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ArtLab @ The Lowe 5.03.2013 – 4.27.2014

From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá


From left: Stella Holmes, C.D. MacKenzie Levine, Aimee Allen, Kathryn Metzker, Ava Wilson, Juan Pablo Sanchez-Williams, Navina DeLight, Katherine Mato, Joseph Stevenson, Jessica Figueroa, Traci Ardren, and Leah Andritsch.

Published on the occasion of the exhibition, From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá, May 3, 2013 – April 27, 2014. Organized by the students of APY 511 (“ArtLab @ The Lowe”), under the direction of Dr. Traci Ardren, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology. ArtLab student curators: Aimee Allen, Leah Andritsch, Navina DeLight, Jessica Figueroa, C.D. MacKenzie Levine, Katherine Mato, Kathryn Metzker, Juan Pablo Sanchez-Williams, Joseph Stevenson, and Ava Wilson. ArtLab @ The Lowe is sponsored by Stella M. Holmes. Additional programmatic support is provided through the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, the Cultural Affairs Council, the Mayor and Miami-Dade County Board of County Commissioners, and through the support of Beaux Arts, Friends of Art, and the membership of the Lowe Art Museum. © 2013 The Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami. No part of this publication may be reprinted or reproduced in any form, by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, or by any storage or retrieval system, without the written permission of the Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida 33124-6310. On the Cover: Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, after 1950 dyed cotton and thread Overall: 17 ¾ × 14 ¼ in. (45.1 × 36.2 cm) Gift of George Campbell, 98.0014.01


Foreword The Lowe Art Museum’s fifth installment of ArtLab @ The Lowe is a collaborative departure from earlier exhibitions in the series. While our student curators have taken a more traditional art historical approach to their subject matter in years past, From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá partners the Lowe with the Department of Anthropology for a decidedly different, multidisciplinary approach. Also new this year was a spring break trip to Guna Yala, Panamá, which proved invaluable to Dr. Traci Ardren, Associate Professor, and her Museum Studies students as they researched and interpreted the changes and continuities in the ancient ceramic and modern textile arts on view in the exhibition. The innovative ArtLab program provides University of Miami faculty and students the opportunity to organize an annual exhibition from conception through installation, drawing from the Lowe’s permanent collection of more than 18,000 works of art. I would like to extend my deepest appreciation to Dr. Ardren and her students for curating this ArtLab exhibition, and to my staff in the Collections and Exhibition Services department, who coordinated all the myriad details that are required in realizing the final product. This exhibition

would not be possible without the most generous support of the Lowe’s many donors, who gifted the works of art on display: Lynne Q. Adams, C. Clay Aldridge, Candice Barrs, George Campbell, Dr. Edward J. Carroll, Helene L. DeLano, Mr. and Mrs. Barry Fitzmorris, Ann M. Grimshawe, Greta Gurr, Byron F. Meyer, Jr., Seymour Rosenberg, The Rubin – Ladd Foundation, Zipporah S. Schefrin, Evelyn C. Smiley, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Stoetzer, Roselillian Stoetzer, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas L. Tatham, and Dr. Ann Werlin Walzer. From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá is made possible through the generosity of Stella M. Holmes, whose ongoing support of the ArtLab program has allowed the Lowe to create the perfect teaching laboratory in which to fulfill our primary goal of supporting, extending, and enriching the mission of the University of Miami for students, faculty, scholars, residents, and visitors to South Florida. This year, we are also grateful to the following sponsors who, along with the Lowe, supported the class trip to Panamá: Copa Airlines, Air Panama, the Mintzis Family, Dean Leonidas Bachas of the College of Arts & Sciences, and for their additional support, the Panamanian Chamber of Commerce.

Brian A. Dursum

Director and Chief Curator Lowe Art Museum

Acknowledgments From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá is an exhibition curated by ten extraordinary undergraduate students enrolled in Anthropology 511 during the Spring 2013 semester. These students brought their backgrounds in anthropology, art history, biology, and Latin American Studies to the project of using objects from the Lowe Art Museum collection of indigenous art of Panamá to tell a story about modern Guna artistic life. This year’s ArtLab @ The Lowe program is a collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the Lowe Art Museum, in conjunction with the Department of Art and Art History. Using museum objects to illustrate the values of another culture, especially a vibrant and living indigenous culture, presents challenges for any museum curator, but the ArtLab students embraced these ethical and methodological questions with enthusiasm. I wish to express our appreciation to the many people who contributed to the success of From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá, especially our hosts on the island of Niadub, in Guna Yala, Panamá.

We thank Inadioniginya (Eugenio Uvaldo Lopez) and the other members of the Museum Committee, Juana Herrera and our host families, as well as Leyda Harris and the other mola artists. Teofilo Jolly, Richard G. Cooke, and John W. Hoopes shared their expertise in Panamanian archaeology and greatly enriched the exhibition. Our research in Panamá would not have been possible without the support of Stella M. Holmes, the Mintzis family, Dean Leonidas Bachas of the College of Arts & Sciences, and especially Dr. Sherri Porcelain, Senior Lecturer, Department of International Studies, who did so much to facilitate our time on Niadub. We hope this exhibition adds a new chapter to the long and rich history of collaboration between Dr. Porcelain, the people of Niadub, and the University of Miami. I wish to express my gratitude to Brian Dursum, Director of the Lowe Art Museum, and Kara Schneiderman, Assistant Director, for their invitation to work with the Panamanian collection. My final thanks go to all the student curators who worked very hard to make this special class a success.

Traci Ardren, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Anthropology Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs University of Miami


Introduction

Degede? That means “How Are You?” in Guna, the indigenous language of the Guna Yala, a province on the northern coast of Panamá where nearly 16,000 people live on a string of 300 tiny islands. This area is familiar to many by its Spanish name, San Blas. Guna people and their language were formerly known as Kuna, but in 2011 the government of Panamá recognized their claim that the correct spelling was Guna. Since the Tule Revolution of 1925, Guna Yala has been governed by a congress of representatives from each island community. Molas, or blouses in Guna, are appreciated around the world for both their elaborate tropical imagery and technical skill. From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá invites the viewer to learn more about this important and popular art form as well as the deeper history of indigenous art in Panamá. Throughout the exhibition continuities and change can be seen; cultural values continue to be expressed even though the artistic materials or medium have changed. Guna artists say they protect their traditional cultural stories and lessons by constantly revealing them. Panamá is both familiar and exotic. Panamanians began immigrating to the United States early in the nineteenth century and today South Florida is home to the second largest concentration of Panamanians outside Panamá. Construction of the Panamá Canal 100 years ago is the most important reason for the long and abiding connection between Panamá and the United States. Early twentieth century excavations of the Isthmus of Panamá led to the accidental discovery of many archaeological remains, which were protected from destruction by Canal workers. Later, members of the U.S. military stationed along the Canal would discover the ancient cultures of Panamá through these objects and interact with members of the seven modern indigenous cultures. Molas became the most popular souvenir from these interactions, and many of the molas in the Lowe Art Museum were collected by North Americans who lived in the Panamá Canal Zone during the early twentieth century.

