A cozy place where you can easily fully immerse in Puerto Rico’s cultural heritage in a pleasing way is the Museum of Popular Arts in Municipality of Caguas, Puerto Rico. A variety of handicrafts made by talented Puerto Rican artisans and displayed on its permanent exhibition rooms creatively honor Puerto Ricans’ lineage as well as traditions and customs, including ones influenced by African, Spanish and Taíno ancestors. Below we share our experience at this museum.
A mixed-media masterpiece immediately caught our attention—“Artífices - Hijos de esta Tierra” (Artisans- Sons of this Land) crafted by Edwin Baez, renown artisan from Caguas. Rita Rivera, the museum’s cultural promoter staff member, described this magnificent clay figure representation of Puerto Ricans’ heritage and evolution: (a) Taíno indigenous people holding an earthen jar and zemi, a stone carving used by Taínos for god worship, (b)Africans carrying a pandero (handheld percussion instrument) and vejigante mask (emblem of Santiago Apóstol Festivities in Loíza, a town recognized for its culture with Afro-Caribbean influence), (c) a Spanish holding a bound book, and (d) Puerto Rican carrying the Puerto Rican cuatro, national musical string instrument derived from Spanish influence. This artwork impressively depicts surfaces where predecessors stepped on: ground, adoquines (cobblestone pavement) and colonial-era floor tiles. It also shows a vivid representation of ancestors walking towards a historic wooden structure.
Also, “Maboití”, another mixed-media handcraft created by Edwin Baez, stood out in “Maestros Artesanos” permanent exhibit room. A clay figure depicts Maboití, a Taíno sitting on a rock next to a palm tree while surrounded by miniature vivid clay figures incredibly representing 17 Puerto Rico endemic birds identified by Rita. The Puerto Rican Parrot, Puerto Rican Owl (múcaro), Puerto Rican Lizard Cuckoo (Pájaro Bobo Mayor), Puerto Rican Woodpecker and Puerto Rican Tody (San Pedrito) are among these birds. The palm tree craft is made of wood (trunk) and masking tape and wire (palm leaves). All details are brilliant!
While at this gallery, we saw other handicrafts made by different Puerto Rican artificers. For example, we observed a clay jar molded by Tomás Díaz and hammock made of maguey fiber by Eustaquio Alers, both representing Taíno influence. We also saw a vejigante mask made of coconut shell and corresponding costume (anonymous) in honor of traditional Loíza’s Santiago Apóstol Festivities, and papier-maché vejigante mask created by Juan Alindato, emblematic of Ponce Vejigante Festival. In addition, a wooden-and-cattail rocking chair handcrafted by David Villalobos, cattail rug made by Fernando Torres and Puerto Rican cuatro created by Carmelo Martell represent typical utilitarian objects. We also looked at beautiful Three Kings wooden sculptures in recognition of Three Kings Day celebration with Spanish roots, among other crafts.
At “Artesanos Cagueños” permanent exhibition room, most artisanal creations shown are made by artists from Caguas, as stated by Rita. For instance, we admired two outstanding creations made by Edwin Baez: (a) meticulous self-portrait and mixed-media handcraft that depicts this artisan working in his studio, and (b) “Picapiedra de Guavate” which portrays a local artist, Juan Santos Torres (also known as Picapiedra de Guavate), carving one of Guavate Three Kings sculptures that he actually made in Puerto Rico. Also, we stared at wooden santos figures, created by artisans from different Puerto Rico municipalities and who keep a carving tradition that is believed to have started under the Spanish colonization era. In addition, we stared at picturesque pleneros figures, molded with clay by María de los Angeles Fonseca and which are symbol of plena, a music genre with African roots.
After we stared at other artworks displayed in this gallery, we were surprised as we looked towards the celing. Distinctive artisanal kites made by Gerardo Rosa showed off. The kites portray Caguas symbols: (a) Gray Kingbird (pitirre in Spanish), (b) shy plant (moriviví in Spanish), and (c) roble tree, fauna and flora native to Puerto Rico which represent courage, revival, and fortitude, respectively. This view was a great finale of our experience at permanent exposition galleries in Museum of Popular Arts.
The museum also has a gallery for temporary exhibitions. By the time of our visit, visitors could see “Una Década de Cultura” exposition, which commemorates the museum’s first decade of operation and is composed of a selection of artisanal works displayed in this gallery since 2009, the museum’s inauguration year.
The Museum of Popular Arts is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 9:00 am- 12:00 pm, and 1:00 pm- 5:00 pm. For more information, you may contact museum’s personnel at 787-258-3505.