Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

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Martiza Garrido de Fernández and Nidia Johnson de Figueres

Year(s) attended:

Artesanía Nagegiryai

Supported by Asociación Pro Artesana Panameña

Molas (Reverse Appliqué Textiles) from the Island of Ustapo in Guna Yala

The traditional dress of a Guna (Kuna) woman consists of a patterned, blue cotton, wrapped skirt called a “sabure,” a patterned red and yellow headscarf, beaded bracelets and anklets called “wini”, and the many-layered and finely sewn mola panel blouse. In Dulegaya, the Guna’s native language, mola means shirt or clothing. The mola is said to have originated with the tradition of Guna women painting their bodies with geometric designs, using native dyes. In more recent years, with the availability of commercially-made yard cloth from European settlers, these designs were sewn into panels to decorate the front and pack of their blouses, using the technique of reverse appliqué. The finest molas have extremely fine stitching and multiple layers with progressively smaller patterns.

Nidia Johnson de Figueres is a master mola maker originally from the small island of Ustupu where she learned the art from her mother and grandmother, beginning around seven years old. Each year, according to tradition, the women on the island would make a new mola for themselves on the occasion of a traditional celebration or fiesta. Today Nidia lives in the small city of Chitre where she and her friend and business partner, Martiza Garrido de Fernández, create molas for sale to tourists and others in Panama. Through their alliance with a non-profit organization called Asociación Pro Artesana Panameña, they have been able to grow their business to include as many as 10 families in the city where they live.

The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, a non-profit organization, produces the largest international folk art market in the world, and our success led to Santa Fe’s designation as a UNESCO City of Folk Art.