Panama is a vividly tropical country that links North and South America and is bisected by the Panama Canal. The art of its indigenous people and the colorful flora and fauna of the region are great subjects for crafts. Even a young artist can help glue bright "mola" pieces onto a black background. Older children can make rain forest tee shirts or parrot-painted plates.
Paper Mola Art
Molas are the beautiful reverse appliqué fabric panels that Kuna Indian women design and sew for their own blouses. The Kuna live in the San Blas archipelago off the Atlantic coast of Panama and sell their mola creations to tourists and collectors through shops on the mainland. Make a paper mola design with some glue, scissors and brightly colored art paper. Choose a sheet of black paper for the background. Draw a shape as the centerpiece for the art. Animals such as fish, sharks, turtles lizards and cats are popular mola figures. Cut out the central figure, pick a different colored paper and trace around the first figure, leaving a thin border all the way around. Cut this out and trace around it on a third bright colored paper. Glue the three shapes together so the borders show. Glue them to the middle of the black paper. Add a few geometric paper cutouts around the edges of the black paper, layered two or three colors deep like the central figure.
Golden Frog Art
Panama’s Golden Frog is an important symbol in the country. The tiny frog is extremely poisonous and is endangered. Find a photograph or picture of a Golden Frog and enlarge it to fill the center of a paper plate. Cut out the shape and use it as a template to decorate the plate for wall art or to paint on a T-shirt. Trace the frog shape. Fill in with bright yellow fabric paint for a shirt or marker for a paper plate. Add details with black paint or marker. If you are painting a T-shirt, place a piece of cardboard inside the shirt so no paint bleeds through to the back. Use a hair dryer to heat the painted fabric and set the paint once it dries. Use colored markers to make a design around the rim of the paper plate before hanging it on a wall or bulletin board.
Barro Colorado Bird
Barro Colorado Island is located in Gatun Lake, part of the Panama Canal, and houses an important tropical research station run by the Smithsonian. The research includes tracking the birds that live on the island, a microcosm of rain forest birds in the region, and assessing their behaviors and decline. Paint a tropical bird on a piece of bisqueware to mount on a wall or use for lunch. Find a photograph of a colorful Panamanian bird like the rufus kingfisher, the chestnut mandibled toucan or the blue-headed parrot to use as a model. Draw the bird on an unfired ceramic plate. Surround the bird with leaves of green tropical foliage, blue sky or dispense with a background. Paint the drawing in authentic colors, using ceramic glazes. After the underglaze dries, coat the piece with clear glaze. Leave an unglazed section for the piece to rest on when it is fired in the kiln.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .