From Darien Rainforests to Telluride: Opening reception Thursday, July 26, 4 – 8 p.m. Gallery hours, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily.
Their story is written in palm fiber – the Wounaan Indians from the Darien Rain Forest in Panama believe they emerged from the palm trees – and natural dyes from tree (chunga palm) bark, fruits, leaves and earth, then shaped into the baskets that shape their lives.
The Wounaan Indian tribe numbers just under 10,000 members. Their weaving is prized for its bold designs, quality of technique, and the uniqueness of each one-of-a-kind object. The coil construction method is a historically revered basketry tradition, also seen in the widely collected antiques produced by Native American weavers as early as the 17th century. Of the work represented by Rainforest Baskets, gallery director Jennifer Kuyper explains:
“The patron relationship we have with the Wounaan weavers, paying artists along the way to create commissions that often take several years, allows the very best weavers to work with us. We are the only entity using this modality with our weavers, and we are proud to say that they are some of the most highly compensated indigenous artists in the world: the makers set the cost of each basket and receive the majority share of the income from gallery sales. They feel supported in continually pushing their art form to new levels of creativity and intricacy, and passing along the techniques and traditions of basketmaking to their sisters, friends, and daughters.”
Weavers, mostly women, use gallery income to modernize their homes with materials such as wood and cinder blocks, provide education for their children, and to preserve―and challenge clear-cutting and agricultural destruction of―their fragile natural resource for raw materials: the rainforest.
Each basket is handwoven using all-natural elements and vegetal dyes gathered locally. Two types of Darien palm are incorporated; Naguala, a short, bushy palm-like river grass which is thick, sturdy, and used in the core and base of coils, and Chunga, a big-leafed palm tree festooned in six-inch spikes along its trunk and extremely dangerous to gatherers. Employed as a young frond, Chunga fibers are flexible and silken, utilized by the most skilled weavers to form the smallest, finest details of their designs.
These beautiful, museum-quality baskets are “timed” from the inception of the coil to the coil’s completion, and the number of months indicated for a work’s construction does not include the time required for harvest, shredding, bleaching, or dyeing.
Rainforest Baskets of Albuquerque, New Mexico brings a second show of museum-quality contemporary Wounaan basketry to town. Two distinctive collections will be on display at Lustre Gallery, 171 South Pine. Geometric and Pictorial, which range in price from $100 to $30,000 for rare masterworks. Following the trunk show, examples of these extraordinary baskets remain on display at the gallery.
Lustre Gallery began representing the rainforest basket collection this Spring because we found the cultural motifs to be reminiscent of the American southwest while being handcrafted by a distant Native Indian community in Central America,” said Lustre owner Christine Reich. “What a remarkable example of how connected the peoples of this world have always been. We are also pleased to support these weavers as they have found a unique way to preserve their way of life and their rainforest at the same time. We subsequently learned that these hand woven treasures are also coveted by collectors all over the world.”
Wounaan geometric forms can be traced to pre-Columbian textiles, ceramics, and rock art. Patterns reflect tribal body painting and cultural ceremonies, such as the ‘double fishhook’ also commonly seen in Native American basketries.
Wounaan pictorial image vocabulary features rainforest flora and fauna including tropical birds, fish, fruit, butterflies, flowers, trees, jaguars, iguanas, and other plants, animals, and water-dwellers.
A highlight of the exhibition is the large and vibrant scarlet, indigo, emerald, and gold pictorial motif “Masterful Macaw and Greenery” by Miriam Negria, noted for its uncanny detail and valued at $18,500.
“This basket was twenty-three months in construction, which is a long time for an artwork to be living in the rainforest with all the challenges it faces during that time―creatures, humidity, sun, flooding, daily life, children,” said Kuyper. “At 15 inches high and 23 inches wide, ‘Masterful Macaw’ is “quite an accomplishment, with magnificent colors; it is a formidable, large-scale display piece.”
The works of Negria and her sisters Dalia and Cristina are amongst the most sought-after in the field; the trio are considered seminal in the contemporary Wounaan basket movement.
Of special note is masterwork basket “Contemporary Geometric Stripes,” the first-ever work on offer by new artist and young master weaver Maribela Chiripua, who resides in the small Darien village of Maje. Standing at an impressive 15 inches wide and 14 1/2 inches tall, this monumental piece is comprised of deep brown, black, and creamy white stripes, and required over fourteen months in construction. “Contemporary Geometric Stripes” is valued at $11,500.
“Chiripua’s silk stitches are very tight and even—the sign of a master weaver. This basket, which we just received in June, has an animal look to its sides and a contemporary organic aesthetic at the base, where the striping begins to grow. We are very excited to watch Maribela’s progress in the coming years as this is a truly exceptional work,” added Kuyper.
Wounaan basketry represented by Rainforest Baskets of Albuquerque, New Mexico, is featured in the permanent museum collection of Fomento Cultural Banamex (Mexico City, Mexico). The work has also been exhibited in the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Kansas City); Mingei International Museum (San Diego); Gilcrease Museum (Tulsa, Oklahoma); Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC; Museum of International Folk Art (Santa Fe, New Mexico); and the Craft and Folk Art Museum of Los Angeles.
For a preview of the show, watch Clint Viebrock’s video.