Little did the revered artists living on the Southern Pacific side of what is known today as Costa Rica realize that they were creating the very thing that their conquerors were seeking – Gold Treasure! The infamous Fernando (Hernán) Cortés commented, “We Spaniards know a sickness of the heart that only gold can cure…” and his liege lord, King Ferdinand of Spain, mandated, “Get gold, humanely if possible, but at all hazards – get gold.” So much has been plundered in the lust for gold.
For the Conquistadors, gold was a highly desirable commodity; however, for the people who worked with it, gold had a spiritual value. Unlike other metallurgy traditions, where metals gain importance due to their widespread use from weaponry to everyday utensils, metals in Central America were mainly valued for their use as adornments and objects representing high status in the form of amulets and fetishes
These pre-Columbian artists used their knowledge and mastery of pottery to produce a wide array of extraordinary gold objects. The diversity of their gold figures can be seen as a link to an ecological richness that has inspired man from the past to present times.
The very creatures of land, sea and sky which some may still be seen today were forged in gold a thousand years ago and were a tangible manifestation of their animistic religion much like statues and medals are for Christian religions today; these highly stylized objects speak to the beliefs, customs and cosmology of their daily life.
In addition to animals, one finds that shamanic figures are also well represented and are crafted in postures indicating engagement in magical or religious practices. Yet another form displays a fusion of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic, that is to say animal and human features combined.
To produce the artifacts of this powerful culture, a few fascinating and advanced techniques were used, among them tumbago, lost wax, and hammering. These advanced gold-working methods will be discussed in a follow-up article, but for now, I’d like to turn your attention to current day gold artists.
Galeria Namu does not offer solid gold pieces and that is a conscious choice made for a very specific reason: affordability. In the early days of the gallery, a gentleman presented himself with his reproductions of the treasures of Costa Rica’s amazing gold legacy. On the table he spread a dazzling array of ‘gold’ pieces which brought to light so vividly the beauty, imagination and range of this art expression. Don Victor Araya has made countless molds from which he makes his incredible replicas. Offering three sizes of the original piece, Don Victor’s technique is the same as that used by the pre-Columbian goldsmiths (lost-wax casting). From the molds, he then dips a bronze piece into 24k gold, and it is this lamina that gives the piece its striking golden luster. Because there are people who prefer silver, Don Victor makes these very same reproductions in that metal, more costly because they are pure silver and an interesting take on its gold counterpart.
Presenting Gifts in Gold
Because they are so very affordable, these pre-Columbian gold reproductions are among the most popular in the Namu gallery. The smaller size is worn as a pendant and matching earrings are available. The larger size is used as a paper-weight, or in some instances as the preferred size for a pendant.
Another way to enjoy these pieces is framed within a shadow-box presentation, (per the gold amulet-image above) which throws into high dramatic relief the theatrical effect of these ancient pieces. As you strive to conjure up a gift that will surprise and delight its recipient without breaking the bank this might indeed be the perfect solution. You are invited to inspect Namu’s gold offerings and see if the lure of that metal will not captivate you too! They can be found under the Category: Pre-Columbian.