Introduction Modern Panamá is well known for its bustling economy and key role in international trade. The rich and varied geography of Panamá, especially the Isthmus, has secured its position as the crossroads of the world. The mountains, river valleys, and extensive coastline of Panamá have always contributed to a rich diversity of cultures. Prior to European contact, large chiefdoms of the Coclé and Chiriquí cultures exchanged gold, elaborate ceramics, and other precious materials throughout Panamá and greater Mesoamerica. Today, seven independent indigenous groups live in Panamá and compose almost 5% of the total population. While the changes brought by European contact cannot be underestimated, certain similar values can be seen in the art of the ancient Coclé or Chiriquí and that of the modern Guna people. This exhibition is organized to illustrate some of these themes: the importance of geometric design to convey abstract imagery, the fundamental principle of duality and the double soul, and anthropomorphism as a means to explore the interdependence of humans with animals and plants. Nuedi, kanemalo (Thank you, see you soon).  


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Gran Coclé, Panamá Plate, ca. 700-850 pottery and slip paint Overall: 1 ⅝ x 7 ⅛ in. (4.1 x 18.1 cm) Museum purchase, 89.0081

This Gran Coclé period plate depicts a crab using a polychrome palette of red, black, white, and purple paint. The use of purple in the design may indicate the dish belongs to the Conte style, as the Conte introduced the use of purple pigments on ceramics. Ancient Panamanians were known for using these same colors for elaborate body paint. Also indicative of the Conte style is the accurate taxonomic depiction of the crab. Between the crab’s bottom claws is an egg sack, an iconographic detail that comes only with familiarity and close contact with the animal. The use of red and black is symbolic of duality, conceivably signifying the powers of creation versus the forces of destruction.

– Leah Andritsch

Eladia Herman, Guna (Irgandi, Panamá) Mola, ca. 2013 dyed cotton and thread Overall (.13): 10 ¾ × 15 ¾ in. (27.3 × 40 cm) Overall (.14): 10 ⅛ × 15 ¼ in. (25.7 × 38.7 cm) Museum purchase, 2013.4.13-.14

This set of matching molas depicts a pair of crabs. Traditionally, molas were made in pairs with each design panel fit into either side of a blouse. Double panels represent the importance of duality and act as complements to one another. The multitude of colors and details reflects the intricacy of craftsmanship. Inspiration for this design may have come from the numerous crabs that inhabit the islands of Guna Yala. Crabs are significant to Guna culture because fishing is one of the major staples of the economy. It is also said that many Guna people were born under the sign of Cancer. The design may also be seen as a pair of double eagles, which is a common symbol of heraldry. The duality of the herald figure represents the union of church and state, and is most commonly associated with the Byzantine Empire. The symbol probably made its way to Panamá through European influence, especially during the period when France attempted to construct the first trans-isthmian canal.

– Leah Andritsch

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Molas Molas are a craft form of paneled textiles made by the Guna people of Panamá. They are made by women and macharekit, a third gender defined as effeminate men who take on many of the societal roles of women in the villages. Mola, literally meaning blouse, is the customary dress of Guna women. Molas were traditionally created by hand, cutting out panels of fabric and sewing them together into patterns. Today most women draw their designs on paper to ensure accuracy and use the reverse appliqué method of cutting incisions through the embedded layers of fabric to reveal the range of designs and colors underneath. Though molas were originally comprised of only geometric patterns, many women now draw inspiration from photographs and dreams to create their art. Some common designs include anthropomorphic figures, animals, and plants. Molas also incorporate and convey the Guna belief that all beings have a double soul known as purba, a common theme throughout this collection. Guna folklore states that molas originated with mythological beings that passed down the designs to humans at the beginning of Guna culture. The oldest molas known are 150-170 years old, although tradition indicates that the art extends well before this time. During the Guna resistance to Panamanian control from 19151925, Guna women were prohibited from wearing traditional

dress. This prohibition caused molas to become a symbol of resistance for the Guna at the heart of the revolution. Today many women continue to wear full traditional dress on a daily basis, whereas others choose to do so only for ceremonial purposes. Molas also have a significant economic impact on Guna society. In the 1960s, a coconut scarcity severely impacted the traditional Guna economy, causing increased reliance on mola sales for economic stability. The Guna continue to sell molas to tourists and merchants to supplement their income during times of hardship. La Cooperativa Productores De Molas, also known as the Mola Coop, is a main locus of solidarity for women artisans. It began in 1966 through the efforts of Peace Corps volunteers and functions today with nearly 1,200 members who collaborate through the entire process of mola production, from cutting and sewing to assembly into an array of items for sale. Together, they make an effort to understand the aesthetic tastes consumers seek while striving not to sacrifice craftsmanship, as machine stitching remains unacceptable. Guna women have formed a significant economic institution through Co-op efforts, stressing companionship and unity between members and an open forum for teaching and helping fellow artists.

Diego Gonzalez, Guna (Panama City, Panamá) Mola, ca. 2013 dyed cotton and thread Overall: 12 ⅞ × 15 ¾ in. (32.7 × 40 cm) Museum purchase, 2013.4.11

A Guna couple wearing traditional clothing and going about their daily household chores is the subject of this mola. The artist used appliqué and reverse appliqué on multiple layers of fabric to distinguish the various parts of the body and clothing by way of color segmentation. Traditional geometric designs were incorporated and used to create a room-like structure; probably the kitchen area given that the two individuals are seated on low stools around a large pot. Although these additions were hand stitched in various colors, the size and shape of each design creates uniformity and builds upon the small inset triangles used as filler in the background. Patterned stitches and feathers decorate the band of the man’s fedora to indicate the traditional mola-patterned headband men wear during rituals, an example is included in this exhibition. The wavy designs on the woman’s blouse reflect earlier mola designs that were inspired by brain coral. In addition, the mola maker went so far as to embroider winis, or beaded bracelets, on the forearms and ankles of the woman, and even a gold septum ring. On the lap of the woman is a smaller mola with geometric designs that she is working on as she tends to her daily responsibilities. The multitude of colors, highly detailed embroidery, and lack of empty space mark this mola as exceptional.

