Artisaneas in El Salvador


Rich burnished clay jars, some with dream-like and graphic crabs and lizards, or bolsd stripes, spots and repetitions of thick brushed lines. Painted wooden boxes, with surreal nighttime images, painted with tiny brushes and eye-candy detail; popular crafts – little eggs with daily (or night) life scenes under the dome. Leather bracelets, woven bags, hammocks, bedspreads and table cloths in the simple graphic stripes and checks and diamond patterns that show up everywhere in El Salvador, from the tile floors to the brightly colored walls of houses and businesses.

There is, says José Bonilla, our SEED/CASS country coordinator, a craft revival and growing artisan entrepreneurship in El Salvador. Julia noted that compared to what she has seen on previous visits, there are more varied and more polished examples of handicraft and art works available for visitors.

We have seen wonderful examples of beautiful art and craft, both modern and traditional (and our experiences with the teachers of El Salvador confirm that many people here have an innate visual literacy and talents for making wonderful art). Here’s a sample of the SHAPE collections from the workshop:

Both traditional work, like the black pottery from the Linca people in the northeastern state, to modern contemporary uses of recycled materials in jewelry, craft work and even wire puzzles. And there is a plethora of “tourism” goods – wooden plaques, books and other souvenirs, Cottage artisans, school students and others also make a wide variety of tiny woven and leather bracelets and seed necklaces. 

At the heart of all of the effort is a burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit – and a preparation for what the country hopes to be an increase in tourism, and with it a market for arts and crafts. Such a spirit is seen in the many small shops and stalls wherever local visitors gather, the flower and fruit sellers on the volcano road,  -- there was an the enterprising wire-puzzle artist at the mirador at Planes de Banderos a few miles outside of San Salvador who had set up shop with a roll of wire, cutters and imaginative maze like patterns he designed himself. With the advances El Salvador is making in its education infrastructure we can even imagine a future of “education tourism,” where El Salvador is a model of educational development based on natural, cultural and human resources.

One of the more sophisticated craft industries is the use of native indigo to dye fabric and clothing. The beautiful blue and white garments are sophisticated and graphic in their tied resist patterns. I was given a gift of a beautiful shirt by the teacher group from Morazán who participated in the San Miguel workshop. I hope to return to the Morazán to visit the dyers in the future, but, as a working trip, we didn’t have the time for that excursion.


Another contemporary and iconic craft tradition was started by artist Fernando Llort who began teaching young people in La Palma to paint colorful wooden boxes, tiles, crosses and other items inspired by his designs. Many others have taken up the style, but the best examples (and a gallery of Llort originals) are at his gallery in San Salvador.

In addition to stops at several artisan shops in San Salvador, we also visited the local coffee roaster in Perquín and bought some paper bead jewelry and a little wound paper jar, as well some more of the black clay burnished pottery from one of the little artesanea stalls that has sprung up around the Museum of the Revolution. Last night I stopped in at a artesan co-op where handmade soaps and organic coffee beans shared space with stacks of indigo dyed shirts, abstract paintings and woven housewares. Enough words, check the posterous escuelaCASS site for more photos, too. It's easier to upload on that site, so there are a lot more examples there!