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When great Genoese Admiral Christopher Columbus arrived at "the most beautiful land human eyes have ever seen", the population of Cuba was made up of indigenous communities skilled in agriculture and the art of pottery. The agriculturists developed utensils using shells creating knives, vessels, gouges, necklaces, and even garments for daily and ceremonial use. The potters developed ceramic art, which, according to the amount of fragments and pieces that have been found, can be considered as significant in the economic and cultural life of those groups. They also laboured in wood and basketwork. Wood was used to build huts and log cabins and to make the canoes they used for navigation. Their skills in woodcarving are evident in the dujos (a type of carved chair), the cemies ( carved Gods) and the drums, called atabales or mayohuacan. In traditional handicrafts of mostly Central and South American countries the signs of the first inhabitants are still preserved, in the case of Cuba it is difficult to establish the possible links between pieces that shape artisan traditions in vogue and native manufacture. This historic legacy is known through chronicles from the conquest period and through the work of anthropologists and archaeologists.

The African culture furnished popular handicrafts with countless rudiments. The most representative are seed-works and pottery. These artisans had to adopt fresh materials and textures in the new tropical environment in order to preserve their original practical or ceremonial elements, so as to guarantee the continuity and permanence of their traditions.

Nowadays, most craftsmen are students, graduates from art schools or people who have some knowledge of designing or drawing. Some create for the purpose of artistic expression, others just to sell as souvenirs for tourists. Contemporary craftsmanship produces several articles for everyday use, now supported by industries that supply the necessary raw materials. Though, in some cases the object is aesthetic and decorative, real artists are few. Julio Cesar Garrido and Carlos Espinosa are notable for their accomplishments with leather and cedar for cigar boxes and others related to that product. Their works are sold at auction during the Havana Cigars Congress.

We offer a special mention for artist and ceramist Alfredo Sosabravo, awarded the National Prize for Fine Arts on 1998 for his life's work, in which ceramics excels.

Cuban artisans make up the greater part of all souvenir sales in most cities around the island. Very few souvenirs are mass-produced and each has it's own personal tale.

 

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