was one of the first human settlements to integrate agriculture into daily life, the products of which constituted an important part of the population’s diet. These products were complemented with hunting, fishing and the collection of vegetables and mollusks.
Some inhabitants lived in populous centers while others were dispersed throughout the countryside. For the construction of their houses they took advantage of the vegetation that surrounded them.
The inhabitants of Valdivia were the first human groups in what is now Ecuador to develop ceramics, examples of which have been found in multiple forms. They employed a technique of joining rolls of clay through which they achieved a unity of material to create form and to decorate in distinct ways. Stone, shell and bone figures were also made in Valdivia.
Puruhúa- 500 A.C.E - 1532 A.C.EThis culture inhabited the present day province of Chimborazo in the central Ecuadorian Andes. Their material legacy is found particularly in ceramic pieces for daily use, saucers with tall feet decorated in white and red. Ceramics that may have had ceremonial purposes have been found, among them pitchers, glasses and vessels made by ceramicists with a command of the human form. Some cups represent the human head.
There is an abundance of tall-necked pitchers upon which faces are represented adorned with earrings and necklaces. The rest of the body is reproduced on the vessel’s belly, upon which the ceramicists used small ropes of clay to make designs of arms and hands.
Among the Puruhá metal not only served to make personal adornments and items with a golden staff of command that illustrated power, it was also employed for daily use items, such as hunting spears and weapons, propellants, spear darts made of chonta wood bathed in gold, copper hatchets and arrow points, and items made of silver.
Jama Coaque- 355 B.C.E - 1532 A.C.EThrough their art the Jama-Coaque ceramicists sent their messages to the present day, telling us of a stratified society and a highly developed culture that maintained a division of labor with different activities for each role, including warriors, farmers, dancers, navigators, musicians, and priests in cult-like poses. A full range of distinctly formed figures decorated in various colors makes up the body of Jama-Coaque ceramics.
The human body was shown in multiple positions. They practiced cranial deformation, and wore multi-colored adornments that reflected the rich natural surroundings, depicting pineapples, corn, pumpkins, snails, and feathers, among other images. Decorating their bodies are necklaces, bracelets, chest plates, nose rings, headdresses and earrings. The male figure, when it is not nude, wears less decoration than the female figure.
From the figures in their ceramics and the type of decorations simulating birds with negative paint (white on red or post-firing in green, yellow and red tones), we can presume they had pre-Hispanic contact with cultures of the northern Ecuadorian coast and those which developed in Central America.
Remains that prove their existence have been found on the Ecuadorian coast, in Cojimíes in the south of Esmeraldas, and from Bahía to Caráquez in Manabí. Their extensive legacy especially includes pieces in metal, stone, shell and clay. The Jama-Coaque ceramicists used molds, hollow figures that were filled with clay and with which they achieved conformity in the pieces they created in series.
They excelled in the production of cylindrical seals with cavities which were used for body decoration and possibly also for textiles printing also stand out. These accompanied containers of multiple forms, with and without feet, whose elaborate decorations suggests they were not only utilitarian but also ceremonial. Their decorations fused human figures with those of animals, cats with long fangs, or serpents that circled the pieces.
Bahía- 850 B.C.E - 600 A.C.EBahía culture was located south of today’s Manabí Province, with ceremonial centers located on the islands of La Plata and Salango. Its ritual practices and characters have remained, represented in figures manufactured from metal, shells, ceramics and stone with evident ceremonial purposes, representing serpents or serpent-like figures that reveal Bahía myths and beliefs.
The Bahía ceramics that have remained for posterity, with their polished, brilliant surfaces, provide examples of the technological advances achieved by those who made them. We have also unearthed utilitarian ceramics, including graters in a variety of forms, especially in the form of fishes, which must have been used for grinding yuca and other food obtained thanks to the important level of agriculture developed in this period.
The social stratification of Bahía culture was captured in innumerable pieces: larger than life characters represented in ceramics; men and women holding staffs of leadership, clearly commanding some type of authority; others occupying the spiritual world, chewing coca mixed with an alkaline substance called “llipta”,whose boxes and grinding instruments they hold in their hands.
