Glencairn Museum News | Number 2, 2015
Molas are hand-stitched reverse appliqué panels made for the front and back of blouses worn by Cuna women, who live on the San Blas Islands along the coast of Panama. Each mola in this exhibition illustrates a story from the Bible—from the Garden of Eden to the Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven.
Molas probably originated with the custom of body painting, traditionally done by Cuna women as early as the 17th century. By the 19th century the body painting was replaced by textiles, perhaps because Christian missionaries insisted that the Cuna wear clothing. Molas are made by women and girls, using only a needle, scissors and thimble. The Cuna have selectively adopted certain aspects of Western civilization, but continue to maintain their indigenous lifestyle and traditions. Many belong to thriving Christian congregations, and biblical themes are often depicted in their textiles. Western symbols such as Christmas trees are sometimes incorporated into mola designs.
The molas in this exhibition are on loan from the collection of Sandra and Bob Bowden. According to Sandra,
“The first time I saw these biblical molas was in a gallery of ethnic art in San Francisco 15 years ago, and I was immediately taken with the intricate needlework. I was also intrigued that I found some with biblical themes. A short while later I made contact with a dealer in Panama who would search for biblical panels. Some islands are known for being especially drawn to the biblical stories. Over the course of four or five years I realized that I had a variety of molas that told the story of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, from ‘Eden to Eternity.’”
“These beautifully stitched reverse embroidery panels reflect a joyous celebration of the Bible. I love how the artists use the entire surface, filling every inch with pattern or design. These molas appeal to a wide range of ages: children delight in them, and those who sew can marvel at the delicate and difficult stitchery used to create these colorful interpretations of biblical characters.”