From Eden to Eternity

Interpretations of Bible Stories in Reversed Embroidery


The Cuna Indians live on the San Blas Archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama. They are politically autonomous and much of their traditional culture is intact. Within a short span of time, around 100 years, a remarkable art form, the mola, emerged and grew to full flower.


Scholars of the Cana culture indicate that the mola, a colorful fabric blouse with hand stitched appliqued panels and worn as the front and back of dresses by Cuna women, grew out of traditional body painting which is still practiced by their neighbors, the Choco Indians of Darien. The tradition of body painting was intended to ward off evil spirits or to make the wearer invisible to the spirits. It is thought that missionaries encouraged the Cuna indians to use their wonderful design sense in a new way teaching them the embroidery technique.

Their brilliant colors and original fanciful designs invite us to enjoy molas as one of the world’s finest folk arts. Most molas depict animals and scenes from the Cuna Indian’s surroundings, but some molas can be found that reflect the Indians knowledge of Christianity.


The mola panel consists of several layers of different colored cloth, usually red, orange and black, which are stitched together and on which designs are created by cutting out portions of the top layers to expose the colors of the lower layers. This is called reverse applique. In addition, the mola artists usually embellish the top layer with direct applique, often in several layers and in a variety of stitches to create an even richer surface.


As in every art form there is a great range of quality of workmanship and design, but somehow almost all molas emerge with an indescribable charm. Molas are made by women and female children, who begin to sew around age seven. They use only a needle, scissors and thimble. A good quality mola panel may take a month or more to make and requires forty or more hours of work.

The pieces in this collection are delightful interpretations of Biblical stories with whimsical treatments and ten- der insights. Every piece is superbly designed, reflecting a passionate love of color and overall design.



The molas in this exhibition are from the collection of Sandra and Bob Bowden.

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