Puerto Rican artisans produce a variety of crafts unique to the island’s culture. The most distinctive craft is the Vejigante mask, a brilliantly colored object made from coconut shells or papier-mâché featuring large protruding horns. The masks represent the Moors in annual festivals revolving around street pageants that reenact Spain’s defeat of the Moors in the 13th century. Although there are several artists who create the masks, the Ayala family in Loíza are considered the masters of the form. Prices range about $30–250. Vejigante figurines made from a variety of materials, including ceramic, glass, and metal, are also popular collectible items made by local artisans and come in all price ranges.
Puerto Rico’s oldest and most traditional craft form is the santo, primitive-looking woodcarvings of Catholic saints. Santos originated with low-income families who wanted representations of their favorite saints to display in their homes, but who couldn’t afford the expensive plaster ones available for purchase. Today, santos are highly collectible, and many museums, including Museo de las Americas in Old San Juan, exhibit priceless collections of vintage santos. New santos can be found in the island’s finer crafts and gift shops and cost $80–500.
Mundillo is a delicate, handmade lace created by tying fine threads using bobbins, which facilitate weaving the threads into an intricate pattern. The lace is used to embellish tablecloths, handkerchiefs, and christening gowns, among other things. The art form has roots in Spain, but the mundillo pattern is specific to Puerto Rico. It’s primarily produced in and around the tiny town of Moca near Aguadilla on the west coast, where several artisans live. Mundillo can be purchased at finer gift shops around the island and at some festivals. Because it is so labor-intensive, mundillo is somewhat pricey. A handkerchief rimmed with a small amount of mundillo starts around $30, but a handkerchief made entirely of mundillo can cost more than $100.
The crafting of woven cotton hammocks is an art form that continues a tradition started by the Taíno Indians, who used them not only to sleep on but also for food storage and other utilitarian purposes. The town of San Sebastían in the western fringe of the Cordillera Central is the best known source of the hammock, but they’re available at most crafts and gift shops throughout the island starting at about $30.
Other popular low-priced craft items include seed jewelry, colorful earrings, bracelets, and necklaces made from the seeds of trees and plants on the island; güiros, percussion instruments made from gourds; and landscape paintings on pieces of rough-hewn wood.
© Suzanne Van Atten from Moon Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition