Monday, March 5, 2012

Artisanal Jewelry in the Dominican Republic

From the shells that wash up on white sand beaches to the seeds of the fire-red Flamboyan tree, the Dominican Republic is full of natural inspiration and materials that Dominican artisans have crafted into striking jewelry.  The materials that occur naturally in each region of the country influence the unique designs of the area. Artisans from coastal towns like Bayahibe utilize shells of different colors, shapes, and sizes for their elaborate necklaces, earrings and belts; Barahuco’s creative class mines potential in the sky-blue stone, larimar, that is found only in the local hills; and the artisans of Benerito, a town nestled by the East’s grazing pastures, heat and shape cow horn to make rustic yet sheik accoutrements. Admirers of these gorgeous handicrafts take home thoughtful and unique gifts, while also supporting a budding economy of creative minds who come from humble circumstances. Below are several examples of community-based artisan groups and their beautiful products.

Playa Guayacanes, East of Santo Domingo

Playa Guayacanes, a Source of Inspiration and Materials
Les Ateliers de Chantal
At this beachside workshop, French owner Chantal and volunteers train local youth in ceramics, painting, and artisan crafts. Along with their locale in Los Guayacanes, Chantal also established her ateliers in poor barrios of Santo Domingo in order to target at-risk youth and provide them with both a creative outlet and a vocation. The beautiful creations - like intricate clay-bead necklaces and funky coconut shell belts - are for sale in the workshop’s storefront, the proceeds of which support their educational efforts.

Playa Guayacanes is located between Playa Caribe and Juan Dolio east of Santo Domingo along Av. Las Americas; 526-3077;

Larimar, Found Only in the Sierra de Barahuoco
Barahuoco, West of Barahona

The famous blue stone called larimar is found nowhere else in the world but the few hills in which it is mined in the Sierra de Bahoruco. Father Miguel Domingo Fuertes Loren, a Spanish priest, was the first to discover this semi-precious stone in the early 1900s, but it took until 1974 that Miguel Méndez and Peace Corps Volunteer Norman Rilling rediscovered the stone and brought it to wide commercial success. Méndez named the stone after a combination of his daughter’s name, Larissa, and the Spanish word for the sea, “mar.” 
Larimar is a type of pectolite, a volcanic rock. The stone’s captivating hues of blue, ranging from a light sky blue with hints of green to a deep cerulean, are a result of the existence of cobalt in the stone, unique to larimar in the pectolite family.    

To purchase larimar straight from the artisans, head west from Barahona in the Southwest to their workshops near the entrance of Casa Bonita in Barahuoco, where artisans grind, shape and polish larimar, then place it in sterling silver settings. Darker tones of blue with fewer white veins are considered to be more precious, and therefore will more expensive than the lighter varieties. Though you might need to negotiate a bit, the prices are far more reasonable than those found in the tourist centers in Santo Domingo, and interacting with the artists themselves is much more pleasant and informative than street hawkers in the city. In addition, purchasing the jewelry here means that proceeds go to the artisans, instead of middlemen.

Km. 17 Carretera de la Costa, Bahoruco

Artisans from Benerito

East of La Romana

Artecuseco de Benerito 
Located in the small, poor community of Villa Padre Nuestro in Benerito, this artisan group sprung from a few simple courses offered through IDDI, a government educational and development organization. The local women’s association formed the artisan group in 2007, and has advanced tremendously in terms of skill and design through the efforts of a Peace Corp volunteer and outside artisan teachers. 

Necklaces Comprised of  Cow horn, Seashells and Seeds

The women use natural material such as seashells, seeds, cow horns, wood, gourds (higüeros), and coconut shells to make rustic yet lovely jewelry. The pieces make excellent gifts not only for their originality, but also because the sale of such items goes directly into the pockets of the women who make them. The women are planning to construct a permanent workshop, but until then, the best way to see their creations is to contact them directly to visit one of their homes.
RD$100-250 earrings and RD$250-800 for necklaces; Contact Esmeralda, 829-741-3507 or Ani, 829-741-3509;

Leni, an Artisan of Bayahibe Modeling her Work
Asociación de Artesanos La Rosa de Bayahibe
This artisan association in the town of Bayahibe is composed of individual artists who use local and recycled materials such as driftwood, seeds, and shells to make jewelry, dolls, and miniature sailboat replicas. In 2008, a Peace Corps volunteer helped the group form an association and begin marketing to the tourism industry. The group’s creations are on display in the center of Bayahibe, outside the Super Colmadón Bayahibe.

Necklaces and Earrings Made of Seashells and Seeds

Several members of the association maintain their own workshops, where visitors can see the artisans at work. Try catching the artists known as Gauba and Negro working on model boats of the traditional Bayahibe sailboats, or Leni creating her signature dolphin necklaces. If in town for Patronales, be sure to stop by the artisan booth, where artisans from Bayahibe as well as from Padre Nuestro’s Artecuseco in Benerito display their wares. Find the group on Facebook under the name “La Peresquia de Bayahibe”

1 comment:

  1. Visited DR but could not find necklace I wanted. Seen braselett tho. Made out of striped shell, I think 7 stripes. Can u help?