Through their artistic creations, artisans transmit the ancestral traditions of an entire country. Next, Panamanian artisans tell about their beginnings in the world of handicrafts and the cultural value behind their art.
Thanks to the multiculturalism of Panama born out of its unique geographical position, transit and migration to the region, the isthmus has inspired a great variety of handicrafts, each one from a region with its specific characteristics and manufacturing processes.
Eyda Inés Ábrego is an experienced artisan who makes different types of crafts and clothes that are part of the typical national dress, among them is the vaquiña, a shirt that is part of the pollera (typical women’s costume) and made with a fabric called saraza through a tuck and braiding technique.
“I learned to do this through active observation. I started by making simple tembleques, which are made with pearls, and rice earrings. Among my creations I have also embroidered the Tonal Shirt, which has striped tucks, long sleeves, with colored buttons. I have also made an outfit called a dirty blanket, which is a shirt decorated with threads and buttons of different colors,” she explains.
For Ábrego, Panamanian customs and traditions “must continue to be disseminated in schools” to preserve the legacy of an entire nation that through its culture has impacted the entire world.
Along these lines, the artisan Rita Calderón is dedicated to making mundillo, a decorative lace that complements crafts such as skirts and stylized dresses.
“Everything starts with the selection of the color to suit the client or the color of the skirt to complements the outfit. The making begins with a saddle, which is the calculation of the width of the mundillo, where the bobbins–wooden poles where the thread that will be woven–is wrapped,” she explains.
Likewise, she states that another of the fundamental elements to make this piece are the pins that hold the fabric. Also, there are several manufacturing techniques that range from the simple, pepiada to the oldest that is the fachenda.
Preserving this cultural legacy is one of Calderón’s priorities, who today teaches other women and girls the artistic techniques. What started as a passion is now her business, where she receives many requests.
Expression and art
Elba Ríos Arosemena, an artisan, expresses that the primary objective of her undertaking since its inception in 2014, is to embed the cultural diversity of Panama through fashion, accessories and decorative elements designs made for daily use and for the home. She decorates her pieces with elements traditionally linked to the Panamanian cultural heritage.
The pieces that are part of her collections are associated with Panamanian cultural themes and trends.
“I make the selection of materials and colors to work according to market trends and then I proceed to make a technical sheet for each element followed by a prototype. When the pieces are commissioned, I adopt a design thinking process, empathizing with my client until we choose the appearance of the piece. Then, I choose the materials, the technical sheet and the piece for delivery to the customer,” she emphasizes.
In relation to the history of the crafts that she makes, she specifies that she makes different types of crafts, from clothes, through accessories, handbags, souvenirs, to furniture. It all depends on what is in trend and the availability of time and materials.
“I work with jewelry accessories like fish scales, wire rod techniques and Swarovski crystals. This is linked to the tradition of the shakes in the scale of the skirt, an art that dates back more than 100 years and that is used with this typical dress and used at the national level,” she explains.
“In my family, in a traditional way, no one has been dedicated to making tembleques, however I am a great-granddaughter of the First National Goldsmith Don Pedro Aldrete Briceño, who also served as Director of Crafts until the day of his death,” she points out. Her maternal grandmother, Victoria Mera Sierra was a renowned Panamanian dressmaker.
Her family has always been linked to art and culture. Ríos is also the granddaughter of the Panamanian painter Francisco Sierra, who worked with the painter Roberto Lewis.
“My family has always been close to art and crafts. My father was the actor and singer-songwriter José Ríos Aldrete. His father was also a goldsmith.”
Regarding her beginnings in crafts, she recalls that since she was a child she always liked crafts,
“I think the first time I made a garment I was about 11 or 12 years old, and since then I have always continued creating.” When I got into the university I decided to study interior design, a profession that would allow me to develop more projects in many different areas.
“This gave me the foundation to complement my natural talents with all the logistics and design training that I continue to put into practice even today.”
She adds that she formally started her project called, Crann Bethad Designs 6 years ago, and since then she has only worked in the field of handicraft design and manufacturing. To date, she has a location in the Centro Artesanal de Panamá Viejo, “Onde Los Diablos,” location #23.
For her part, the artisan Melanie Espino created Paritilla a few years ago, a brand that began as a family tribute and in order to highlight the diversity of customs in the country. The creator of it, Espino, says that to name the brand she was inspired by this village located in the Pocrí district, Los Santos province.
Paritilla transfers the DNA of the inner roots from the countryside to the city. In her latest collection, she includes women of all ethnicities existing in Panama.
Regarding her creative process, she details that she uses acrylic paint to embody handmade figures on bags and hats.
“I have incorporated my art in other garments such as glasses, t-shirts, they are aimed at the female and male market. If you want to know my arts, you can do it through @ pari7illa.”
Astrid Chang has a degree in Journalism with an Emphasis in Audiovisual Production. Since 2018, she has been a journalist at La Estrella de Panamá. Her work in the newspaper was initially as an intern, where she developed in the area of sports, nationals, social networks and the web. Later, she was hired to lead the themes for World Youth Day and to be a presenter for the segment “Flash Economy.” She later became part of the Café Estrella team, a new content proposal by ‘La Decana’. In this booklet she has written articles on the environment, technology, health, sports, society, music, culture, sexuality, art, fashion and tourism. Likewise, she has organized and directed projects with visual artists for the International Book Fair of Panama. She too, was sent special to cover the Lima 2019 Juegos Parapanamericanos, and currently she is the coordinator of sports issues in the newspaper. She has training in journalistic leadership.