Coffee tour, tobacco tour, football tour… among the bewildering variety of trips offered to tourists, the colorful flyer of Costa Rica Art Tour caught my eye.
The day trip visiting the workshops of artists in and around San José is the brainchild of Molly Keeler, who started the company in December 2004, after she was invited by an old friend to visit the Galería Ulises art fair in San José’s Plaza Roosevelt. Struck by the variety of art exhibited, Keeler approached the artists with a proposal of an art tour.
“It is common in New York to attend open house weekends, during which artists open their studios and workshops to visitors. I was determined to offer this opportunity to artists here, as well as an alternative kind of tour,” said Keeler, an art school graduate.
“Costa Rica offers high-quality art at affordable prices – but how can we build that bridge between the artists and the tourists? How would a foreigner navigate the complicated Costa Rican address system if he wanted to get to know local artists? ”
“There are plenty of art galleries in Costa Rica, but an opportunity to meet the artists and share their vision is a different, enriching cultural experience,” she added. “Tourists love the opportunity to enter a typical Tico house, chat to the artist and walk out with a high-quality artwork.”
Painter Mario Madrigal, a charismatic artist with a workshop in Barva de Heredia, north of San José, said he was hesitant about the idea at first.
“In the beginning I was a bit apprehensive about opening my house to tourists,” he confessed.
“But I quickly realized how enriching the experience can be. I enjoy displaying my art and discussing my ideas and methods with tourists, and visitors love the opportunity to practice Spanish over a cup of coffee – there is no language barrier in art. Art speaks for itself.”
“It is a unique opportunity for me to communicate with the outside world and to attract attention to my art,” said renowned artist Rodolfo Stanley, who made headlines last year with a scandalous exhibition portraying corrupt Costa Rican Presidents.
“Most tourists expect to find a tropical paradise in Costa Rica, but for me it is important to show them a different side of my country.”
A visit to the stained-art workshop of Sylvia Laks is an experience in itself. The scenic drive to the accomplished artist’s studio, nestled in the mountains of San Rafael de Heredia, is a prelude to the symphony of light, color and glass represented in Laks’ work.
She is one of a handful of people in the world who has mastered the old technique of painting à la grisaille, and now employs a team of highly trained craftsmen and women from rural communities.
“I like the fact that these people who were formerly farmers or ranchers have become highly skilled technicians,” commented tourist Lynn Schwartz. “This is a unique experience for me to get to know local people and to learn about the process.”
“Most of the shops stock pricey wooden souvenirs, but this art is so distinctive and unique,” Schwartz added. “I relish the chance to get to know the country through the eyes of its artists.”
Costa Rica Art Tour takes visitors to the workshops of a variety of artists – painters, sculptors, ceramicists, printmakers and traditional artisans such as blacksmiths and mask-makers. The route is varied, and the trip can be customized according to the tourists’ personal preferences. The full-day tour in a small group costs $95, including transportation, translation, lunch at a típico restaurant and a visit to five different artists.
The company also offers assistance in purchasing and shipping artwork.
For information, call 359-5571 or 363-2452, or visit www.costaricaarttour.com.