San Blas Kuna and her trade goods

Molas at Dolphin Lodge San Blas

On the San Blas Islands women create an indigenous fabric art called a Mola. These quilt like creations, originally used by the San Blas Kunas to adorn the front and the rear of their everyday blouses, have recently garnered world wide recognition. Today there are thousands of collectors who frame these one of kind, yet affordable, examples of native art. Considerably more value is given to those pieces that have actually been worn so be sure to ask for any “second hand” offerings if you’re looking for more then souvenirs.

San Blas Molas are created using a technique similar to that of the 18th century silhouette/shadow portraits using cloth instead of paper. Creation uses a reverse appliqué method that requires the artist to make many intricate cuts on a “canvas” of stacked and sewn cloth. Each cut exposes another layer of color and pattern and the resultant edges are then seamed and stitched to those beneath them.

In yet another example of San Blas ingenuity the pieces of cut out fabric are used to create a shadow twin giving native dress a double sided impact front and back. Molas can be made in the most isolated of areas and in most San Blas families are the only source of hard currency. In some remote villages women work for weeks and then travel to markets as far away as Panama City to sell while others may distribute through a local wholesaler or coop.

Recently striking design changes have been showing up the San Blas Molas. Like the arresting images of bombers, missiles, tanks and troops in Afghan woven fabrics the San Blas Indians have adopted new motifs and images of the modern Western world. Fortunately instead of the shadows of war and carnage they portray McDonalds, cell phones and televisions; an event that should prompt a little cultural introspection for us all.