From Darien Rainforest to Telluride: Show opens March 11.

Their story is written in palm fiber  – the Wounaan Indians from the Darien Rain Forest in Panama believe they  emerged from the palm trees –  and natural dyes  from tree (chunga palm) bark, fruits, leaves and earth, then shaped into the baskets that shape their lives.

Curators and collectors alike claim that this small group of people living in eastern Panama, the Wounaan and Embera Indians, are among the world’s finest weavers of coiled baskets, their work comparable to North American Pomo and Panamint baskets, widely regarded among the best examples of woven art in the world.

Baskets range from simple and utilitarian to masterpieces of intricate designs of rainforest birds, flowers, and animals as well as geometric motifs borrowed from pre-Columbian pottery and rock drawings, textiles and patterns from ritual body painting and tattooing. The dye process used to introduce color into their already colorful story is painstakingly tedious and often requires weeks to obtain a particular color. The baskets themselves take from 6 – 20 months to complete.

The purchase of these unique baskets provides an income stream to the Woounaan Embera Indians, who use the funds to educate their children, buy outboard motors to make small boats and dugout canoes more efficient, even lanterns and flashlights. (It gets black as pitch in the rainforest at night.) PVC pipes purchased with funds from basket sales bring fresh water to native huts.

Baskets not only serve to preserve a culture, they contribute to preserving the rainforest. Weavers and villagers practice sustainable harvesting of the chunga palms.

Wounaan Embera palm-fiber baskets are now part of the collection at Telluride’s Lustre Gallery. Owners of rainforestbaskets.com and representatives of the weavers and their line of museum-quality works, Ed and Jennifer Kuyper, are in town for a show Sunday, March 11 – Tuesday, March 13.

To learn more, click the “play” button and listen to what Jennifer has to say.

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