– Navina DeLight


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, ca. 1960 dyed cotton and thread Overall: 15 ¾ x 20 ½ in. (40 x 52.1 cm) Museum purchase, 96.0014

A complete family of manta rays is depicted in this mola. The male is on the left, with its longer tail for defense, and the female is on the right, with the baby ray at the bottom. In modern Guna culture this imagery references the afterlife. When a fisherman dies, the manta rays of the afterlife transform into a boat that will take the fisherman to the places he always wanted to see while he was alive. The amount of wishes he is granted is based on the number of fish he caught in his lifetime. This story reflects the idealistic beliefs of Guna cosmology. The technical skill of this mola, including the use of color and fine stiches, is extraordinary.

– Kathryn Metzker

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, late 1940s to mid 1950s dyed cotton and thread Overall: 14 ¼ × 16 ⅝ in. (36.2 × 42.2 cm) Gift of Dr. Ann Werlin Walzer in memory of Nadine Werlin Cain, 2006.40.29

Guna molas have long been admired for their illustrious design and color. This mola was made during a period when women still primarily made molas for personal use. The foremost image is a bird carrying a serpent-like figure in its clutches. A possible interpretation of this image is good, represented by the eagle figure, overwhelming evil, represented by the serpent-like figure, as the bird is placed on top and in a position of power. This mola consists of multiple layers of cloth, which allows several colors to show through incisions on the upper layers. The artist made use of an orange base and a red top, two colors that are pervasive in mola art. Geometric designs were employed to fill empty space by cutting into the top layer and sewing small areas of different colored cloth underneath for contrast. The geometric designs that border the main image are similar, yet slightly different in shape and color, allowing for stylistic variation and symmetry. Small, even, hand-stitched embellishments were embroidered onto the animals, further demonstrating the skill of the mola maker.

– Navina DeLight

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, ca. 1950s dyed cotton and thread Overall: 13 ¼ × 15 ¾ in. (33.7 × 40 cm) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas L. Tatham, 94.0015.24 The figure of a bird on top of what appears to be a human head dominates this mola. It is possible that the bird may be an egret, which has the ability to bend its long neck. Egrets and hundreds of other water birds are native to the Guna Yala region of Panamá. Multi-colored vertical lines were used to depict the bird’s wings, creating the idea of feathers; similar vertical lines fill the background as well. Although the meaning of the human head is unknown, it may have been placed to show the importance of birds to the Guna, who believe that men and animals are constantly reunited through complex paths over their lifetimes. – Katherine Mato

Gran Chiriquí, Panamá Tripod Bowl, ca. 1-700 pottery Overall: 5 ¼ x 5 ¼ x 4 ¾ in. (13.3 x 13.3 x 12.1 cm) Gift of Greta Gurr, 90.0126.69

This tripod bowl from the Chiriquí culture is characterized by anthropomorphic figures, which support the vessel. The figures have their arms up to their chests, leaning over as if they were struggling to hold up the heavy bowl. The negative space in the abdominal region of each figure holds a tiny ceramic ball. When transported, these balls moved around in the hollow space, creating a rattling noise. The bowl is not painted with slip, giving it a rough texture, but features a detailed design wraps under the rim of the bowl. Chiriquí bowls such as these, which were created with well-planned designs, were likely used in shamanistic ceremonies for spiritual and medicinal purposes.

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– Aimee Allen


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Gran Chiriquí, Panamá Tripod Jar, ca. 800-1200 pottery Overall: 4 ⅞ x 4 x 4 ⅝ in. (12.4 x 10.2 x 11.7 cm) Gift of Greta Gurr, 90.0126.29

The final phase of Chiriquí culture produced the most elaborate designs such as this jar. The front of the vessel displays a face, while a handle is attached to the back, making this piece both decorative and functional. The jar is also accented by slits and anthropomorphic figures, which are reoccurring designs found throughout the art of the many indigenous cultures of Panamá.

– Ava Wilson

Gran Chiriquí, Panamá Face, ca. 800-1200 volcanic stone Overall: 4 ⅛ x 4 ¼ x 1 ⅛ in. (10.5 x 10.8 x 2.9 cm) Gift of Greta Gurr. 90.0126.73

The volcanic stone used to create this piece most likely comes from the Baru Volcano, located in Chiriquí province, where the piece was found. The Baru Volcano was highly active during the last 2,000 years, so it may have been viewed as a great source of metaphysical power due to the geological impact of these seismic eruptions. Volcanic stone was commonly used during this time for the creation of decorative pieces such as small anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. The importance of volcanic stone parallels the importance of this face to the artist. Although it is simple and worn from age, this small piece shows the use of a universal symbol– a smiling face enclosed in a circular form–which calls attention to the development of the portrait in Panamanian art. – C.D. MacKenzie Levine

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Gran Chiriquí, Panamá Female Figure, ca. 800-1200 pottery Overall: 4 ¾ x 3 ⅜ x 1 ½ in. (12.1 x 8.6 x 3.8 cm) Gift of Greta Gurr, 90.0126.74

This small figure from Chiriquí province is a well-crafted example of a female form. The subtle anatomy reflects the degree to which physical anatomy was used to classify sex in Chiriquí society. Like many other Chiriquí figures, she too appears to have a slight smile. Her ears have been pierced along the lobe, where she may have been adorned with jewelry. The smooth texture and symmetrical form of this figure shows great care on the part of the artist. Her exaggerated facial features give her a distinctive quality. The time spent in creating such anthropomorphic figures by the Chiriquí indicates a high level of meaning and most likely shamanistic significance. Although the artistic medium has changed over time, the Guna in Panamá today still craft traditional shamanistic figures by using woodcarving techniques. – C.D. MacKenzie Levine

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, not dated dyed cotton and thread Overall: 11 × 16 in. (27.9 × 40.6 cm) Gift of Lynne Q. Adams in memory of Candice Barrs, 2009.25.4

Traditionally, Guna women use their dreams as inspiration for designs but they can also find inspiration from the environment around them. This mola depicts a gandule (flute man) playing his instrument. He is surrounded by iguanas and children as he plays. The Guna have a wide range of musical instruments including the rattle, panpipe, and flute but no drums or string instruments. There are no central guidelines for music making and music composition is learned experimentally. This piece incorporates several symbols, colors, and techniques that are customary to mola making. Red signifies blood, and the geometric figures and animals represent transformation. In Guna mythology a human has the ability to transform into an animal, a concept frequently illustrated in molas, which often contain anthropomorphic figures.

