Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Beautiful tapir mola from San Blas Islands, Panama

Colorful and intricate tapir mola from Panama
This detailed stitchery is 16 inches wide x 12 inches tall.

Molas are clothing art of the Kuna Indians of Panama. This mola from the San Blas Islands consists of a fine-line pattern of the most traditional style and quality.

During our two two weeks in Panama in January, 2006, we saw a quite a number of molas, but only TWO depicted the tapir in this traditional mola form made of FINE LINES OF COLOR. One is in this auction, and one we will keep for our own collection. We found a few other molas depicting tapirs that were made in a more modern applique style using larger areas of color, and these will be put online as we have time. We believe that the traditional-style TAPIR mola IN THIS AUCTION is extremely rare. Molas originated as wearable art. The intricate designs made by the Kuna women lasted longer than the clothing they were attached to. When the blouse wore out, the decorative panel was unstitched from the surrounding cloth and recycled when it was re-sewn into a new blouse. These days, many molas are made strictly for the tourist trade. That is probably the case with the one shown here as well. The backing is white, and up to three layers have been added on top, inlcuding the black. The delicate hand stitching can be seen on the back. None of this piece was made by machine. Although the piece was made in the San Blas Islands, we purchased it in Panama City. The piece is as-made with trimmed edges and is perfect for framing.

Tapirs in Panama: Although many people in those in countries where tapirs live have never seen nor heard of one, we were excited to find several people in Panama City as well as a few local people in the mountain villages we visited who were passionately interested in the tapir's survival. Baird's tapir is the only tapir species living in Panama. Its total numbers there are unknown but are estimated to be about 300 to 500 individuals, essentially broken into two population areas - one in the mountains of the west near Costa Rica, and one in the low-lying jungles of the Darien. The lowlands along the north coast include the area in which this mola was made. Baird's tapir is endangered throughout its range of southern Mexico to northern Colombia. Adrian Benedetti, Director of the Summit Zoo just outside Panama City, has taken special interest in tapirs and is beginning to network with other Panamanian environmentalists to find ways of protecting these amazing animals.

A note on the tapir: Baird's tapirs weigh about 500 to 600 pounds. They have four toes on each front foot and three toes on each rear foot. Every toe is encased in a small hoof. Tapirs are related to horses and rhinos, and have remained very little changed for about 20 million years. Now all tapir species are endangered throughout their ranges.

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