San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Indigenous treasures at Galería Namu

It is a Friday afternoon and the Galería Namu (Namu Gallery) in downtown San José is bustling. Owner Aisling French moves among the crowd, explaining various pieces of indigenous artwork in a soft, kind voice, no cheat sheet necessary. Come May, she will have been the proprietor for 15 years.

Namu gallery, indigenous art

Borucan artist Ricardo Morales sells masks to the gallery.

Rebecca Aguilar

The gallery, French confesses, is not always this crowded. But the slower days merely give her more time to spend with each patron. She enjoys providing background information on the tribal masks, dishes, jewelry and paintings that adorn the walls, and helping clients find things they can connect with. “{I share} their legends, their myths, their suffering … Really, I want to teach,” she says.

When Namu first opened its doors, French was only displaying the work eight indigenous tribes from the national territory. But eventually, on a recommendation from her son, she broadened the scope and began accepting work from tribes in other Central American countries, including Panama and Honduras. No matter the artist, French prides herself on offering a fair price. 

“I am dealing with a population that is not treated with respect,” she says. “Many have been cheated out of their money.” By offering a good price, and paying the artist upfront, French believes she is able to keep her artists loyal and happy. In addition to folk art, she also collects items that represent indigenous vida diaria (daily life) as well as pre-Columbian replicas.

Galería Namu is located in downtown San José, on 7th avenue between streets 5 and 7, right in front of the Alianza Francesa (French Alliance).

Open Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. (Jan.-April). Phone number 2256-3412. Shop online:

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