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– Ava Wilson


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, after 1950 dyed cotton and thread Overall: 17 ¾ × 14 ¼ in. (45.1 × 36.2 cm) Gift of George Campbell, 98.0014.01

Throughout Guna history, mola patterns have represented cultural traditions and stories. Guna women believe molas are a form of spiritual protection that keeps away negative energy. Originally patterns were made with geometric designs. This is a transitional piece that shows the evolution from traditional geometry to contemporary designs, which display more figurative imagery. The depiction of the man with large wings on his back, a beak, and a crown reflects the belief that Guna people are bird messengers. A traditional song from the elders describes Guna who leave their native home and are no longer the same upon returning; it is said that they have become a different type of bird. This concept applies not only to the native Guna but to all outsiders or non-Guna peoples.

– Juan Pablo Sanchez-Williams

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, ca. 1950 dyed cotton and thread Overall: 12 ½ × 17 ⅝ in. (31.8 × 44.8 cm) Gift of Lynne Q. Adams in memory of Candice Barrs, 2009.25.2

This mola depicts the importance of Guna parents teaching their children the traditions of Guna culture. The two standing figures represent parents and the figure sitting between them is their child. The extended arms of the parents may represent the act of retelling folkloric stories and myths, or providing guidance to the child, who sits and listens. The floating figure at top center symbolizes the cultural spirit of the child flying away if they do not learn the traditions or stay connected to their culture. Recent globalization of the world has introduced new customs and concepts into Guna culture. Many boats pass through the islands trading commercialized goods and Guna children can now go to school in the metropolitan cities of Panamá. Guna elders comment that the new generations are becoming more detached from the native traditions because of their exposure to contemporary society. The theme of this mola reflects the mission of older generations to instill the traditions of Guna culture to their youth.

– Leah Andritsch

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, ca. 1950 dyed cotton and thread Overall: 12 ⅞ x 17 in. (32.7 x 43.2 cm) Gift of Candice Barrs, 94.0014.43

The mirrored and symmetrical pair of parrots depicted in this mola may represent another form of expression of the duality of all living things, or could also relate to the idea of metamorphosis. In Guna myths and cosmology, all beings can change from one form to another. For instance, an ordinary being can become a demon and vice versa. The mirror image of the parrots may represent the ordinary and demonic duality of the spirit. Parrots from the region may have inspired the artist or her design may stem from the Guna tradition that people are birds. A common belief is that when a Guna person decides to leave their home, they are transformed into a different bird because the experiences they encounter change the songs they sing.

– Leah Andritsch

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, not dated dyed cotton and thread Overall: 14 × 16 ½ in. (35.6 × 41.9 cm) Gift of Helene L. DeLano, 2008.29

Textile artists in Guna Yala draw inspiration from a wide variety of sources, even the products they buy in small stores on the islands. This mola depicts two jars with bird designs on their labels. The red rectangle shapes at the top are red plastic caps. Bird designs are common given their significance in the culture and prevalence in the environment. This particular mola is made of many colors, which means that more than two layers of cloth were used to create it. Molas that are made of more than two colors are called mor gonikat. These types of molas may also have cut out layers sewn on the top of the designs or small colorful stitches to add more detail. This mola has colored stitches on the tops of the jars and on the faces of the birds, which gives it texture. The eyes of the birds and the stripes are layers that were sewn on the top of the design to create more complexity.

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– Aimee Allen


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, ca. 1950 dyed cotton and thread Overall: 16 ¼ × 21 in. (41.3 × 53.3 cm) Gift of the Estate of Dr. Edward J. Carroll, 2001.21.20

The figures depicted in this mola are called paluwiduru in Guna. They are angels that appear in people’s dreams to tell them about the future. Guna people say that messengers are represented visually as birds since they do not know what angels look like. The bold colors match the strong lines of the mola and are particularly enticing. The thin straight lines change direction at 45 degree angles, and are among the most difficult designs to cut and sew. The use of this technique, coupled with a careful attention to detail, is an indicator of excellent craftsmanship.

– Kathryn Metzker

Gran Chiriquí, Panamá Parrot, ca. 800-1200 volcanic stone Overall: 3 ⅞ x 5 x 2 ⅝ in. (9.8 x 12.7 x 6.7 cm) Gift of Greta Gurr, 90.0126.87

This parrot is a fine example of zoomorphic, sculpted stone made by the Gran Chiriquí culture. The Gran Chiriquí resided in western Panamá, where the Baru Volcano provided material to create such figures, many of which are birds. In some pre-Columbian indigenous groups, the parrot is believed to be associated with acute hearing, clever speech, seeing into the future, and eavesdropping, activities that are typical of shamans and healers. Images of birds usually vary in size and complexity. This small example holds its wings in a nesting position at its side, and looks down with expressive eyes, giving it a life-like quality. This sculpture is an excellent example of the fragility of stone art, as the tail was once broken off and has subsequently been repaired. – Jessica Figueroa

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Gran Coclé, Panamá Jar, ca. 900-1000 pottery and slip paint Overall: 6 x 5 ¼ x 7 ⅜ in. (15.2 x 13.3 x 18.7 cm) Gift of the Estate of Ann M. Grimshawe, 2001.10.05

This anthropomorphic jar may be from the archaeological site of Sitio Conte. Ceramics from this region are typically crafted from red or dark brown clay and covered with a somewhat transparent orange wash. In addition, the jar has a rough texture that is distinctive of the Sitio Conte era. The wonderful detail in the bird’s face was created by carving directly into the pottery. This red effigy vessel is made in the form of a vulture, as evidenced by the carbuncle on the top of the beak.

– Aimee Allen

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, ca. 1950 dyed cotton and thread Overall (.39): 16 ½ x 19 in. (41.9 x 48.3 cm) Overall (.40): 16 ¼ x 19 in. (41.3 x 48.3 cm) Gift of Candice Barrs, 94.0014.39 and .44

These molas are particularly important because their design represents a song that the sahilas or village spiritual leaders sing, which tells a story very similar to Little Red Riding Hood. The girl above a mountain animal is comparable to Little Red. In the Guna version of the story, when Little Red meets the mountain animals they do not try to eat her. Instead, she stays to live with them, they raise her and teach her lessons to share with the Guna people. The numerous small incisions on these molas indicate a high degree of craftsmanship. – Kathryn Metzker

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From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, not dated dyed cotton and thread Overall: 16 ¼ × 19 ¾ in. (41.3 × 50.2 cm) Gift of Lynne Q. Adams in memory of Candice Barrs, 2009.25.8

These twin figures echo the creation story of Guna Yala, which features a great mother and a great father who exist at the beginning of time. The practice of including twin figures and symmetrically mirrored patterns within Guna art originates in this creation story. These figures are particularly interesting, as their contorted bodies simultaneously mimic the fetal position and dancing. The skeletal system is clearly depicted in their forms, calling into question their status. Are they skeletons or figures of the first creation? Molas may be interpreted in a number of ways, just as the artist may leave the interpretation open to the viewer. The artist shows great craftsmanship and sewing abilities as well as creative and conceptual expression.

