The native arts and crafts of Puerto Rico are an expression of the islanders' diverse heritage

Photo credit: © Chrissy Olson

Many believe that every society has its own distinct style of handicrafts, and with so many ethnicities calling Puerto Rico home, it's no wonder this island is pulsing with a strong creative spirit that influences its many native crafts. Multicultural Puerto Rico will entice lucky visitors with its variety of textiles and its everyday works of art.

The most well-known of the native crafts of Puerto Rico are probably the santos. These carved effigies depict various religious figures and are made from the island's natural resources, such as clay, stone, and wood. Many of the craftsmen, also known as santeros, practice a craft that has been in their family for generations, yet each artisan has his own unique style. Generally, the figures will range from 8 to 20 inches and may be painted in a number of bright colors. The Capilla del Cristo in Old San Juan is a great place to find vendors offering terrific examples of this native craft.

Weaving is another skill that been refined to the point of artistry. Native crafts that make use of this medium include hammocks and baskets, two excellent examples of souvenirs that can be put to practical use once you arrive home. Find both by exploring Old San Juan's Dársenas Plaza on weekends. If you're looking for a more refined example, be sure to check out the local beggar's lace (torchon). An extremely intricate embellishment, this product is the result of a technique now practiced only in Spain and Puerto Rico. It can be a little bit harder to find since there are fewer artisans now than ever before, but it isn't impossible. Every April, the town of Isabela hosts the Puerto Rican Weaving Festival, where visitors can be sure to encounter examples of this rare craft.

Perhaps the most interesting examples of local artistry are the elaborate masks used during carnivals. As part of a tradition that can be traced back to both Spain and Africa, some revelers would often cover their faces with masks featuring grotesque exaggerations to personify evil spirits. In Catholic Spain this was intended to terrify people who strayed from their religion into returning to the church, while in tribal Africa people portrayed these spirits for protection. On Puerto Rico, these masks are called caretas and are usually made of papier-maché. The traditional colors of black and red have been replaced by brighter hues, such as blue and white, but the masks continue to bear horns and fangs. For a wide selection, try Puerto Rican Arts and Crafts, a shop located in Old San Juan.

The crafts that are found throughout Puerto Rico offer a unique glimpse into the cultural history and ethnic diversity of the island's people. Visitors eager to experience local handicrafts will enjoy the wide range of skills showcased throughout the island.


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