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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Francisco Rosario woodturning in his shop in Manati, August 1999
Francisco Rosario woodturning in his shop in Manati Photo: Giovanni Rufino

Puerto Rican Crafts

In 1493, with the discovery of Boriquén (Puerto Rico's aboriginal name) and subsequently with European colonization, a fusion of elements of Taino, Spanish and African cultures produced new craft forms with a personality all their own. American sovereignty over the island, beginning in 1898, threw into the mix yet another cultural influence.

This amalgamation of traditions produced varied expressions of craftsmanship: musical instruments, masks, carved wooden saints (santos), furniture, rag dolls, textiles, and drums. After more than 500 years, local handicrafts are currently at their zenith, thanks to the artistry and industry of Puerto Rican craftspeople and government agencies that promote them, such as the Puerto Rican Tourism Company, the Industrial Development Company (PRIDECO), and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. Even today's Puerto Rican industrial economy is rooted in manual labor, and despite the influx of modern technology, handicrafts continue to thrive and create important economic benefits for the workforce.

Jose Gonzalez, Hammock maker, 1999
Jose (Che) Gonzalez, Hammock maker San Sebastian, PR, September 1, 1999 Photo: Giovanni Rufino

Craft forms documented by the project include textiles (cattail weaving, hammock weaving, bobbin lace-making, sleeping-mat weaving and basketry); wood turning; wooden trays; ceramics; musical instruments (tambourines, bombas [percussion], cuatros and bordonúas [string instruments]); miniature reproductions of boats; religious folk imagery (wooden saint carving); native bird carvings; rooster carvings; masks; pottery; and rag dolls.

The project materials comprise a written report and 30 8 x 10 color photographs with accompanying descriptions, 19 showing the artisans themselves and 11 displaying different handicrafts. Twenty craft forms (14 traditional and 6 contemporary) were documented. Also included is a map highlighting the routes to the 21 towns where these craftspeople practice their art. Interviews with 23 master artisans were conducted and short background profiles of each artisan are provided, as well as a short explanation of each of the 20 craft forms. There is also a bibliography.

Originally submitted by: Carlos Romero-Barcelo, Delegate (At Large).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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