This unit has as its purpose to present the artistic heritage of the Puerto Rican people in a condensed form. Artistic manifestations throughout the years reveal a wealth of culture and folklore. A kit which provides reproductions of some paintings in color, sets of slides, and information on museums and exhibitions has been prepared to be used with the unit. Those paintings which are included in the kit and are mentioned in the unit will have an asterisk’ this will enable the teacher to know where to find the needed materials. The drawings in the unit are the author’s.
Historically, Puerto Rico is not yet 500 years old. The island was discovered on November 19, 1493 by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. On the island he found Taino Indians living there. Juan Ponce de León came to the island in 1508 as its first governor. In 1521, the city of San Juan was established.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Puerto Rico was attacked by the Dutch and English, Spain’s enemies. The island was struggling to attain economical stability by raising cattle and farming on a small scale. By the end of the nineteenth century, Puerto Rico had grown considerably socially, economically, and politically. The
Cédula de Gracias
of 1815 offered many incentives and advantages the immigrants of the new Latin American republics. Puerto Rico became a sugar exporting colony. After the Spanish-American War in 1898, Puerto Rico was ceded by Spain to the United States. In 1917, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens and adopted the Commonwealth state in 1952.
The population of the island was estimated at 3.2 million in 1981. Another 1.8 million live on the mainland U.S. Its economy has changed from agricultural to an industrial one. Efforts to improve agricultural production are in effect, but the island at this time is a major producer and exporter of high technology wares.
The people of Puerto Rico enjoy plenty of sunshine, moderate rainfall, and comfortable temperatures with easterly trade wind breezes all year-round. The annual average temperature is 77°F. Puerto Rico lies between the Atlantic ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is the smallest of the greater Antilles. It is 3 1/4 hours from New York City and 2 1/2 hours from Miami by plane. There is constant aereal movement to and from the island to the states.
Although Puerto Rico is relatively young artistically, it has gone through major cultural changes, first with the Spanish conquest, and then with the United States and other immigrant groups. The artistic production of painters and craftsmen, through these not yet five hundred years, reflect these cultural shocks.
Puerto Rico, like the United States, is a land of immigrants. It is presently in the process of establishing a cultural statement. Because of the diversity of its inhabitants, no statement of a unified artistic expression can be made. In earlier times, the discovery, the colonization period, and later some stability in the nineteenth century, the artistic production was basically unified, that is, it portrayed Puerto Rico through single statements, its people, its vegetation, eminent politicians, religious beliefs, etc.
The contemporary artists have expressed their ideas in more complex and stylized ways. This is not saying that the earlier works were primitive or archaic. It simply means that the times demand different artistic visions of what the Puerto Rican reality is now. Art will provide some explanation and insight into the life and reality of our people.
Many of the Puerto Rican children who are in the New Haven Schools are not aware of their cultural heritage. They were not given exposure to the arts on the island, possibly because they came to the United States at an early age, lived in isolated communities, or did not have anyone in their school system to teach them all about the magnificent art Puerto Ricans have. By being devoid of this knowledge, the children may say there is no art or artists in Puerto Rico, and this simply is not so. Once they are aware of the talent and artistic expression of their people, a positive self-image and concepts can result.
I wish to acknowledge the invaluable assistance given to me by the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in San Juan and the Museo del Barrio in New York City. The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture provided me with information on some of the outstanding artists of Puerto Rico from Pre-Columbian times to the present. The Museo del Barrio, located on Fifth Avenue and 104th Street, is a wonderful museum dedicated to the exhulting of the arts of Puerto Rico. It is definitely a worthwhile field trip to take all students. Their
Santos de Palo
collection is superb. Everyone at the Museo showed great pride and love for what the museum represents. The Museo dol Barrio provides an opportunity for all who wish to learn more about the Puerto Rico cultural expression: visual, musical, and theatrical. To make arrangements to visit the museo, you can call (212) 831-7272.
In New Haven, the Gasa Cultural Julia de Burgos located at 301 Crown Street is a Hispanic Cultural Center. It was founded in 1978 through the efforts of Puerto Rican students at Yale and the Hispanic Hew Haven community. The Casa has as its objectives to sponsor culture, and artistic activities for Hispanic community participation, to promote an awareness of Hispanic arts and culture to the larger community, to serve as a resource for Hispanic artists and to create a nationally recognized example of a university and a community working together. Their phone number is 436-4929, if you wish to further investigate this source in the New Haven area.
