About Wounaan Art
Indigenous peoples of the Darién rain forest in Panama use an ancient weaving tradition to combine brilliant color and arresting design into extraordinary baskets. These baskets are prized highly for their artistry-and each is unique. Each requires months and years to produce, and the baskets that are crafted to museum-quality standards are as rare as some gemstones. Collectors have paid upwards of $30,000 for the finest examples, seeing each basket as a culmination of many generations’ efforts and experiences.
For centuries, women of the Wounaan and Emberá tribes have produced baskets using methods passed from generation to generation. Initially a purely utilitarian endeavor for storage or transport, these baskets evolved in the late 20th century into museum-quality works of art.
The Wounaan weavers took their imagery from the rain forest itself, adding pictorial elements from the flora and fauna. They adopted the geometric patterns used in body painting, a pre- Columbian practice that endures today for important ceremonies and events, and from designs observed in pre- Columbian pottery and rock art.
Today’s baskets, called Hösig Di, are made from the youngest, supple fibers that men harvest from the Chunga palm. The artists (primarily women and increasingly men) sew the fibers in fine strands onto structural coils of Naguala palm, which lend body to the basket. Needles made from bone were generally used until steel ones became available. The sewing process is painstaking, but it allows for a particularly tight construction.
The fibers are dyed using natural hues from seeds, roots, berries, fruits, flowers, and leaves. Some artists have developed such an intricate range of color and complexity of pattern that their baskets appear dimensional. The designs themselves remain either pictorial or geometric.
RainforestBaskets works directly with the Wounaan weavers, in an old fashioned patron-type relationship. We work only with the best weavers, offering stability to those who have excelled in this art form. Master weavers set their pricing with us, and in return they receive installments, or deposits, on their work throughout the construction of the piece. This produces a more talented weaver, one who doesn't have to spend months and years weaving, then travel to Panama City to 'peddle' their pieces and accept the highest bid. In addition, it creates a more stable environment for the Wounaan villages. They are a small group, and retaining as many people as possible within the village creates better stability and protection from outside conflicts.
Low quality Wounaan baskets are available in a few shops across the country, but the museum quality art we represent is produced exclusively by the master weavers, and is available only through RainforestBaskets and the select galleries we have a relationship with.