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, 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.
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.
Gail Shields-Miller, Shields & Company Interiors, NY, NY
I love decorating with baskets. These “master” baskets are really special! I stumbled upon them on the website Rainforest baskets. They are self proclaimed museum worthy baskets. That explains the price. They must be the Mercedes Benz of baskets. But, oh are they beautiful!
The baskets are woven by the Wounaan and Emberá tribes people of the rain forests of Panama and Columbia. They call the art Hösig Di. Chunga palm fibers and natural dyes are used to weave the baskets along with silk thread. The baskets command upwards of $4,000.00 They are considered the most beautiful contemporary baskets in the world.
Carrie’s Design Musings
“When I first read about Wounaan handmade Hösig Di basketry from Panama . . . I was immediately taken with the beauty and geometry of their graphic patterns. I had been looking for something unique for a project I was finishing and I felt that the baskets could be perfect.
Overall, the home was very traditional but the media room was to be a more contemporary space. I had the opportunity to bring in something more rustic and handmade. We had already done the entire estate with refined decorative arts and had used almost every type of beautiful accessory imaginable. I was searching for something truly unique that worked well with the color scheme of red, olive and pale gold.
The clients had collected wonderful things in their travels, including a rain stick and an assortment of African masks, which I wanted to use in this room. These baskets had a natural connection. When they arrived, I fell in love with them and the client did too! Having an eye for very fine things, she was impressed with the incredible quality and caliber of the basketry.”
Jane Antonacci Design, Menlo Park, CA
We received the baskets last Thursday evening, two days after we arrived back in Missoula. What a treat it was to open the boxes and see them. We spent two days moving them around trying to find the best place. Ever since I first saw the baskets in Denver at your show at the Native American Trading Company, I have thought they were unique and beautiful. I like the natural materials and the colorful designs.
I can see that you love meeting the women artists in Panama and encouraging them. George told me he was envious of the collector who traveled with you to Panama to meet several artists. He would have loved to do that. The stories about the women who make the baskets and seeing their pictures make the baskets even more delightful. What a wonderful talent the artisans have.
Please tell them we admire their baskets and their talents tremendously! Thank you for sending the pictures. I will copy them and put them in the baskets. I especially like the round shape of the bird basket. It goes just about anywhere in my house.
Today I was wishing we were back in Santa Fe. All we had to do there was see your beautiful baskets, decide where to go to dinner, and take walks in the warm sunshine.
I appreciate very much your giving so much of your time and knowledge on Saturday when you showed us your collection. I know after two hours we managed to wear both you and ourselves out. But it was worth it, to us anyway. I will always have the baskets to remind me of a wonderful, aesthetically rich Santa Fe vacation!
“We were thrilled when Charlotte and Lorran’s book, Weaving the Scarlet Macaw was published. It is certainly a reference, history and art book, and the photography is wonderful! It encompasses everything one needs to know about the Hösig Di Rainforest baskets – from how they are made to how to care for them.
These baskets have evolved onto works of art that I couldn’t have imagined when I was first introduced to some small, primitive baskets on one of our trips to the San Francisco International Folk Art Museum in the late 1980’s.
Thank you for promoting the economy and industry of the Wounaan Indians and for encouraging the weavers to ‘stretch’ their imagination and artistic potential into creating and weaving some of the most beautiful baskets being made today. As a result, what we have are masterpieces.
Our own cherished Hösig Di baskets have become very much a part of our everyday surroundings.
Leslie and Joel, San Diego, CA
The basket I ordered arrived today. It is a beauty! I’m quite knocked out over the quality of this basket. It’s given me basket-itis. I would like to find a basket in the traditional-cultural style . . . if you have something in my price range . . . let me know.
Ron R., San Diego, CA
Weaving the Scarlet Macaw is an absolutely gorgeous book! Congratulations!
Theresa M., San Antonio, TX
I have returned home from a few days holidays and, of course, opened the box immediately and as you expected my wife and I are thrilled. It is a lovely basket, a piece of art, fine, elegant, meeting exactly our taste. Thank you so much for making it available to us.
Many thanks also for the book which gives us a lot of background and guidance to understanding the work even more. Of course, my wife and I would very much appreciate if you keep us informed on any new pieces you add to the Gallery.
Peter B., Dusseldorf, Germany
Really enjoyed our conversation today. It was so nice of you to spend an hour with me reviewing the baskets. It’s just too bad I did not see the gallery sooner, you have the very best baskets out there!!! I would like to buy your book . . . and when the weather gets better I would love to come to Santa Fe and visit your gallery. Just looking at the baskets is very inspiring, and I so appreciate the time and craft it takes to make one of these baskets.