The Taino Indians
The Taino Indians had been living in Puerto Rico for hundreds of years when the Spaniard conquerors arrived in the fifteenth century. They were a branch of the Arawak people of South America who had migrated to the islands. The Tainos called Puerto Rico, Boriquen or Boringuen, the land of the valiant men. The word Taino means peace and friendship, and they were a peaceful people. Because of the benevolen climate on the island, the Indians lived a leisurely life, farmed, fished and worked on their crafts.
They were skillful in stone sculpture, shell and bone carvings, pottery, and gold plating. The Indians made charms and amulets, ceremonial artifacts, and everyday utensils in clay, cotton, and straw, wood, stone, shells, and bone. Among their stone sculptures are stone collars and belts, cemis, face masks, dujos (duhos), and weapons. Their work was of religious content and is not easily understood.
The stone collars could have served a series of purposes, from protective game gear in the
, a type of ball game the indians played , to funeral offerings. There were two types of collars, the massive oval or the slender pear-shaped form. The collars were very heavy and it took many years to finish one. The indians also carved
out of stone or wood. These three-pointed carvings frequently depict the form of human or animal heads on one end and animal legs on the other, sometimes the head is found in the central projection. At times the cemi is not carved at all, it is simply a three-pointed stone or wood figure. The cemi was believed to have magical to religious powers.
(figure available in print form)
(figure available in print form)
The stone face masks that have been found seem to have had ceremonial significance. They may have been carried on a staff or pole because they were too heavy to have been worn. These masks may have had a funeral use or have been exchanged among chiefs. Their overall shape is similar to a cemi because they are also three-pointed stone figures.
(figure available in print form)
The petroglyphs or stone pictographs have been found on boulders in rivers or near running water, at ceremonial courts, and in caves. These carvings are of religious nature and cannot be deciphered. The petroglyphs are highly stylized, but it is obvious that the cemi, the stone collars or belts, and the petroglyphs belong to the same religious concept.
Other examples of Indian craftsmanship was in the elaboration of wooden articles. They made idols and thrones or
. The dujo was short-legged, made of wood or stone, with carvings at the ends of the hammock-like seat. The dujos were also more of a religious nature than of comfort or practicality, and may have been used in burials or in rituals.
(figure available in print form)
The Taino Indians also enriched language. More than 150 words of Taino root are used in Puerto Rican Spanish today and in other parts of the world. Puerto Rico also inherited from the indians foods and rhythm instruments like the güiro and maracas. The construction of rustic wooden huts has been traced to Taino origin. The Art of the Tainos, however, has not influenced greatly the art of Puerto Rico on the whole.
During the period of colonization not much emphasis was given to the arts. Time was devoted primarily to developing and establishing of towns and cities. It was well into the eighteenth century that Puerto Rico saw its first artistic genius.
José Campeche was born in 1751. His real name was José de Rivafrecha y Jordán. His father was Tomás Rivafrecha y Campeche, a Black freeman, and his mother was Mar’a Jordán y Márques, a Spaniard from the Canary Islands. His father was known as Campeche, and was a master gilder and carver, a painter and ornamentalist, although not exceptionally gifted. His sons learned about art and painting through him.
Campeche was the most gifted of Tomas’s children although many of them also painted. José was also a professional musician, sculptor, architect, surveyor, and decorator. He was a well educated person, a gentleman, and a devoted Catholic.
His paintings are classified into five groups: portraits, historic events, religious themes, saints, and mysteries and Marian titles. Some of his paintings are
Birth of Christ
Vision of St. Francis of Assissi, Virgin of Mercy
, and many versions of the Virgin and Child. Many of Campeche’s paintings are found in churches and in the Cathedral in old San Juan.
Campeche also painted on commission. His most notable painting of a public figure is
Don Miguel Antonio de Ustariz
, who was Governor and Captain General of Puerto Rico from July 8, 1789 to May 19, 1792. In this painting, an open window behind the governor gives the viewer a glimpse into San Juan in its very early years, when the paving of its streets was being done. (A copy of this painting will be available at the Teachers’ Institute office). He painted fine portraits of members of the Puerto Rican society in the late eighteenth century.
Campeche’s death in 1809 was felt deeply in Puerto Rico. He will always be remembered, however, as Puerto Rico’s first native painter.
Francisco Oller was born in Bayamon in 1833. He is considered the outstanding nineteenth century Puerto Rican painter. Although there were other artists in this century Oller surpassed them all.
At 18, Oller went to Madrid, Spain where he studied under Federico de Madrazo, considered to be the outstanding Spanish painter of that period. In 1858, when he was 25, he went to Paris for the first time. He became the pupil of Thomes Couture and later, Gustave Courbet. He became friends with Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro. The artists were all involved in
, an art movement concerned in light and what it did to color and forms.