– C.D. MacKenzie Levine

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, late 1940s to mid 1950s dyed cotton and thread Overall: 15 × 18 in. (38.1 × 45.7 cm) Gift of Dr. Ann Werlin Walzer in memory of Nadine Werlin Cain, 2006.40.30

Many contemporary molas portray realistic or abstract designs based on plants and animals. Guna women also incorporate images from a wide variety of foreign cultural elements, including commercial product labels, magazines, cartoons, and other components from popular culture. In this mola, the artist drew inspiration not only from animals found around Guna Yala, but also from animals that are not typical of the area. In the center of the composition, two large figures are placed side by side. Based on the large ears and teeth, they appear to be rabbits with bushy tails. The rabbit on the left, being slightly smaller in stature, is likely female and the rabbit on the left male. Since rabbits are not native to Guna Yala, it is clear that the mola artist who created this work drew inspiration from elsewhere, possibly from personal travels, stories, photographs, magazines, or even Halloween masks. Similarly, the rabbits appear to be wearing sunglasses, a reference to the artist’s awareness of popular culture and an indicator of globalization taking place in this area. Surrounding the two rabbits are the heads of six birds. Many different species of birds can be found on Guna Yala and they are a common theme in molas, making this mola a perfect combination of tradition and modernization.

– Katherine Mato

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Gran Coclé, Panamá Double-spout Vessel, ca. 700-1000 pottery and slip paint Overall: 9 ¼ x 7 x 7 in. (23.5 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm) Gift of an Anonymous Donor, 93.0043.02

This large vessel features ornate and intricate designs, while the interior is un-slipped with no decoration. The round base would have been less desirable for storage or cooking, as it would have necessitated a stand, suggesting this vessel was made for ceremonial or funerary purposes. The primary decorative colors utilized are red, black, and white, colors common throughout the Coclé tradition. This vessel is a fine example of a variety of purple-painted pottery called Joaquin, which is a transitional style between the Conte and Macaracas cultures. Many cultures of Panamá make extensive use of duality, which is exemplified in the double spout of this vessel. This theme, an ever-present metaphysical equilibrium, is seen in current mola designs of the Guna as well as in ancient pottery. The symmetry in the construction of this vessel combined with the intricate adornment indicates a chiefly ceremonial usage.

– Joseph Stevenson

Gran Chiriquí, Panamá Double-chamber Vessel, ca. 800-1200 Pottery and traces of slip paint Overall: 2 ¾ x 3 ⅛ x 1 ⅝ in. (7 x 7.9 x 4.1 cm) Gift of Greta Gurr, 90.0126.62

The small size and heavy wear of this vessel suggest it was used as a serving vessel. The design incorporates the common spiritual motif of duality. Many pre-Columbian and indigenous Panamanian cultures hold the belief that for every entity a double exists in the universe, an identical individual who exists in another place. This dualistic belief creates a sense of metaphysical balance. When this vessel is filled with water, the theme of duality is well demonstrated by the equal levels of liquid in each chamber. Despite the great amount of wear on the vessel, it is still possible to see brown slip on parts of the surface. The slip would have once covered the entire vessel, indicating it was originally made to be a durable and long lasting vessel, suitable for daily use.

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– Joseph Stevenson


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Gran Coclé and Gran Chiriquí (700-1550s CE) Objects Several indigenous groups inhabited the lands of pre-Columbian Panamá on the Isthmus between North and South America. These cultures were highly skilled in the production of metalwork, ceramics, and stonework. Under the direction of a chief, these groups of many hundreds of people engaged in long-distance trade with their regional neighbors and created many fine works of art to accompany their dead to the afterlife. The Gran Coclé culture extended from the eastern outskirts of current day Panama City to the western province of Veraguas. Masters of ceramics and pottery, Gran Coclé objects exhibit a wide range of forms that vary in geographical distribution, style, use, iconography, and cultural context. The Gran Coclé pottery style began in the early second century BCE and extended to the arrival of the Spanish. The technological and stylistic features of these pieces, such as the shapes and colors utilized in the pottery,

evolved over time. The earliest pieces are simple red clay with black paint, but the style eventually developed into polychrome vases decorated with blue and even purple paint. Complex iconography depicted everything from the most basic geometric designs to local animals, shamanistic practices, or anthropomorphic icons. Unlike the polychrome and stylistically varied Gran Coclé tradition, the Gran Chiriquí culture created ceramics from red clay, emphasizing iconography through vessel shape rather than painted designs. These vessels used a tri-color scheme of red, white, and black paint as well as negative resist decoration. The Gran Chiriquí culture area was located in western Panamá near the Baru Volcano, and local igneous rock was a useful tool for carved images, some of which can be seen in this exhibition.

Gran Coclé, Panamá Pedestal Dish, ca. 1100-1400 pottery and slip paint Overall: 7 ⅝ x 9 ¼ in. (19.4 x 23.5 cm) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Stoetzer, 89.0082

This dish comes from the ceramic style known as Parita. The style is distinguished by the abandonment of purple pigments in favor of black, red, and orange coloring that arises naturally from the ceramics when they are fired. Parita is characterized by the use of large black bands along the borders or foot of the ceramics. The designs used within these dishes tend to be S-shaped, unlike the zigzags or V-shaped designs found in previous periods. The Parita culture created a distinctive figure combining an eel and a hammerhead shark, which can be seen on this dish, along with an S-shaped creature that appears to mix the taxonomic features of the animals mentioned above. This type of pottery is frequently found in mortuary features within the Coclé province, specifically in the Azuero Peninsula.

