In Panamá City, you can visit galleries and department stores, such as “Gran Morrison,” that carry baskets. Darién baskets are offered in several artesania centers of Panamá City as well as by vendors in the Canal Zone. You will notice, however, that the high-quality artworks aren’t there. The finest pieces are spoken for in advance. You might call them “pre-sold.” They are specially commissioned and never see the shops and booths where small- and medium-sized baskets may be purchased.
The RainforestBasket Collection consists of authentic, museum-quality and collector-quality works that are pre-sold and come directly from the artist to Rainforestbaskets.com®. There is a Latin phrase we like to share with anyone who would make purchases in Panamá, “caveat emptor.” Simply put, “Buyer beware.” There are a growing number of fakes and knock-offs sold in these places, and even an expert would be challenged to recognize the difference. Kuna Indians and Panamanian colonos are pushing their imitations, and vendors are profiting shamelessly from this deceptive practice. They’re that good!
There are also buyers from the States who frequent these artesanias to make their purchases, and they, in turn, are introducing fakes and knock-offs into the various markets here, on eBay, and even in galleries unfamiliar with the origin of a given work. If authenticity concerns you, be especially cautious of the phrase,”unknown weaver.” That’s precisely why we go to such great lengths to document our artworks‹ creation from inception through completion. In the art business, this is known as “provenance.”
If you’re contemplating a trip to the Darién, first check travel warnings issued by The U.S. Department of State. Many remote villages have been for quite some time and remain off limits to non-indigenous peoples because of recurrent and violent Colombian guerrilla activity. Raids into villages have resulted in rape, kidnapping and murder. Guerrillas do not discriminate, and the Wounaan and Emberá are at risk as much as foreigners who make international news when taken as hostages across the border. A gallery owner from the States was recently murdered in Panamá.
Because the Panamanian government does not want to risk more international incidents and bad press, and casual visitors to the Darién are closely monitored and prohibited from areas of high risk. There are several villages (one of them Emberá) that are safe and welcome tourists brought by tour or adventure-travel companies, such as ANCON.
Weavers are not pushovers. They recognize the value of their work. Don’t expect to pay $10 for a basket for which the weaver has put in $1,000 worth of work, or $300 for a basket for which the weaver’s been guaranteed $3,000. The artist-patron relationship that we prefer has demonstrated to weavers that long-time sponsorships with personal representatives who pre-buy their works offer far more security than the lure of a one-time sales pop.