Oller cannot be considered a true Impressionist because he is also a Realist. His painting,
, is a Realist masterpiece. It is believed that it is a painting of Emile Zola and his girlfriend. Emile Zola was an eminent novelist of the nineteenth century and a friend of Oller’s. This painting is found in the Louvre in Paris. It is the only painting by a Latin American in that museum.
Although not readily known as an early member of the Impressionist group, Oller exhibited his works of art all over Europe. For many years, Oller would travel to Europe and return to Puerto Rico to live for a few years. While in Puerto Rico, he taught and painted for a living. The invention of the camera made portraits a luxury, but by this time, Oller painted whatever he wanted. He was in Puerto Rico when the United States took over the island in 1898. He thought things were going to get better but he later felt imprisoned in his own home.
Francisco Oller stayed in Puerto Rico because he needed to express his love for his people. Among his paintings with Puerto Rican themes are:
La Escuela del Maestro Rafael, El Velorio, Hacienda Aurora, Bodegón con Jarra, Mangoes y Mamey
La ceiba de Ponce
, and many portraits of prominent figures of Puerto Rican society. He did not limit his paintings to only the rich but he also painted scenes of everyday life and made social criticism through his works. He painted tropical still life and landscapes of Puerto Rico true to the color and the time when Oller painted them.
, Oller makes a statement of Puerto Rican folklore. The painting depicts a former custom in Puerto Rico of having a festivity after the death of an infant or newborn child. There are over twenty human figures in the painting, men, women, and children, each one a single and composite element in the scene. It is a lively scene and if it had sound to accompany it, it would be a noisy one too. It would have music, loud talking, animal sounds, etc. The custom no longer exists but Oller’s painting serves not only as a social portrait but as a historical one as well. This painting is his monumental work. A copy of this painting will be found in the Institute’s Office.
Oller established several schools of art and worked as an art instructor for many years. He wrote a history of José Campeche. Oller lived a life full of experiences, and his paintings reflect these experiences. Oller was a man true to his feelings and so expressed them in his art. He died on May 17, 1917, at the age of eighty-four.
The Early Twentieth Century
In the early half of the twentieth century, there where many painters at work despite the unfavorable conditions on the island. Among these were Ramón Frade, Miguel Pou, Oscar Colón Delgado and Juan De’Prey.
Ramón Frade was born in 1875 in Cayey. He was a painter of the life of the Puerto Rican in the twentieth century. His style was Realist. He did not merely paint pictures, he painted portrayals of the life of the campesinos. His masterwork, El Pan Nuestro de Cada D’a (our Daily Bread), represents a jibaro farmer) carrying plantains. He is an old barefooted man. He is poor but proud, serious, dignified, clean and very Puerto Rican. He represents Puerto Rico at the beginning of the century. There are other works by Prade,
El Ni–o Campesino
and many others. He died in 1907.
Miguel Pou was born in Ponce in 1880. He studied painting and drawing intensively and also taught art. He founded his private art school in 1910 in Ponce which he ran for forty years. He was very much admired for his artistic works in Puerto Rico. He painted Puerto Rican landscapes and j’baro-types. Pou did not have a political statement to make. He wanted to capture the ideal of what a j’baro or j’bara was. He painted the beauty both physical and spiritual that the people and the land had. Pou died in 1968. Among his pupils are: Epifanio Irizarry, José Alicea, and José Manuel Cintrón Pou. Pou’s works have been exhibited in many Puerto Rican towns, in North America, and in Madrid and Barcalona. Outstanding paintings by Pou are:
Los Coches de Ponce
La Calle Loiza
La Catedral de Ponce
. There will be a reproduction of Los Coches de Ponce at the Institute.
Oscar Colón Delgado was born in Hatillo in 1889. He was a self-taught artist who had a wonderful sense of composition. He used his colors luminously with clear lines. His paintings range from portraits to still life, done in a Realist style but not photographic. Among his works is
The Empty Basket
in which a young boy holds an empty basket. There is a look of sadness and concern, as if in a moment of indecision. The face is that of a child who is unsure of his immediate future.
Juan De’Prey, partly of Haitian descent, was born in San Juan in 1904. He lived for some time in New York. He is also a self-taught artist but is not Primitive in style. He worked freely in different kinds of media. He never took an art lesson or went to school. His drawings of children are captivating. He is not well known in Puerto Rico, but he is one artist Puerto Rico should be very proud of. Two of his works are on exhibit at the Museo del Barrio:
Siesta on a Wheatfield
Lady and Child
. De’Prey died of a heart attack at his home on November 30, 1962.
Contemporary Art in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has produced a wide variety of artists and styles. Women have actively participated in the arts. The list of artists is extensive and only a few of the most prominent will discussed.
