Weavers and Merchants of Nacuma, or Panama, Hats in Bucaramanga. European, Mestizo and Mulatto Types, Province of Soto


This watercolor by Carmelo Fernández (1809−87) is a study of men and women of different ethnic backgrounds in Bucaramanga, which in 1850, when the image was painted, was in the Province of Soto. It is the capital of present-day Santander Department, in northeast Colombia. Nacuma is another name for Carludovica palmata, a palm-like plant that is widely cultivated in Central America and northern South America. Its durable and flexible leaves are very suitable for weaving Panama hats. Fernández was born in San José de Guama, Venezuela, into a well-connected family (he was the nephew of José Antonio Páez, a hero of Venezuelan independence and three times president). He studied art in New York when still a youth. He returned home in 1827 and served in the military, where he mastered topographical drawing. Political turmoil in Venezuela prompted him to move to New Granada (present-day Colombia and Panama) in 1849. There he became the first draftsman for the Comisión Corográfica (Chorographic Commission), which was co-founded and directed by Agustín Codazzi (1793–1859), an Italian-born geographer and engineer. The commission, which began work in 1850, studied the geography, cartography, natural resources, natural history, regional culture, and agriculture of New Granada. In 1850–52 Fernández painted about 30 watercolors in the provinces northeast of Bogotá: Tunja, Pamplona, Ocaña, Socorro, Vélez, and Santander. These works, which are now in the National Library of Colombia, portray the diverse ethnic, racial, and social groups and the varied physical landscape of New Granada. Fernández was succeeded on the commission by Henry Price (1819−1863) and later Manuel María Paz (1820−1902). He returned to Caracas aged 43, where he lived most of the rest of his life. In 1873 he produced his most famous work, a portrait of Símon Bolívar that appears on Venezuelan coins.

Last updated: November 29, 2016