– Juan Pablo Sanchez-Williams

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Gran Coclé, Panamá Stand, ca. 200-500 pottery and slip paint Overall: 6 ⅞ x 7 ¾ x 7 ½ in. (17.5 x 19.7 x 19.1 cm) Gift of Roselillian Stoetzer, 2005.47.5

The visual focus of this piece is the smaller, central area of the stand. Red and black colors give it an intense visual energy that attracts the eye. This hourglass-shaped vessel is called a salvilla and is decorated in the Tonosi style. This unique style is one of the first in the chronology of Gran Coclé pottery and this example may originate from the Gulf of Montijo. The combination of a thick grayish-white slip and a dark brown paste, lacking the use of purple paint, is characteristic of ceramics from this area. Unlike later ceramics, which are associated almost exclusively with mortuary features, broken pottery sherds of this style are frequently found in middens. – Aimee Allen

Gran Coclé, Panamá Footed Bowl, ca. 850-1000 pottery and slip paint Overall: 6 ½ x 11 ½ in. (16.5 x 29.2 cm) Gift of an Anonymous Donor, 93.0043.01

This Gran Coclé bowl is from the ceramic style known as Macaracas. The use of purple coloring, which arose from the preceding Cubita style, along with black and brick red over distinctive light or white backgrounds, is typical of this style. The slip color is somewhat grayish, while the red is a deeper color, a specific coloration that may reflect local pigment and clay sources. The designs of the Macaracas style tend to be separated into panels and zigzag elements, as can be seen in the four-paneled decoration of this bowl and the lines that cover it. This example depicts a crocodile-like animal in the form of a snake. The snake is a very common motif and is often considered a sacred animal due to its association with creation mythology.

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– Juan Pablo Sanchez-Williams


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Gran Chiriquí, Panamá Ceremonial Table, ca. 800-1550 volcanic stone Overall: 4 ⅞ x 10 ⅞ x 6 ⅞ in. (12.4 x 27.6 x 17.5 cm) Gift of Greta Gurr, 90.0126.85

The rather small size of this unusual table made of volcanic stone, suggests it was probably used for ceremonial purposes. On the top and on either side of the table are two zoomorphic figures– a mixture of crocodile and feline forms. The combination of two animals is a characteristic motif in ancient Panamanian cultures, and an important motif in indigenous mythology. The bottom of the table is decorated with snakes wrapped around a tree. In Panamá today, small bowls and tablets are used for healing or religious rituals, usually associated with herbs, leaves, and cacao, this table may once have served a similar purpose.

– Juan Pablo Sanchez-Williams

Gran Coclé, Panamá Jar, ca. 850-1000 pottery and slip paint Overall: 8 ⅛ x 8 ⅛ x 8 in. (20.6 x 20.6 x 20.3 cm) Museum purchase, 89.0117

This human effigy vessel is exceptional in its form, texture, and design. The motif may be that of the Bear Mother, as signified by the feminine face and bearlike hands and feet. In the Gran Coclé culture there was a myth about a Bear Mother in which a human female was forced to become the wife of a male bear, and produced part-bear, part-human children. The human-like quality of the face on this vessel and the bear-like appendages may be a reference to these children. The upright stance, small ears, round eyes, markings in the midsection, and clawed hands and feet all connect this vessel to others that reference the mythic creature. The symbol dangling from a string down the front of the figure’s chest is probably a vulvar notch, indicating the bear’s female sex. Her eyes are formed through the mask created in the black band of slip painted at the top of the face. A similar technique is used to create a small set of lips, which signify the mouth beneath a projecting nose. A dark black band is also used to separate the body from the head of the figure, while various circular lines are employed to create the torso and limbs. Her eyes are formed through the negative space accented by the black banded mask.

– Navina DeLight

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Gran Coclé, Panamá Bowl, ca. 750-850 pottery and slip paint Overall: 4 x 9 ½ in. (10.2 x 24.1 cm) Gift of Seymour Rosenberg, 72.016.027

Ceramics from the Gran Coclé culture of pre-Columbian Panamá are often compared to modern Panamanian molas due to their designs, coloration, and artistic style. This painted pottery bowl is an especially strong example of such comparisons. Characterized by a bright polychromic design, as are many molas, the bowl’s iconography consists of an anthropomorphic turtle figure. Zoomorphic depictions are found throughout Panamá and the islands of Guna Yala, from ancient ceramics to contemporary textiles. Coclé ceramics are most commonly decorated on the front facing side. This bowl however, has been painted around the entire circumference, making it particularly unique.

– Ava Wilson

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Molas, late 1940s to mid 1950s dyed cotton and thread Overall (.31): 19 ½ x 25 in. (49.5 x 63.5 cm) Overall (.27): 15 x 17 ½ in. (38.1 x 44.5 cm) Gift of Dr. Ann Werlin Walzer in memory of Nadine Werlin Cain, 2006.40.31 and .27

Opinions on cats vary greatly among the Guna. Some say they are a good omen if encountered in a dream, others see them as powerful, mystic felines, and most see them as annoying but effective pest control agents on the islands. Nevertheless, they are a common theme found in both new and old molas. This mola features an all-cotton blue blouse component, a rarity given the predominant use of synthetic fabrics now, with shorter cap sleeves and a traditional neckline. Blue, red, and black are conventional colors for molas, but here these colors are used in conjunction with a colorful array of green, yellow, and orange fabrics. Red and yellow fabric trims the edges of the blouse along with a green zigzag ribbon. A strip of lozenge-shaped patterns lines only the left border, possibly a size adjustment to better fit the maker. The bright colors are piercing, much like the assorted feline eyes that stare back at the viewer. Two pairs of cats share similarities crosswise, as can be seen with contrasting eye (circle/oval), nose (triangular/flared nostrils), and whisker shapes.

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– Navina DeLight


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá)

Skirt (Saburete) and Headscarf (Muswe), ca. 2013 dyed cotton Overall (.6): 55 ½ × 33 in. (141 × 83.8 cm) Overall (.7): 23 × 45 ¾ in. (58.4 × 116.2 cm) Museum purchase, 2013.4..7 Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Bracelets (Winis), ca. 2013 glass beads and cotton string Overall (.1): 123 in. (312.4 cm) Overall (.2): 112 ½ in. (285.8 cm) Overall (.3): 113 in. (287 cm) Overall (.4): 115 in. (292.1 cm) Museum purchase, 2013.4.1-.4

The vibrant colors and rich designs of Guna dress have always made the traditional outfit of women highly distinctive. Beyond the rich, deep colors of the fabric lies great attention to design in the pieces that make up a traditional Guna woman’s outfit: a blouse (mola), skirt (saburete), headscarf (muswe), and beaded bands (winis) on arms and legs. In total, a traditionally made blouse is comprised of eleven pieces of fabric. A yoke of cotton or synthetic fabric is attached via a strip of fabric to two “incised” mola panels. These panels are then stitched and sleeves are attached to the yoke. A band of fabric is sewn to the bottom part of the blouse so that the design of the panels is still visible when the blouse is tucked into the skirt. A length of imported cotton fabric wrapped around the hips functions as a knee-length skirt. Fabric patterns vary from geometric shapes to images of various fauna. This wraparound skirt features the typical dark background with bright contrasting geometric design. The muswe is a square piece of cotton with yellow patterns on a red base, usually featuring animals and geometric shapes. Winis are made of a single string of small, colored glass beads wrapped around the limbs in such a manner that geometric designs form as it is wound around the wrist or ankle. The final touch to complete the look is a gold septum ring.

