This molas (cloth sculpture) was made by an anonymous Native American woman from the San Blass tribe in Panama. It’s considered special because it uses so many different colors, and the small, precise shapes make such an intricate, unique design.
Each color is a separate layer of cloth. The seamstress cuts through the layers to the color she wants, then cuts out the shapes in that layer. It’s called a cloth sculpture because the layering makes it three dimensional.
Parts of the animal look like a predatory cat, and parts look like a bird of prey. I think it’s a goddess, maybe The Goddess that is central to so many tribal cultures.
She has a head, feet, wing, tail,heart, and rib cage. The tail, hind leg, hip, ribs, and heart outside the chest are catlike. The wing, head, topknot, front leg and foot are bird-like. Either way, she’s definitely a godess.
The seamstress lays out the cloth in layers, each one a different color. Then, she cuts through the layers until she exposes the color and shape she wants.
I saw some in two or three colors from Chile. Wives of “the disappeared” made and sold them to support themselves and dramatize their loved ones’ situation. When the junta ruled Chile, they made a lot of people disappear, including at least one American journalist, Charles Horman.
Jack Lemmon made a movie Missing, based on a true story of Horman’s father’s futile search for his missing, unaccounted for, son in Chile. It turned out the young man was killed before anyone knew he was missing, in a notorious, secret mass execution days after the junta seized power in a coup d’etat .
That’s the way the junta did things from 1973 to 1990, and why their victims were called “the disappeared.”
Compared to this Panamanian stunner, the Chilean ones looked like children’s crayon drawings.
My high school friend James Hirschhorn bought this piece for me in 1972, when he was stationed in what was then called “the Canal Zone,” sovereign U.S. territory that cut the country of Panama in half. Americans who lived and worked down their lived like Englsh Army officers and colonial office bureaucrats when India was a colony, Hirschhorn said. Panamanians and enlisted men did all the work, while the colonial masters wore white linen and sat on screened porches with cocktails.
We returned the canal and the canal zone when Jimmy Carter was president, as the original canal treaty required.
Hirschhorn’s job in the CZ was to monitor and transfer military and diplomatic transmissions between the U.S. and South America. A few days before it happened, he told me the exact hour the U.S. would overthrow Chile’s elected leader, Social Democrat Salvador Allende, and install the junta. I said nothing about it because I was not a news reporter yet, and I did not want my best friend to disappear, or be tried for treason and espionage.