I spend a lot of time in Los Angeles because I love the LA design market. I always manage to discover something new and fabulous when I go out there.

On a recent trip I was joined by my dear friend, Mary Herne, who is a connoisseur of the beautiful and ethnic (see post), in an adventure to visit a private exhibition of  WOUNAAN BASKETS made in the Darién Rainforest of Panamá. At first it sounded pretty esoteric, but it ended up being quite fascinating.

Me at the private exhibition.


These baskets, called Hösig Di in Wounaan, are not the ordinary touristy woven baskets that you might pick up as a souvenir on a vacation. These are museum quality examples of an artistry that the woman of the Wounaan and the Embrá tribes have been passing down for generations from mother to daughter. Each basket is a one-of-a-kind handmade masterpiece, usually taking between one to three years to complete.

The imagery on these baskets is woven in either one of two motifs: either geometric or pictorial. The geometric patterns are based on geometric patterns used in body painting and  Pre-Colombian pottery, The  pictorial are based on subjects and patterns seen in the rainforest where the Wounaan and Embrá live.

An organization called RainforestBaskets.com is the support system behind bringing these “woven artworks” to the marketplace and into museum exhibitions. They represent somewhere between 50-75 artists.

Since the work is ordered on a commission basis only, and the process takes so long, they actually financially support the artists until the basket is completed.  Their efforts have provided much needed income to the Woounan and the Embrá, as the prices can range from $1000 for a small basket to as much as $36,000 for one that takes 3-4 years to produce.

Each artisan possesses a unique style that is easily identifiable by the design motif displayed in the final basket. No two baskets are alike. The baskets are begun with a small knot at the bottom and the insides are as beautiful as the outsides. Although called woven artworks, the artworks are actually stitched with a needle, utilizing very young, tender palm-fronds and colored with organic dyes.

It takes years for each basket to be completed…that’s right years! The baskets are extremely finely woven, always in spellbinding patterns. When you look closely at them it is hard to imagine that they were made by hand, the precision is so very unbelievable.

Originally totally utilitarian in nature, by the end of the 20th Century  the baskets gradually changed into priceless artwork.

It is quite marvelous to think how this talent and skill has been passed on from mother to daughter, from one master weaver to a beginner weaver, over and over again.  The efforts of RainforestBaskets.com has gone a long way to help the Wounaan and Embrá tribes bring these beautiful creations to the attention of collectors and museums, and in so doing provide them with recognition for their talent and money to use to maintain their community.

Jennifer Kuyper

These are lofty goals and Jennifer Kuyper, who runs the organization, has gone to great lengths to encourage the Wounaan and Embrá to continue weaving the baskets and to help them utilize the new found money appropriately. Most likely without her devotion to their welfare and well being they might have long disappeared from their villages and discontinued this amazing craft.

So three cheers for Jennifer Kuyper and RainforestBaskets.com!!! If you are interested in purchasing one they can be bought directly from RainforestBaskets.com or at various galleries out west that represent them. I’ve seen them in person and they are truly exquisite.