– Navina DeLight

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Leyda Harris, Guna (Niadub, Panamá) Shirt and Hat Band, 2013 dyed cotton and buttons Overall (.8): 24 ½ × 59 ½ in. (62.2 × 151.1 cm) Overall (.9): 2 ¼ × 20 ⅛ in. (5.7 × 51.1 cm) Museum purchase, 2013.4.8-.9

Colorful and unique handmade clothing is commonly associated with Guna women. However, men also wear traditional clothing on special occasions. Men’s molas are usually worn during chicha ceremonies, the most important ceremonial event of the Guna calendar. Chicha is a fermented alcoholic beverage made from maize that certain men produce. It is used for ritual purposes such as the girl’s puberty initiation as well as community parties. While much simpler than women’s dress, this man’s mola demonstrates similarity to the design its female counterpart.

– Ava Wilson

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, not dated dyed cotton and thread Overall: 17 ½ × 13 ¼ in. (44.5 × 33.7 cm) Gift of the Estate of Evelyn C. Smiley, 2002.6.2

It is common to see two of the same design elements on a single mola because the Guna utilize the iconography of duality often in their art. The meander border around this pair of pigs recalls the Greek fret or key design, but it appears very commonly in Guna art in everything from molas to the winis worn by Guna women. Creating molas has become a profitable business for Guna women. There are numerous vendors who sell molas and other crafts on the streets of Panama City. Molas made for tourists have a different quality than those made to be worn. This particular example is made of bright colors that are very typical of molas sold to tourists. Although Guna people like wearing molas with bright colors, washing and wearing them repeatedly can fade the commercially dyed cloth so it is less common to see such vibrant colors on a mola that is to be worn.

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– Aimee Allen


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, not dated dyed cotton and thread Overall: 14 ¼ × 17 in. (36.2 × 43.2 cm) Gift of Zipporah S. Schefrin, 2008.40.5

The oldest molas in museums and private collections have geometric designs that recall the personal body tattoos first noted by the Spanish when they came into contact with the indigenous people of Panamá. This example illustrates an older geometric design but is more contemporary since it employs multiple colors. The forms are bowties that the maker likely saw on a person or in a picture. This mola is particularly beautiful and displays exquisite attention to detail, making it attractive to tourists for its exemplary craftsmanship. The bright colors are also an indication that this mola was made for tourists, who tend to purchase the vivid, multi-colored pieces.

– Kathryn Metzker

Amaris Velásquez, Guna (Niadub, Panamá) Mola, ca. 2013 dyed cotton and thread Overall: 11 5/8 × 16 1/4 in. (29.5 × 41.3 cm) Museum purchase, 2013.4.12

Clean, smooth edges and nearly invisible stitches are what distinguish this mola. A white layer of cloth is covered by burgundy fabric with black insets and accented with yellow and white embroidery. The fabric colors contain meaning themselves, as black and red are symbols of war, juxtaposed with yellow and white which represent hope and life. Guna lore places emphasis on duality, wherein everything in nature comes in pairs although none are exactly the same. Here, three rows mimic what appear to be chains of people cut out of paper. Each row contains three pairs of women standing hand-in-hand. Lozenge-shaped patterns fill the negative space with oval and triangle cutouts. All the figures are similar with triangular skirt shapes, some with X’s for eyes, others with dots and crosses on their mouths. The design in between each figure suggests a flower as a nod to the solidarity among matrilocal Guna women, where newly married couples live with the bride’s family. This mola was created by a member of the Guna Women’s Mola Collective, a group of 300 women throughout the islands who join together to create and sell molas in order to support their families in hard economic times when fishing is poor.

– Jessica Figueroa

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Mola, ca. 1950 dyed cotton and thread Overall: 15 ½ × 18 ¼ in. (39.4 × 46.4 cm) Gift of Candice Barrs, 94.0014.40

Red and white molas echo the most traditional style, which is limited to two colors and geometric patterns. The geometric forms in this piece create a backdrop for birds scooping up an over-sized fish, a symbol of wealth and bounty. Fish and shellfish are commonly depicted in molas because the Guna find much of their economic strength and sustenance in the ocean. The image of twin birds, which recalls the Guna creation story, is ever-present in the art of molas. This example can be viewed as a meditation on nature and the nourishment it provides.

– C.D. MacKenzie Levine

Gran Chiriquí, Panamá Jar, ca. 800-1200 pottery and slip paint Overall: 3 ½ x 4 ¼ in. (8.9 x 10.8 cm) Gift of Greta Gurr, 90.0126.13

The symmetrical lines found on this jar are found throughout indigenous Panamanian culture. With its simple dotted and linear designs, this jar exemplifies the basic pottery style used in Chiriquí ceramics. The design allows the vivid red slip paint in the background to remain visible through the black, linear designs. Simple red slip paint with delineated black paint, as seen in this jar, is reminiscent of Monagrillo pottery, which precedes the development of Gran Coclé ceramics in central Panamá.

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– Katherine Mato


From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá

Gran Coclé, Panamá Pectoral Ornament, ca. 1000-1550 gold Overall: 4 ⅜ x 4 ½ in., ⅛ in. (11.1 x 11.4 cm, 0.3 cm) Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Barry Fitzmorris, 2007.52.19

During the period when this pectoral ornament was created, the Gran Coclé culture flourished in the center of the country. Most ancient gold objects from Panamá have been found within Gran Coclé sites, especially in burials that also included pottery vessels, tools, weapons, and fabric. According to Spanish records from the sixteenth century, elaborate burial was reserved for the chiefs and nobility. Disks similar to this one, typically ranging in size from about four to eight inches in diameter, usually have two holes close to the edge, suggesting that they were worn as chest ornaments. Many of these pectoral ornaments, also known as patenas, are remarkable in their simplicity, with the design typically restricted to the edges of the disk. Some disks, however, have intricate decoration across the entire surface. Rows of raised dots around the rim are a common motif. However, in this piece the edges have been hammered, creating a rough edge juxtaposed against the smooth center. The reflective quality of these gold disks is striking as well; in the early 1500s, when Christopher Columbus sailed along the Caribbean coast of present-day Costa Rica and Panamá, he reported, “Indians wearing mirrors around their necks.” It is possible that he was referring to gold pectoral ornaments similar to this one, which would have reflected sunlight like mirrors.