Joyce W., Tucson, AZ
I wandered through your magnificent Web site…it is beautifully put together, highly educational, a visual tour de force, and very well organized. I like your bios on the [contest] winners…and the story about how Loida Mejia learned that she is clearly an artist.
Feelie L., Santa Monica, CA
Weaving the Scarlet Macaw is a tribute to the baskets and to your love and commitment to them.
Tom A., Santa Fe, NM
Your beautiful book arrived Wednesday evening, and we have had a great time looking at it. Some of those baskets are HUGE! Also, it was so enjoyable to see how the women live, their clothes, village, children, body decorations, jungle. I enjoyed reading your bio on the back page and your wife’s also; you both are very creative people. What a life you’ve had!
I never expected such a speedy response to my e-mail. Thank you for sending the book so quickly and for your letter.
Carol R., Missoula MT.
Received your well-packed basket last week. Your photo does not do it justice. I am enjoying looking at and tracing with my touch the intricacies of the weaving. Will be viewing the video this weekend. Thank you!
Doreen C., Claremont, CA
My basket—beautiful! Wanted to let you know that I received my basket today and it is wonderful! This may be turning into an addiction. Thanks so very much.
Barbara D., Dallas, TX
It appears that you have added more to your Web site. It is a wealth of information, and your photography is just beautiful.
Janice & Harvey B., Reston, VA
I can’t wait to see the new baskets. I really appreciate your special service and I think you two are the nicest people to deal with. Please keep up the good work.
Winnifred L., Camarillo, CA
I felt privileged to view the spectacular Panamanian baskets, works of art beyond normal imagination, and to hear some of the stories from Lorran.
Faith G., Santa Fe, NM
The Rainforestbaskets.com site is spectacular, and your efforts to disseminate information about the Wounaan culture are truly commendable. Thank you for the messages and for taking the time to explain the background in depth for me. I will pass your suggestions on to the women as best I can–but there are so many challenges to tackle at once.
There are many women in the village with different skills and I hope to work with all of them. Additionally, I’m looking for other, different avenues to sell the baskets (of all quality and sizes) –and all within the framework of sustainability. But the information you’ve relayed is a great start for the fine weavers in the village and I do appreciate all that you are doing to help support the women.
Karen L., U.S. Peace Corps, Darién Province, PANAMA
The basket is exquisite! It was beautifully packed and arrived in [a] timely manner and safely. Thank you!
Ann B., Tulsa, OK
Our basket gets admiring attention when we have guests, and from time to time we just pick it up from the low stand it is on and marvel again at the workmanship. Thanks for your follow up!
James T., Arro Grande, CA
The basket arrived and it’s quite stupendous to my eyes. I love it. Thanks so much for the picture; it’s amazing and a joy to pair Ernestina’s lovely face with my beautiful basket.
Joye B., Pasadena, CA
I wanted to thank you for taking the time to send me such detailed instructions on dealing with my other baskets. They are quite pedestrian compared to the baskets purchased from you and Lorran, but still I would like to care from them properly. I’m glad you brought up the point of special care for the lacquer covered one.
My thanks again to Lorran for patiently explaining how to reseat [straighten the bottom of] my heliconia basket. I was quite intimidated to try this myself, but it worked perfectly and gave me the confidence to use the technique on other baskets. My thanks again to you both.
Ron R., Carlsbad, CA
I received my basket today and I am very pleased with it. It is in a prominent place on my Stickley bookcase and looks wonderful. I marvel at the intricacy and beauty of it. Thank you so much! I am going to look at your site just now in the hope that you have a nice small one for my coffee table.
Fred L., NY, NY
I received my book and I am awed, stunned by its beauty. It is such a treasure, and a wonderful compliment to the small collection of baskets I have gathered over the past four years.
Isobel H., Portland, OR
Guess what just arrived? Dalia’s basket arrived [with pictures] in perfect condition and it is absolutely gorgeous. Right now I am having trouble getting the office staff to put it down. I love it and it will be the hit of the collection. Thank you, thank you.
Armin S., Beverly Hills, CA
Our book just arrived and it is fantastic. I can’t wait to sit down and enjoy it. The photography is breathtaking and I will read every word. Thank you so much. I look forward to seeing you both again on our next visit to Santa Fe.
