Expat Experiments With Functional Floor Art

October 22, 2010

Laurel Anderson made a name for herself as an artist in the 1980s, designing tropical-patterned T-shirts displayed in up-and-coming tourist destinations across the country.

She picked it up as a side business to a tropical plant venture she operated with her ex-husband in Cahuita, on the southern Caribbean coast.

“I was looking for another outlet besides working on plants,” said Anderson.

The simple, nature-themed shirts were in such high demand that at one time Anderson had eight local women helping her with the sewing and design.

But she left the shirts behind years ago, opting to pursue new interests. And it wasn’t until recently that she returned to the art studio to experiment with a new medium: hand-painted canvas rugs. The unique items have already been picked up by the country’s top interior decorators, and are displayed in hotels, a nail salon and private homes.

Sipping lemonade on the porch or her home in the mountains above Heredia, north of San José, the longtime Costa Rica expat said, “I read an article about canvas rugs and I became interested, because I haven’t been able to find anything for the floors that can withstand sand, salt, kids and rain.”

Canvas rugs first originated in France and adorned the homes of the wealthy, Anderson said. When colonial settlers in the Americas were looking to cover their bare wood floors, they used their limited resources by painting worn sails from ships.

Anderson was already familiar with canvas material, having also painted bags for tourist shops. She said the rugs offered a durable, hypoallergenic alternative to traditional fiber or wool coverings.

On that Tuesday morning, two women were carefully pressing sponges to canvas bags in Anderson’s studio overlooking the Central Valley. A small mat dotted with paws sat drying on a table, alongside a larger one with an interplay of multicolored ferns, to be installed in a hotel in the coming weeks.

The rugs are displayed throughout her house as wall hangings, mats for wheeled-computer chairs and as a crumb-catcher under the kitchen table.

Anderson said she uses a heavyweight canvas, hand-painted with high-quality acrylic paint and sealed with polyurethane varnish to prevent stains. Customers attest that this “makes life easier,” as the rugs don’t attract a buildup of dirt and can be cleaned easily with a mop.

“The art is a second skin to the floor,” wrote Mimi Bean, an interior designer, in a testimonial. “They feel natural under bare feet and are perfect for custom design needs. Never worry about spilling a glass of red wine again; just wipe it up and keep the party going.”

Teri Jampol, who displays the rugs at her Finca Rosa Blanca hotel in Santa Bárbara de Heredia, said, “In our hotel, the rugs see constant traffic and always look great; in my home, with multiple dogs and lots of company abusing those beautiful rugs, they continue to bring warmth and color to our lives.”

Most of the rugs are custom-made, designed from an assortment of photos and magazine clippings Anderson receives from her clients. It takes at least a week of consultation and then design and application before the rugs can be installed in a home or business.

Anderson laughed as she recalled the first time she introduced people to the rugs. “They saw it as artwork and would try not to step on it,” she said. “It was only after I stood on the rug that they felt more comfortable and understood that it served a function.”

“I think a lot of positive things are happening,” said the U.S. native in her mid-50s. “It’s only been three years and my rugs are in the Four Seasons and Hacienda Pinilla (in the northwestern province of Guanacaste), some of the highest-end communities in the country.”

As she sat back in a rocking chair on her front porch, she said, “I never thought of myself as an artist. I feel like I have been able to grow through the rugs. … It has been an adventure.”

For more information about Anderson’s work, see her websites, www.laurelsoriginals.com and www.canvas-rugs-costa-rica.com.

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