The Famed Artisans of San José
By Adam Williams
Compared to the rumble and bustle of the crowded city, San José’s Artisan’s Market is an oasis – entering this craft extravaganza results in a complete transformation of the senses. Just beneath the tented awning of the market, the noises of hectic urban streets are replaced with the sounds of soft drums, traditional Tico-style flutes, laughter, and the hum of artisan’s deftly chiseling away at their creations.
Located downtown, in a narrow covered walkway on the west side of the Plaza de Democracia, this colorful bazaar is perhaps the most vibrant and charismatic representation of Costa Rican culture in the capital city. There, beneath a 100-meter stretch of rusted tin roofs, the famed Artisan’s Market is home to about 60 of some of the nation’s most renowned artists who toil, whittle and sculpt traditional crafts to sell to the hundreds tourists passing through daily. Wares include hammocks, jewelry, wooded coffee mugs, traditional indigenous masks, instruments, paintings, sandals and all things considered to be authentically Costa Rican.
“This is an iconic symbol of Costa Rica’s culture and pastimes,” said María Teresa Carvajal, who has worked as an artisan for over 30 years. “We consider ourselves to be the heart of tourism in San José. Almost everyone who spends a day or two in San José comes to visit. We think of ourselves as the introduction for tourists to Costa Rican life.”
The Artisan’s Market has been operating in its current location for the past 16 years, and it was previously located in the Plaza de la Cultura (in front of the National Theater) for several years before that. Sometime in 2011, the emporium is scheduled to be moved to a new $1 million building in the Plaza de las Garantías Sociales, south of downtown. Though some artisans are disappointed with the potential relocation, collectively they are appreciative to be part of one of the capital city’s most cherished landmarks.
“This is the best job anyone could ask for,” said Edgar Diaz Carrillo, who says he has been an artisan for 42 years. “I get to make artwork throughout the day and sell it to people hoping to take with them a memento of Costa Rica. When tourists take our art home, they are bringing a piece of Costa Rica to different parts of the world. I like to think that our artworks give people permanent reminders of their time spent in Costa Rica.”