Visiting the artisans in the Solentiname Islands

Apart from kayaking around the Solentiname islands, the other thing I was keen to do was visit the artisans who are renowned for their balsa carvings and primitivist paintings.   The main population of artisans is found on the largest island – Isla Marrancón – so we visited the first afternoon we spent in the Archipelago.

To be brutally honest, it was a huge disappointment!  I’m very glad we were also doing the kayaking and this was not the only reason we visited the islands.   For a start – where was everybody?   We saw a fancy hotel and about 4 hostels but I think we were the only tourists on the island (OK – so it wasn’t one of the days that the boat from San Carlos arrived) and there were very few locals to be seen as well.

We walked the circuit of the community and only saw 2 families working at the artesanía.  We ended up spending most of our time with the Peñas Ponce family who had a sign out the front inviting guests in and were working on their front patio.

Jose was turning blocks of balsa wood into crude animal shapes with a machete.  These he would later refine with a sharp knife and sandpaper.

artesan Solentiname

Nicaraguan men certainly know how to handle a machete!

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Olga was painting the final animal shapes with the bright acrylic colours this artesanía is renowned for.  These colours are painted over a base so that they remain bright and vibrant.

artesania Solentiname

Caite had spied an unpainted balsa angel figure and decided that she would paint her own while I chatted with the family.

artesania Solentiname

Some of the many finished products that were for sale.  I ended up buying a butterfly (for Zara) and a small toucan that Olga had just finished painting.

artesania Solentiname

Unfortunately, we didn’t find anyone making the primitivist paintings which I really like and which typically depict idealised community life and nature executed in bright colors and intricate detail.  But it turned out that the owner of the Albergue Celentiname was a bit of a painter herself – this is the business card for the Albergue.  Love this style of painting!  Reminds me a little of the Magical Realism of Ecuador.

primitive artwork solentiname

There were also a whole bunch of primitivist paintings in the Art Gallery back on Isla San Fernando.  Unfortunately, couldn’t take pictures of them, and couldn’t really afford to buy one either (there were a few really beautiful ones there going for US$1000!) – and I finally convinced myself after a bit of umming and ahhing that I really didn’t need another piece of unhung artwork…  Even a very small one.

The Art Gallery also had a wonderful display of the brightly coloured balsa-wood animals for sale.  Loved how they had set it out.

artesania Solentiname

artesania Solentiname

Actually, one of the coolest things I saw on Isla Marrancón was the church of Ernesto Cardenal.   Couldn’t actually enter it (the lady who had the keys was in San Carlos), but peeking through the window I loved its simplicity and the painted decorations behind the altar.  Would have loved a closer look!

iglesia solentiname

So if you are planning to visit the Solentiname Islands specifically to visit the artists, maybe ask around about how to get the most out of the experience before arriving.  The artwork is amazing, but it really wasn’t clear to us where everyone was.   Probably we missed something fundamental – so come prepared, or perhaps on the day when the tourist boats arrive?


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