In the fifties, a growth in cultural identity was felt among many of the island’s artists. A new political program was in effect with Mu–oz Mar’n’s administration. The arts received more recognition than ever before. Air travel between the island and the mainland became more accessible and many artists migrated back and forth, expanding their knowledge. They studied in the United States and Europe. The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture was established, and here the message made by many artists was of a nationalistic tendency. In the fifties, the artists expressed their loyalty to the Puerto Rican people and the island, and how he himself felt in relation to his country and his world.
Outstanding artist of the fifties are: Loronzo Homar, Rafael Tufi–o, Auguato Mar’n, Epifanio Irizarry, Osiris Delgado, José R. Alicea, and Luis G. Cajigas. This list is very much incomplete and needs further study. All these artists vary in their theme, techniques, and personal traits. Many are still painting and producing excellent pieces today.
Rafael Tufi–o was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1922. He went to live to the island when he was five. Tuti–o is dramatic in his paintings but he is outstanding in his graphics. His posters have become classics. His style is called poetical Realism. His themes are from the Puerto Rican heritage. Tufi–o has exhibited in Mexico, United States, and Europe. Among his paintings are:
Baile de Bomba
Osiris Delgado was born in Humacao in 1920. He studied art in Puerto Rico, Italy, France, Spain and the United States. He has a Doctorate in Philosophy and Literature from the University of Madrid. He is a professor at the University of Puerto Rico. He has written several books related to art. He excels in paintings of young people. Some of his paintings are:
La Suerte de la Cuerda
Fresas, La Hija del Pintor
José R. Alicea is a native of Ponce. He was born in 1928. He studied with Miguel Pou, and sculpture with the Spanish artist Compostela, and
the graphic arts with Lorenzo Homar. He has exhibited extensively in Europe, the United States, and in Puerto Rico. Alicea follows the costumbrista tradition. He excels in his graphics because of his particular style. He has taken the same topic as Oller,
The wake of a Child,
but has given it a completely different treatment.
Baquiné I, El Rosario
are some of graphics done by Alicea.
Luis G. Cajigas was born in Quebradillas in 1934. He studied graphic arts with Lorenzo Homar, Rafael Tufi–o, and Carlos Raquel Rivera. His style is essentially Regionalistic. He works freely and skillfully with color. A series done on La Perla reflect this skill.
There are many other artists in this group who are still working actively and possibly in completely different styles that they had or were experimenting with in the fifties.
Outstanding painters from the sixties are Francisco Rodón, Tomás Batista, Myrna Baéz, Mar’a Rodr’guez Se–eriz, Natividad Gutierrez, Nicholasa Mohr, Suzi López del Campo, and Eduardo M. Ort’z. Their styles varied from Regionalist to Realist, to Abstract.
Francisco Rodón was born in San Sebast’an in 1934. He started to paint when he was sixteen years old. He traveled to Mexico and Guatemala, and studied in Madrid and Paris. Upon returning to Puerto Rico he was awarded a scholarship in Mexico. He has exhibited his paintings in the best museums and art galleries in Puerto Rico. He won a prize in Medellin, Colombia for his
Tr’ptico a Rubén Dario
. His style has been consistent and he is considered one of Puerto Rico’s foremost painters today.
Tomás Batista was born in Luquillo in 1935. The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture awarded him with a scholarship to study sculpture with Compostela and later to study in Mexico. Batista’s sculptures have been exhibited in the United States, Mexico, Spain, and Puerto Rico. Among his outstanding sculptures are:
El Cacique Jayuya
Indios de Boriquen
. In 1966 he came the Director of the Institute’s Workshop and of the School of Plastic Arts.
The Abstract painting movement which started in the sixties have as its exponents Luis Hernándes Cruz, Domingo López, Carlos Irizarry, Jaime Romano, and Rafael Colón Morales. In the seventies, as in the sixties, artists developed more personal styles and worked in abstractions. In other words, the artists were shifting away from the Realism and Costumbrism into non-representative art.
The Folk Arts
The cultural inheritance from the Taino Indians that were on the island when Columbus discovered and conquered, is reflected in the language, food, folk medicine, beliefs, and customs. The weaving of hammocks and in the confection of certain types of baskets the techniques used by the Indians are used today. The Corozo’s black and hard seeds were used by the Indians to make adornments and for spindles to weave cotton.
