San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sculptors Shape Community in Barva

Carved stone faces stare out at the square surrounding Barva Central Park. These lithic guardians of the park surround small patches of green and two full basketball courts. On a sunny day, one can picture local children playing ball in the center of this open-air exhibit. In this small town, art and play don’t feel like separate entities.

Who knows why they emerge where they do, but certain communities have an undeniable connection to creativity. Just such a place is Barva, on the slopes of the volcano of the same name above Heredia, north of San José.

Here, Tico artists have donated their works to the park as well as to local buildings in the hope of turning it into a breathing museum.

“Barva is very small, but it has many artists and a lot to offer,” said Luis Arias, one of the sculptors championing the effort. “We’re doing this project to change Barva into a city of sculptures.”

The Asociación Barva Escultórica, a group of artists including Arias, Guillermo Hernández, Domingo Ramos and many others, has held sculpture symposiums in the city three times since 2004. During these events, sculptors sit out in the park all day, creating en masse in front of an inquisitive public.

“It’s something Barva had never seen,” said city historian Carlos Villalobos. “(Art) is one of the most important things to the people of Barva. The children, the young adults, the adults and the old folks … they all come to the park (to watch). It brings the family together.”

During the 2004 symposium, sculptors worked for 15 days from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. in front of the public. That year, they carved wood, but the next year was devoted to stone. When they reassembled in 2007, they worked with both.

“I like sculpture because it is an art form that requires strength,” Arias said. “You have to work with materials such as stone, wood and marble.”

The variety in materials ultimately was a good decision, because the stone carvings sit out in the park, exposed to the elements, while the wooden pieces adorn edifices such as the municipality building and the local Banco Nacional branch.

For Arias, an art professor at the National University (UNA) in Heredia and a sculptor for 30 years, the best part of the deal is the community provided to artistic-minded Ticos of all ages.

“The idea of the symposiums is to open space for the sculptors, both Costa Rican and foreign, so that we can learn from them,” Arias said. “We also get to learn about many young artists we wouldn’t have known about.”

The exchange of ideas is a key component in Arias’ vision. As he sees it, there is no dominant sculptural style in Costa Rica at present, something he attributes to the globalization of art.

Arias himself enjoys working with themes and materials found in his native land, notably the conch shell.

“I like working with conchs; they are mysterious and beautiful,” he said. “I am currently working with the idea of metamorphosis, particularly with plants and the feminine form.”

The last symposium had a multinational flavor, something the city hopes to expand in the future.

“The last symposium was international,” Villalobos said. “There were sculptors from the United States, France, Taiwan and Venezuela. And they left behind very important works.”

Barva’s artistic heritage isn’t limited to sculpture. Over the years, the town has produced national prizewinners in nearly every medium, ranging from castanet music to painting. Some locals think the legacy runs even deeper.

“The indigenous people of Barva, the Huétares, were the best stoneworkers in Costa Rica,” Villalobos said. “It is in the blood of the locals.”

Whether or not the town’s prolific production of masters and masterpieces is a question of blood, there is a developing sculpture scene that continues to expand in scope.

Arias and his compatriots recently exhibited a series of pieces for the “Nexo Escultórico,” or “Sculpture Nexus,” at the StateUniversity at a Distance (UNED) in the eastern suburb of Sabanilla. The event aimed to show national solidarity among the artisans of Costa Rica.

Those who missed out on the nexus can always go up to Barva to see some of the same artists’ work. And for those who want to see the men and women working with the sun on their backs and the sweat on their brows, another symposium is tentatively being planned for this February in Barva’s Central Park, Arias said.

It would seem the park is in the process of becoming a city of sculptures in and of itself.



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