Book Review: The Art of the Pollera


jsw_artofpolleracoverAlthough I have always appreciated the beauty and spectacle of this lovely costume worn by the women of Panama, until I read this book I have never coveted one of my own.  I did not realize how many styles there are, nor how specific each style is with regard to the hair, jewelry, shoes, shawls and petticoats worn with it.

The level of intricacy involved in the construction of some of the pollera costumes is staggering.  Completely hand-stitched, they often involve ten or more types of hand-made lace, netting, applique, embroidery and beadwork on the headpieces, not to mention the yards and yards of hand stitched ruffles.  A dress can cost $5000 or more, often takes a year or longer to make and involves the efforts of numerous artisans.  The jewelry becomes family heirlooms and a pollera “queen” may wear over $25,000 worth on occasion.

This is a wonderful book for gaining a pictorial overview of Panama’s national dress.  It covers history, styles, modern adaptations, and the accessories.  The book covers enough about the making of a pollera to raise a desire to learn more about how to do it. The photographs are simply outstanding.  Anyone interested in hand work should definitely have a copy in their library.

The secret heroine behind the book is Bonnie Birker of Guarare, a woman instrumental in helping the women of Los Santos gain the recognition they deserve for their artistry.

The Art of the Pollera is published by Many Hands Publications, and available from their website.  Currently it is offered in both print and ebook format.  (If possible, get a print copy as the photographs show best that way.)