The Spaniards, who intermixed biologically and culturally with the Indians, and then later with black Africans, are mainly responsible for the cultural manifestations of the Puerto Rican people and it is seen in their folk arts or crafts. Another important contribution of the heritage to Puerto Rico is the Christian religion and particularly, the cult to the saints. In Puerto Rico, these figures were carved in hard tropical woods. The practice goes back to the colonization period of the sixteenth century. The original santos were sacred figures. They were simple, childlike but not childish, yet forceful. The santos were found in homes and were prayed to daily. The figures were often repainted every few years on their saint’s day. The santos were copied from elaborate forms brought from Spain. Since those religious figures were very expensive, the Puerto Rican artists carved their own versions of the saints.
(figure available in print form)
St. Anthony of Padua was the most
popular of the santos. He was called upon to find lost objects and young marriageable women put this figure upside-down when they were searching for a husband. There is a popular folk song which, when translated, goes like this:
Tengo a San Antonio
I have St. Anthony
Puesto de cabeza
Si no me encuentra
If he doesn’t find
Nada me interesa.
In other words, St. Anthony will remain upside-down until a suitor shows up! (Which, by the way, could be forever!)
Other saints, archangels, the Holy Family, and the Three Wise Men were other favorites. The santos were considered very personal objects. Their importance was religious, cultural, and more recently artistic. Later, these idols were made out of plaster and were cheaper. Many santos were destroyed with the Reform of the Catholic Church, but some were saved by families as memories of lost relatives. Famous Santeros (craftsmen) in Puerto Rico are the Cabin Family of Camuy, Zoilo Cajigas of Aguada, Norberto Cede–o of Toa Alta, Tiburcio Espada of orocovis, and Rafael Rivera of Corozal. One curious note about the Santero, he considers himself as a craftsman in the service of God and he does not sign his works.
For the last few decades, the santos, have become collector’s items. There are large private and public collections. They are in great demand because they represent a form of Primitive art and at the same time reflect the devotion and religious superstitions of the Puerto Rican people.
or miracles also derived from the religious beliefs of the people. These were small, two-dimensional figures made of silver or gold. The style is Primitive and similar to the santos. The metal was flattened and shaped into that part of the body or animal that needed healing. These were offered to a saint. This is not done anymore. The altar in la Capilla del Cristo de la Salud in San Juan was made by melting the ex-votos offered to Christ the Healer for those miracles of health conceded.
Another craft similar to the santos but not of religious content is the wood carvings of animals, especially of the fighting roosters (gallos). Cockfighting is the national sport of Puerto Rico. Musical instruments like the
, a stringed instrument similar to a guitar but with ten strings, drums, and marimbolas (from African roots) are handmade by dexterous craftsmen.
(figure available in print form)
These are more samples of Puerto Rican crafts.
Masks made of coconuts are typical of Leiza Aldea, a town on the Northern Coast of the island, with the most African influence. The festivities to St. James (Santiago Apóstol) are famous on the island. Castor Ayala is the maximum exponent of this craft. Other crafts from coconut shells are also made here. The African influence is heard in music and through handmade musical instruments.
The influence of the Indian, Spanish, and African heritage’s is also reflected to various degrees in the pottery and clay figures made today on the island. Puerto Rico’s present day crafts are many and varied, and there are craft fairs celebrated on the island for everyone to enjoy.
Most adults and children remember and learn better when they see pictures or the actual object being spoken about. As an educational aid, I have prepared a Puerto Rican Cultural kit to be used with this unit. The kit includes color reproductions of paintings and slide sets of the Pre-Colombian, religious, and folk arts. The reproductions are by Atiles, Campeche, Oller, and Pou. Atiles was not discussed earlier, but he painted a portrait of Campeche which fits in nicely when speaking about him and his work.
The slides are commercial reproductions of Indian Art(
El Arte de los Abor’genes de Puerto Rico 1-2
) composed of 16 slides. These are fine reproductions which everyone will enjoy viewing. Another set of slides,
La Capilla del Santo Cristo—Puerto Rico
presents the influence of Spanish architecture on the island, a painting by Campeche, and the ex-votos or miracles. The third set of slides
Las Artes Populares de Puerto Rico 1-2
is composed of 16 slides which present the various crafts done on the island. The slides are a wonderful teaching and learning tool and will motivate the students into further research.
In addition to the reproductions of the paintings and slides, in the kit, there will be information on the Museo del Barrio, black and white reproductions of paintings mentioned in the unit, and booklets on exhibitions by contemporary Puerto Rican artists.
As a final note to the teacher: This whole unit should serve as a handbook or guidebook to help you in incorporating the arts of Puerto Rico in your classroom curriculum, be it in art, history, social studies, language art, Spanish, or cross-cultural studies. I have enjoyed and learned many new things while writing this unit, I truly hope you and your students enjoy and learn a lot, too!