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South American Art Comes North

Latin American indigenous and popular art has a new showcase at the recently opened Orinoco Arts and Crafts in the western San José suburb of Escazú. The store and gallery’s aim is to offer a unique collection of arts and crafts from the northern regions of South America, which stretch from the Orinoco River basin in Venezuela to Brazil, Colombia and the foothills of the Andes.

The inspiration of Venezuelan owner Saúl Guerrero and his wife and partner Adrianna Schutte, Orinoco offers a golden opportunity to add to or start a collection of this type of artwork.

“What we have here is a small but wonderful representation of the soul of our people,” says Guerrero, a retired business executive.

The couple’s aim is to expose to the international market the centuries-old traditions of the indigenous ethnic groups of the Orinoco River valley, as well as the fascinating panorama of the region’s heritage evident in the European and vibrant African influences that pervade the colorful, curious and sometimes blasphemous popular art.

“Artists and craftsmen working from home need a market,” says Guerrero, who buys directly from the artists. “I love to visit their villages, listen to their stories and put a face to their work.”

With indigenous groups it’s a little different, he says. He visits their communities if they are accessible, but buys their crafts through cooperatives they have set up themselves.

When you visit Orinoco Arts and Crafts, take your time and prowl around. There are no hard-sell tactics, and customers are encouraged to relax, take a seat on the comfy sofa and read from a selection of informative books before making a purchase. A great raconteur, Guerrero has some fascinating stories to tell about the cultural and historical significance of the items on display.

Starting with the indigenous crafts, you will learn that the master craftsmen of the Orinoco River basin are the Ye’kuana, whose intricately woven, superb basketry revolves around food production. Woven in black and red, the round baskets with lids are made by the women, while the men weave the flat round trays.

The Ye’kuana are also masters at woodcraft, as evident in their jaguar seats carved from a single piece of wood. Different indigenous communities along the river make weapons, such as bows, arrows, blowguns and darts, as well as different kinds of basketry.

The Piaroa are known for their masks, which they incorporate into their rituals.

One involves a weird and wonderful bat mask. You’ll also find an amazing collection of hammocks, some made from moriche palm fibers, others from thick, woven cotton, and unique leather campechana hammocks.

Beautiful flowers and vegetables hand carved from tropical woods include realistic looking eggplants made from purple-colored nazareno wood. Sculptor Gerardo Sánchez’s series of metallic leaf-cutter ants and the popular young Angel Tirado’s broomstick figures – actually made with broomsticks – are both inventive and extremely colorful. Among the woodcarvings and papier mâché, you’ll find bad-tempered angels, popular saints, heroes, devils, black priests, religious processions and many other pieces of fascinating artwork reflecting the spirit of the people.

An exhibit of paintings by Venezuelan artists Gisela Sánchez and Mónica Pérez is on display, and other exhibits by selected artists are planned for the future.

At present, the only local artist featured at Orinoco is Escazú resident Barry Biesanz, whose lovely wooden jewelry boxes, bowls and humidors are well known in Costa Rica.

Guerrero says he hopes to include more local artists in the future.

Orinoco Arts and Crafts can assist collectors in finding specific items, and will ship purchases worldwide. The store is in Plaza Itskatzú, facing the Courtyard Marriott hotel. Business hours are Monday to Saturday, 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. If you wish to visit the store outside these hours, call 288-2949 or 889-8486 for an appointment. For information, visit



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