The Art of Oxcart Painting

Sarchí is charming city in the province of Alajuela, Costa Rica. With the Healthcare in Latin American program in Costa Rica, I went to Sarchí to learn about the stunning art and designs on oxcarts.

Drexel students in Sarchí

Sarchí is known for their traditional oxcarts. Oxcarts are a symbol of Costa Rica, and are a symbol of Costa Rican history. These carts are handmade, and have been made since the 1800’s. Before they were used for transportation by families and for transporting goods. The best quality of these carts is the beautiful and intricate paintings on the wheels. Each one has colorful designs, with many different and bright colors. These traditional designs on the oxcarts originate from Costa Rica. Now, these carts are not really used for transportation, but there are still a number of people in Sarchí that practice this type of painting and create masterpieces with their talent to keep this traditional artwork alive. The oxcarts are sometimes used by local farmers, but they are mostly used in Costa Rican celebrations and parades.

We were actually able to see how the wheels are assembled, with 16 different pieces of wood and a metal piece in the middle to put the wheel together. We also learned that there have been variations of the wheel in the past, until eventually they came up with this model. They had old wheels displayed, which allowed us to see the changes in how the wheels were made. Something that fascinated me was that the system to make the wheels. For example the machines to cut the wood are powered by a water wheel machine. We could see how the energy from the water that turned the huge wheel powered these machines, so a wheel was used to create the wheels.

The pieces to assemble the wheels of the oxcarts

To end a perfect day we painted on small circular canvases in the same style that the artists in Sarchí use to paint the oxcarts. A family helped show us what to do and explained their experience with painting in this way. For me, it was pretty difficult! I tried to put multiple coats of each color of paint, but I think the hardest part was keeping my hand steady to paint the designs. I can only imagine the amount of concentration that is needed to finish painting an entire oxcart. The people that paint these oxcarts are artists that create impressive pieces of art by displaying their unique designs on each oxcart.

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