Ann L., Silver Spring, MD
…the baskets are beautiful and [with] very fine workmanship. I love them!
Winnifred L., Camarillo, CA
I am so delighted to have been sent the absolutely gorgeous book on the Wounaan culture. It was a very happy surprise! I spent several hours with it but want to find the time to go back and read the entire thing. It’s a valuable lesson in many respects – microfinance, the evils of those who consume the drugs that the drug gangs supply (why do so many forget the issue of supply and demand), careful use of our planet etc. etc. Congratulations on a wonderful achievement!
Charlene R., Dallas, TX
Birds in Trees arrived today and is beautiful! It is exactly as pictured and described, and it’s a perfect size for me. Keep me in mind if you receive similar size baskets of very high quality workmanship and design. Thank you.
Frances B., Ephraim, WI, CA
I have never met you before, but I must say, your customer service is quite something to behold and treasured in these times. The artwork arrived in due order, and we will follow all the instructions you sent us. Thank you so much. We hope to be in Santa Fe this spring and visit with you.
Armand N., Portola, CA
The two baskets and the book arrived yesterday. The book is spectacular, and I will enjoy reading it at my leisure. Right now I’ve only had time to look at the photos and admire the gorgeous baskets pictured.
The two additional baskets you sent are really beautiful. I’m delighted to have them, although I must admit they have stretched my display space to its limit because I keep everything out where it can be enjoyed. Seeing these baskets each day will give me a great deal of pleasure. Thank You
Frances B., Ephraim, WI
I just took a moment to visit your website again. I just found the attached picture. What a gorgeous collection! I especially love the two with black backgrounds. Is that a bear claw motif? I’m in trouble with all this beauty………. See what you started…………….
Thank you for your phone call yesterday. It meant a great deal to me. I found your earlier email and am sending this reply to share with you the 4 baskets I fell in love with after viewing your website for the first time. If my pockets were deeper today, these are the 4 I would purchase to be the core of my new collection. These are truly stunning pieces. The shape, coloration, design elements, workmanship are all stellar. I know the day will come when this dream comes true.
I have not yet read your entire website/story, but I did get as far as learning your love of photography. Another special love of mine. Attached is a favorite photo, that feeds my soul for the exotic and inspires renewed health and fitness for travel. Please give my best wishes to Charlotte also, and please stay in touch. Have a lovely evening.
Leah E., Quincy, MA
I must congratulate myself first for calling and inquiring about two baskets on their website. Yes, of course I thought they were quite wonderful, but I had yet to see and hold one. I now catch myself staring at my baskets, in wonder, and upon reflection, here is what this has taught me.
World cultures, known to all of us, celebrate their most talented artists as national treasures, the moreso when such high art is still being done by living, breathing individuals. That same level of awareness, appreciation, and marvel is only possible for us because Rainforestbaskets.com has lifted both the weavers and their baskets into the modern marketplace from these very remote and culturally sensitive areas.
Think of the scenario of your choice on “Antiques Roadshow” where the appraiser pronounces the provenance and value of an item. That could be one of these amazing baskets, if the world only knew about them… that’s what you are seeing in each basket, a national treasure…
The refinement and precision of the weavers of these baskets, each a master weaver, really defies description. Countless hours accumulate into days, weeks, months, and even years to complete such peerless works. To be able to acquire such meticulously crafted work is to enter into that cultural community at the heart’s level and, in preserving a single example, to elevate oneself to a Patron or Patroness of the Arts.
Susan E., San Francisco, CA
The new basket for my collection arrived today. It is absolutely stunning! I feel privileged that through you and Charlotte I have been able to acquire these weaving masterpieces.
Thank you. I’m sure these baskets will prove to be among the finest ever made.
Ronald R., Carlsbad, CA
Wow, and wow! What a gorgeous basket. You are too generous. It’s truly beautiful and I thank you so much. I hope that *our* energy exchange works to grease the skids to excite the molecules so that things take off in the right direction!
Sometimes we send our energy off to do good in the world, taking it on faith that no matter what else is going on in the universe, our contribution makes a difference. I firmly believe that. I also watched “I Am” last week, and it was just delightful, confirming what I know in my heart of hearts.
I send you this very cool Ganesha photo – the remover of obstacles and grantor of auspiciousness. We can all use a little (or a lot) of that elephant energy. I love the symbology of Ganesh. I hope you enjoy it.
Blessings, blessings, blessings!
Karla O., Kent, WA