Elaborately dressed, they adorn themselves with simple or complex headdresses and decorate their bodies with pendants symbolizing their sexuality or perhaps their reproductive capacity. According to that which is expressed in their ceramics, women dressed in colored skirts under naked torsos. Since they practiced textile industry, men also clothed their bodies. Standing in solemn postures, or seated in the lotus position, they are depicted alone or in pairs in multicolored ceramics.
Capulí- 700 A.C.E - 1532 A.C.EThe Capulí, who pertain to an ethnic group of the plains located in northern Ecuador and southern Colombia, are also known as the “negative of Carchi” because of their ceramics decorated with negative color.
This technique consisted of applying a resistant material decorated in distinct shapes on the paint on the walls of the surface, after the first firing of the clay. The piece was placed in some type of organic solution, perhaps a mixture of soot and honey, which only covered the areas on which the resistant material had not been put, and then the piece was exposed once more to heat to seal the organic paint. Upon removing the protective layer, the figures appeared in negative.
This treatment was used for the range of cups and vessels that make up their body of work in ceramics. The human figure was prominent in various ways on their containers. They made reproductions of their houses, houses which had rounded walls possibly to provide protection from the cold and to conserve warmth, since as far as we know they inhabited areas in the cold and windy high Andes and upper plains.
It appears that Capulí ceramics were used for special rituals by shamans, or priests, and then buried with them as part of their funerary trousseau, where they are found in profusion. An abundance of plates and saucers have been found with tall, low and medium feet in human, vegetable and animal forms, including marine snails that served as musical wind instruments. Also found buried are delicately crafted pieces of gold used for personal adornment, rattles in golden copper, and items from the sea such as snails and shells.
Piartal- 700 A.C.E - 1532 A.C.EPIARTAL (TUNCAHUÁN), TUZA (CUASMAL) The pastos–farmers, merchants and metalworkers–inhabited Carchi Province in northern Ecuador, from the basin of the Chota-Mira Rivers to the Guáitara River basin in Columbia. They formed a socially stratified group whose levels were distinguished in various ways. It appears that one of these ways was through their ceramics. Three types of pottery have been found: capulí, piartal and tuza
Piartal is characterized by the application of negative paint and designs outlined in red. This type of ceramics was certainly used by people of political importance. Tuza ceramics, decorated in positive paint with designs in red or maroon, were used by the rest of society, who especially inhabited the edges of the mountains.
Among the pastos we find an abundance of deep plates with ring-shaped bases, or pedestals, decorated with a wide range of geometrical motifs and other motifs inspired by the human figure or animals forms, especially monkeys, spiders and frogs.
SealsFrom the Regional Development Period (500 B.C.E. – 500 A.C.E.) onward, the production and use of seals, and stamps used to make personal decorations like tattoos, was spread, and also perhaps the decoration of textiles. Today these objects are found mostly on the north coast, and to a smaller degree in the mountains.
They were generally bathed in vegetable or mineral-derived paint and then imprinted on flat surfaces. They were formed out of clay and sculpted before the firing process.
The seals, round or cylindrical, had various designs: human, vegetable, animal, and, especially among the Jama-Coaque culture in Manabí Province and the Tolita in the province of Esmeraldas (500 B.C.E. – 500 A.C.E.), geometrical and highly abstract designs. In later epochs the Manteño-Huancavilca (500 -1532 A.C.E.) designed flat seals in rectangular and triangular shapes with handles.
Venus of ValdiviaThese figures reproduce the female body and are found in abundance among the remains of the Valdivia culture, suggesting that its inhabitants developed some type of ritual related to fertility in which the Venuses played a transitory role.
Their forms varied according to the passage of time. Earlier Venuses emphasized detail, later ones lost expression and smallness, actually becoming cruder. A good number of them exhibit hairstyles in a multitude of forms. Many of them appear pregnant, with holes in the centers of their bellies and some object inside that hits the walls of the pieces when moved, while others have prominent busts and buttocks showing pubic hair. They were made by making a cylindrical form which was then given arms and an opening to suggest legs.