Monday, March 18, 2013

Exploring Selby Gardens

Aechmea Woronowii (seen in
the Tropical Conservatory)
My friend Dorrit is one of those people who can identify plants and flowers at 20 paces.  I, on the other hand, have a more rudimentary style of pointing at a flower that I like and saying something elluminating like, "Wow, that's pretty!"   I found myself doing a lot of oohing and aahing during our recent visit to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.  

In addition to having wonderful gardens, the property includes a mansion that has been converted into the Gardens Museum.  The current exhibit is A Tribal Collection:  Rainforest Masks of Costa Rica, and Dorrit and I headed up to Sarasota to take in the exhibit and a lecture given by Marilynn and CJ Shelley.  For the past nine years, the Shelleys have traveled to the indigenous village of Boruca to purchase masks for Selby's annual exhibition and sale.  It doesn't sound easy to get to Boruca (located in South Pacific Costa Rica near the Panamian border), what with mudslides and downed trees that can close the "roads" for extended periods of time.  But the Shelleys have become ex-officio members of the community, and it is clear that they enjoy their annual trek to the village.

Hot and Bothered
by Nidia Fernandez
The masks created by residents of Boruca celebrate both the tribe's history and its ongoing concerns.   In the 1500s, the Spanish invaded Costa Rica and attempted to wipe out the tribal cultures there.  The Boruca tribe was successful in preventing the conquistadors from taking over its village, and tribal lore attributes that success in part to the villagers' use of devil masks.   The Spanish were afraid of the devil, you see, and purportedly were scared away by the fierce diablo masks.  To this day the village rings in the new year with the Festival of the Devils to celebrate the tribe's continued existence.

Capuchin Monkey Pair
by Neftali Rojas Morales
The Shelleys explained that there are three types of Borucan masks:  diablo masks, ecological masks, and combinado masks.  Today the preservation of the rainforest is one of the Borucan people's primary concerns.  Both the ecological masks and the combinado masks celebrate the liveliness and colors of the rainforest.  These masks typically include the face of a shaman who protects the environment surrounding him.

Drawing for mask by Francisco
Rojas Morales
Francisco and Pedro Rojas Morales, two of the mask artists, were on site the day that we visited Selby.  These brothers work together to create their masks, with Francisco doing the drawing and painting and Pedro doing the carving.  It is quite an intricate process.  Depending upon the level of detail, it can take up to two weeks to create one mask (with the painter getting sole credit for the work!)   The masks are carved from the wood of balsa trees, which are a renewable resource.  In three years, a balsa tree can grow from a seed to a 30 foot tree (which can then be used to make 30 masks).  So the use of balsa for these masks is consistent with the tribe's objective of preserving the environment.

All in all, it was an interesting outing. The exhibit runs through April 19th, so there's still plenty of time to get there if your curiosity has been piqued.  (Details can be found at  Next year I'm hoping to persuade Dorrit to take the Borucan mask painting class.  Somehow I suspect it would make me appreciate the skills of these artists all the more.

1 comment:

  1. Nanette, this place sounds dreamy. When I was a child I used to love to go to the spring flower show. All those happy little tulips and daffodils gave me a raging case of spring fever. It's a bit different here in the land of perpetual sunshine. We don't get the drastic seasonal changes, but we do have an incredible array of colorful flowers.

    Thanks for introducing me to Selby Gardens!


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