Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Colorful Carretas -- Self-Expression Through Folk Design

Templo de Musica, San Jose CR
Templo de Musica in San Jose, Costa Rica
I believe that most humans, in their search for happiness and fulfillment, have a need to individualize and personalize their appearance and that of their possessions and surroundings through decorative means. This was really impressed upon me during a visit to San Jose, Costa Rica, one of my favorite cities.

Plaza in San Jose, CR
Plaza in San Jose
San Jose is a thoroughly cosmopolitan city, filled with architectural and historical treasures. as well as culinary delights. I love the way old and new structures exist side by side, preserving the past for the present and the future. On a guided tour of the city, I expressed my appreciation of the diverse architecture. Our guide, an expatriate from the United States, said that he wanted to show us an area of low-income public housing. I was somewhat apprehensive because I had seen some very depressing examples of neighborhoods like that.

mural on Costa Rican house
Big mural on a small house
The first area we drove through had new houses, not yet occupied, They were small, neat houses with small lawns, and all of them were similar in appearance. “Just wait,” said our guide. A couple of streets farther along, the houses were painted in a rainbow of colors, with contrasting doors and window frames. The lawns were thick and well-tended. There were bright curtains at the windows. A few streets still farther away, where the homes were older, we saw potted trees, window boxes overflowing with flowers, vegetable gardens, and all kinds of house and lawn ornaments. Still older homes were set among tropical trees, shrubs, and flowers. Some had folk art murals painted on walls or pavement. No two homes were alike. It was as enchanting as a child's picture book.

Ox and cart
Ox and cart (carreta)

The next day, on a trip to the top of the volcano, we saw a number of the colorful farm oxcarts (carretas) that have become symbols of Costa Rica. They were painted in bright primary colors, overlaid with intricate folk designs.

Artisan at work in the cart factory
Artisan at work in the cart factory
Later we visited the factory where the carts were manufactured. There were carts in many sizes, from tiny ones holding wheel-like coasters (small children learn to paint on those) to the standard farm wagons. But my friend and I each wanted a size and style that they didn't offer. We wanted a small cart to sit beside a chair and hold our needlework supplies. We wanted a tray to cover the supplies and to hold a cup of tea or coffee and a small plate of food. We wanted the folk designs, but not the bright color underneath them; we wanted the natural wood to show through. After much discussion in two languages and many hand gestures, we arrived at agreement on a design and price.

After a few weeks, the carts were shipped to us. They were delightful and exceeded our expectations. Soon afterward we got a very nice letter from the factory, thanking us for suggesting the new model of the cart and telling us that it had become very popular with their customers. All this happened many years ago, but my little cart is just as colorful, useful, and charming as it was when it was new. Here is a picture of it.

Annake's little cart
Annake's little cart

The top of the cart is a tray that lifts out. Here is a picture of the tray by itself.

Annake's carttop tray
Annake's cart-top tray

Cart factory giftshop
Cart factory gift shop
A few days ago, I looked at the factory's website* and clicked on the icon for their online shop. The first picture to come up showed the showroom for the various sizes of oxcarts they have for sale. There, front and center, were two models of the size and description of our little carts –- one fully painted (on the right) and one with the natural wood showing through (on the left). I was delighted to find that they are still offering that model after all these years. I hope they will go on making it for many years to come. It is nice to think of many people out there enjoying theirs as much as I have enjoyed mine.

Wheel on a full-sized oxcart
Wheel on a full-sized oxcart
I am always looking for inspiration for my needlework. I'm particularly inspired by folk art. Right now I'm adapting some of the motifs from my cart for embroidery projects. I am thinking particularly of designs that would be attractive embroidered on a tablecloth, the ends of a stole, a handbag or the front of a blouse. I'm also working on an adaptation of a wheel design for a piece of needlework appropriate for a picture or a pillow top, perhaps in needlepoint. We will feature my ideas on a future post.

Enjoy the pictures of colorful Costa Rican folk art. Many such motifs would be wonderful painted on trays, drawers, flowerpots or planters, and many other useful and decorative objects. I hope they inspire you to begin a project of your own.

Express yourselves,

*Website for the Eloy Alfaro factory:  (www.fabricadecarretaseloyalfaro.com)

Dancers in folk costume
Dancers in folk costume

Modern reproductions of pre-Columbian pottery

Casado, Costa Rican cuisine
Cuisine is also a folk art

Since Annake's personal photos of her time in Costa Rica were taken before the age of digital photography, and have not yet been digitized, we want to thank the following for making their photos available for use through Creative Commons licensing:

Photo Credits
Templo de Musica:  Jorge Rodriguez / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 3.0
Plaza, San Jose:  Andre Ribeiro / CC BY 2.0
Artisan in Cart Factory:  dianeherr / Furniture Fair / CC BY-NC
Cart Wheel:  F Delventhal / CC BY 2.0
Folk Dancers:  MadriCR / CC BY 2.0
Pottery:   Lava / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 Creative Commons LicenseThis post by Annake's Garden is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.