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PJ's Mola Wall

Shapes and colors, colors and shapes

My computer desk sits in a room adjacent to my studio. This was a conscious choice. When I am creating my Joomchi artwork, I don’t want to be distracted by email or social media. When I am at my computer, however, a little distraction and inspiration is often welcome. The photograph above captures the view I see looking over the computer screen in my office. I call it my “Mola Wall.”

Molas are handmade by the Cuna Indians who live on the San Blas Islands in Panama. I purchased my first Mola in the early ’90s from a small collectibles shop in Salida, Colorado, the town where I now live. I was immediately attracted to the bright colors and geometric shapes. At the time Molas were virtually unknown outside of Panama. I knew very little about them myself.

After purchasing that first Mola, I started to keep my eye out for more and did a bit of research into their history. I learned the Cuna Indians use them to commemorate special occasions, such as a young girl’s coming of age, marriages, death ceremonies and holidays. I even have one that celebrates a graduation.

Detail shot of a Mola

The technique used is called reverse applique. The artist layers several different colors of cotton cloth on top of each other. Then, through very careful cuts and hand-stitching, each color is revealed. The time and patience required is astounding to me.

My “Mola Wall” was years in the making. Each Mola is many years old and from a different source. Not only does the collection provide visual stimulation for me and my visitors, it also brings to mind my many travels. I have purchased these treasures from Denver to Toronto and I even found one in a little store across from the Picasso Museum in Barcelona!

Though it might be subliminal, I am sure the Molas are an inspiration for the contemporary, abstract artwork I create with mulberry paper. It is the combination of shapes and colors – the basic building blocks of art and design – that continues to excite and challenge me, whether I am on the search for another antique Mola or creating my next Joomchi artwork.