Monday, July 11, 2005

Quilts Made in Costa Rica to Be Exhibited in U.S.

By Patsy Wilson
Tico Times Staff

The Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center (CCCN) in La Sabana, in western San Jose, last week hosted a quilt exhibit entitled “Colors and Shapes of Costa Rica.” Open to the public for just one short week, the exhibit, a joint effort by 59 Costa Rican women, included 59 quilts, all 24 by 24 inches or smaller.

The women are preparing for a U.S. tour later this year to Sioux City, Iowa, Sept. 15-16, and Houston, Texas, Oct. 23-30, for the International Quilt Festival, where they will be participating in a special exhibit. The pre-tour exhibit in San José was the idea of project coordinator Carolyn Underwood.

The U.S. tour stemmed from the efforts of Tomme Fent, chairman of special exhibits in the Sioux City Samplers Quilting Guild. In fall 2003, she began looking for a way to reach out to the large Spanish-speaking community in Sioux City. She posted a message on a quilting Web site and was eventually connected to Carolyn Underwood.

Underwood is from Texas, but has lived in Costa Rica for 13 years. In the small town of Rancho Redondo, in the hills above Guadalupe, northeast of San José, where Underwood resides, she shared her love of quilting, a skill she acquired only five years ago, with other women in the town by teaching them how to quilt.

Most of the women are very poor and have less than sixth-grade educations. When they were asked to contribute to the U.S. exhibit and couldn't afford the necessary materials, the Sioux City Samplers Quilt Guild sent 400 pounds of quilting materials, giving the Rancho Redondo women an “opportunity they never would have had,” Underwood said. Seventeen of the 59 quilts in the exhibit and four of the 15 women going to the United States with the quilts are from Rancho Redondo.

“The exhibit is a cultural exchange between two countries, and all economic and education levels are involved,” Underwood said.

Women from San José, the western suburb of Escazú, and small rural towns similar to Rancho Redondo have also contributed to the project. But perhaps the most unique and interesting fact about the exhibit is that the theme was not preplanned. The women could have quilted absolutely anything, yet all 59 women “expressed how they feel, what they see, and how they love Costa Rica ” in their work, Underwood said.

She added that all of the women worked very hard on their quilts. It took Underwood a year to complete her quilt, which she says she was still sewing as it was being hung in the cultural center for last week's exhibit.

One of the Costa Rican women, Carmen Mata, passed away before finishing her quilt entitled “Guanacaste Tree.” The piece was completed by Mata's friend, Damaris Solín, and will be included in the U.S. exhibit.

Underwood personally purchased plane tickets for the women of Rancho Redondo – who have never had the opportunity to leave their town – to travel to the United States for their quilting tour. Anyone interested in making a donation toward the women's plane tickets, food, lodging and spending money may contact Underwood at 229-9900.

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