Rural Town Transforms with Murals

April 29, 2005

LA GUACIMA, Alajuela –The butterfly, for many, representstransformation. A simpleand plain caterpillar that inchesalong the ground one day beginsa metamorphosis from which itemerges as one of nature’s mostcolorful and beautiful creations,winged, never to crawl across theearth again.The Butterfly Farm, in LaGuácima, has been watchingthis process for 21 years, breedingbutterflies to fill its flutteringexhibit, and for exportaround the world. JorisBrinckerhoff, founder and generalmanager of the farm, nowseeks a similar transformationin the surrounding communitythrough brightly colored murals.LA Guácima, a rural cantonoutside of Alajuela, a large cityjust northwest of San José, is ajuxtaposition of the old and thenew.A hard-working farmerguides his two oxen and theircart down the street while a fewmiles away businessmen andtourists unload endlessly at thenation’s largest international airport. In one direction lies pasture andwide-open farmland, in the other, stackedconcrete apartments and choked citystreets.“WE’VE been mercifully removed,”said Brinckerhoff, who has lived in LaGuácima since he moved from here fromthe U.S. state of New Hampshire in theearly 1980s. “But La Guácima is in dangerof being absorbed into the mass consumersociety and all that entails. It is losing itspast, and doesn’t have anything new tograb on to.”Brinckerhoff hopes the community willtake hold of something from its past – butterflies– and transform itself, literally, intheir image.The Butterfly Farm this year held itssecond annual butterfly mural contest,which culminated this week, splashingcolor and images of butterflies across thesmall town.Nine murals, selected from 60 sketchedproposals, now decorate walls throughoutthe community, from a coffee shop andbakery, to a few private homes, to a still under-construction chapel.“I want to fill La Guácima with butterflymurals,” Brinckerhoff said. “I want LaGuácima to be celebrated as The ButterflyTown.”Brinckerhoff got the idea when, whileattending a butterfly exhibit conference inEurope, he visited the little mountain burgof Bordano – Italy’s own Butterfly Townand, as of last night, one of Alajuela’s twonew sister cities.“Bordano has much in common withLa Guácima,” Brinckerhoff said. “It’s ahumble town with limited resources.”Surrounded by mountains, the smalltown was too isolated for industry, heexplained. But the diversity of butterfliesdrew entomologists from all over Europeto collect samples, and gave the mayor theidea of painting the town with murals.Bordano now has more than 800 murals,and is a tourist attraction because of them.USING Bordano as an example,Brinckerhoff sprung his plan, testing thewaters last year with the first mural contest,which was contained to walls withinthe farm’s compound (TT, May 7, 2004).This year, it extended out onto thewalls of La Guácima and culminated lastnight in a community-wide party thatincluded a performance by the nationalYouth Symphony Orchestra, dinner, soccer,marimba music, and the signing of asister-city contract with Bordano andMontegratto, another Italian town that isinternationally recognized for its butterflyexhibit. A delegation from Italy,including the mayor of Bordano, attendedthe event.All the finalists in the contest – theartists who painted the murals – received$200, and paint company Pintura Surdonated the paint. Winners were chosen intwo categories: the Jury’s Choice and thePeople’s Choice.FOR the Jury’s Choice, a panel of universityprofessors, artists and museumcurators judged the murals on a list of criteria,and selected Francisco Munguía’sbright and delightfully simplistic “Pasadoy Futuro” as the winner, awarding him$1,500.The People’s Choice was decided byvoting in the community, which overwhelminglychose a mural done by MarthaZamora entitled “Pulpería Ventanas.”Zamora received $600 for the piece, whichwas painted on the oldest store in town,reportedly at least 80 years old, and depictsa scene from what looks like 30 years ago,with the now-deceased shop owner smilingdown at a small child whose hand isextended open expectantly.“Every young man under 30 swears thatlittle kid is him,” Brinckerhoff explained.“They would go to school here, and on theway to school they would ask don Carlos fora confite, and he would give them a piece ofcandy, for free. They literally have tears intheir eyes when they see this.”

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