– Katherine Mato

Chiriquí, Panamá Basket, ca. 1950 plain and dyed plant fiber Overall: 8 x 4 ⅞ in. (20.3 x 12.4 cm) Gift of Byron F. Meyer Jr., 99.0001.34

Baskets of this type, made from local woven plant fibers, are still crafted today for many reasons: they are inexpensive to make, require few materials, can be made quickly in one to two hours, and are versatile, being used for everything from collecting food to packing medicinal plants for those in need. The lid of this basket contains two intentional slits through which the handle is attached. This design feature allows the lid to be slid up and down along the handle, but it cannot be lost or detached from the basket. Other design elements incorporated into the basket are consistent with ancient Chiriquí pottery, such as the black swirling design. The plain plant fiber, which contrasts with the dyed black pattern, demonstrates how this modern basket from the mid twentieth century has retained design elements seen in pottery dating to 800-1500 CE.

– Joseph Stevenson

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ArtLab @ The Lowe

Noemi Arosemena, Guna (Niadub, Panamá) Mola, ca. 2013 dyed cotton, polyester/rayon, lace trim and metallic thread Overall: 16 × 27 ½ in. (40.6 × 69.9 cm) Museum purchase, 2013.4.10

A new initiative in Guna Yala requires all students and teachers in the region to wear traditional dress every Monday in order to preserve Guna cultural heritage. This sheer white child’s mola features a zigzag trim and an elaborate embroidered string ribbon. It is fully finished with a boat neckline that contrasts with earlier crewneck styles. The polyester/rayon material used for the sleeves and neck is a departure from earlier all-cotton blouses, and hints at a change in fabric availability as the latter may be more expensive per yard than synthetics. The maze-like mola design is purely geometric with a white background, red appliqué, and black top layer. A pair of rectangular designs runs vertically on the left with a larger interweaving square of lines beside it. From a short distance, the array of lines creates neat diamond-shaped patterns, a play on the visual senses.

– Jessica Figueroa

Unknown Artist, Guna (Guna Yala, Panamá) Molas, not dated dyed cotton and thread Overall (.64): 5 ¾ × 6 ¾ in. (14.6 × 17.1 cm) Overall (.65): 5 ¾ × 6 ¾ in. (14.6 × 17.1 cm) Gift of C. Clay Aldridge, 2003.51.64-.65

One of these miniature molas depicts a brightly colored tropical bird but the tail is wide in comparison to the bird’s body, the feet have slight differences between one another, and the background is very basic. The other mola depicts a feline, regarded as a highly powerful figure in Guna culture. The feline figure is understood by some researchers to be taboo or evil, but this is largely a misinterpretation of this particular animal, which is respected but not feared by the Guna. The stitching on this mola is simple and larger than that seen on other examples in the exhibition. The color patches are small and the design is more rudimentary, indicating these pieces were made by a child using scrap materials. Girls begin to learn the art of mola making around the age of eight. They are taught by their mothers, cutting scraps into traditional mola designs, then learning how to stitch, and finally making designs such as this one. They then bring together all of the skills they have learned into a complete project. Smaller molas can be completed in a short period of time, which allows for additional practice and a chance to visualize and create more projects. Through small examples such as these, young Guna girls perfect their skills and continue the traditions passed down through their families. – Joseph Stevenson

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To Learn More References

Cooke, R. G. , J. W. Hoopes, N. J. Saunders, & J. Quilter, eds. (2011). To Capture the Sun: Gold of Ancient Panama. Tulsa: University of Oklahoma Press. Cooke, R. (2004). Rich, poor, shaman, child: animals, rank and status in the ‘Gran Coclé’ culture area of pre-Columbian Panama. In Sharyn Jones O’Day, Wim Van Neer and Anton Ervynck, eds.:271284. Behaviour Behind Bones: the Zooarchaeology of Ritual, Religion, Status and Identity. Durham: Oxbow Books. Cooke, R., & Sanchez Herrera, L. A. (2000). Panama Indigena: 15011550. In A. Casas, R. Cooke, L. A. Sanchez, L. Manzanilla, J. K. Wilkerson, & E. Ocampo, eds.:47-78. Precolombart: 2000. Barcelona, Spain: Association of Friends of the Museu Barbier-Mueller. Cooke, R., Sanchez Herrera, L. A., Carvajal, D. R., Griggs, J., & Aizpurua, I. I. (2003). Los Pueblos Indigines de Panama Durante el Siglo XVI: Transformaciones Sociales y Culturales Desde una Perspectiva Arqueologica y Paleoecologica. Mesoamerica: 1-34. Helms, Mary W. (2000). The Curassow’s Crest: Myths and Symbols in the Ceramics of Ancient Panama. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. Helms, Mary W. (1995) Creations of the Rainbow Serpent: Polychrome Ceramic Designs from Ancient Panama. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. Mayo, J. (2006). Los estilos ceramicos de la region cultural de Gran Coclé, Panama. Revista Espanola de Antropologia Americana 36: 2544. Howe, James. (2002). The Kuna Gathering: Contemporary Village Politics in Panama. Tucson: Fenestra Books. Perrin, M. and D. Dusinberre. (1999). Magnificent Molas: The Art of the Kuna Indians: Tule Omegan Weliwar Itogedi = in Homage to Kuna Women. Paris: Flammarion. Rodríguez Ferguson, Reinier, ed. (2005). Museo Antropológico Reina Torres de Araúz: Panama. Panama: Instituto Nacional de Cultura. Salvador, Mari Lynn, ed. (1997). The Art of Being Kuna: Layers of Meaning Among the Kuna of Panama. Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. Salvador, Mari Lynn. (2003). Kuna Women’s Arts: Molas, Meaning, and Markets. In E. Bartra ed.:47-72. Durham: Duke University Press. Sherzer, Joel. (1983). Kuna Ways of Speaking: An Ethnographic Perspective. Austin: University of Texas Press. Stone-Miller, Rebecca. (2002). Seeing with New Eyes: Highlights of the Michael C. Carlos Museum. Atlanta: Emory University. Tice, Karin Elaine. (1995) Kuna Crafts, Gender, and the Global Economy. Austin: University of Texas Press. 


Guna mother and daughter, Niadub, Panama. Photograph by Leah Andritsch, 2013.

1301 Stanford Drive Coral Gables, Florida 33124-6310 www.lowemuseum.org

From Ancient Art to Modern Molas  

ArtLab @ The Lowe From Ancient Art to Modern Molas: Recurring Themes in Indigenous Panamá May 3, 2013 - April 27, 2014 From Ancient Art to M...

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