Museo de las Americas
One of the highlights of visiting the Museo de las Americas (web site) in Old San Juan is the “Indian in America” which is a permanent exhibit. This is recognition of over 20 tribes from around the Americas. What makes this exhibit special is the statuary produced by Filipe Lettersten.
Felipe Lettersten (1957-2003) was a Peruvian born child of Swedish parents. He was an amazing artist who made it his life’s work to pay tribute to the many native tribes in existence throughout the Americas.See video here He used a method of making full body casts of members of a tribe, and then using that cast to create full size bronze casts. He would often travel up and down the Amazon and other South American rivers on a boat that contained his portable workshop. He would introduce himself to the tribe and show examples of his previous work. He would spend several days getting to know the members and leaders of the tribe. When he convinced the tribal leaders to agree he would choose a subject and spend several hours creating a full body cast of them out of a quick hardening foam. This process included completely covering the face of his subject (except for breathing holes) for about 10-15 minutes. Eventually he would return with a fiberglass copy of his statue as a thank you to the tribe.
Lettersten took on this life work upon realization that these tribe were disappearing. They were (and are) being assimilated. The 1992 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first arrival in the America’s brought to his work to the worlds notice. He felt that he should try to salvage some memory of the tribes by honoring them in statue. See the NY Times article here
The Museo de las Americas has one of his statues for each of the 20+ tribes in the exhibit along with a 15 minute video about Lettersten and his work.
Another permanent exhibit at the Museo de las Americas is “our African Heritage.” This is actually an incorporation of another museum that used to be in San Juan. This exhibit covers the history of slavery in Puerto Rico and discusses the on-going influence of the African diaspora in today’s culture, music and food.
After the museum
The Museo de las Americas will take about 1.5 hours to see completely. That leaves a lot of time to see other sights of Old San Juan. Nearby are El Morro, the National Gallery and Museo de San Juan.
Also nearby is the Quincentenial Plaza with an interactive fountain for children to play in and piragua vendors (flavored ice cones). There are many good restaurants on Calle San Sebastian.
La Puerta del San juan
Finally, I would suggest walking down Calle Santo Cristo to the Plaza del Convento. Turn right here and stay to the left of the Museo del Ninos. This will take you down to La Puerta Del San Juan. This was originally the main entrance to city. You can see and feel just how strong the walls of the city are.
Garita and Puerto del San Juan
Make a left and walk down the promenade along the water. Above you are garitas, lookouts and guard stations. When you get to the Raices fountain turn left onto Paseo de la Princesa. La Princesa was the main prison in colonial times. It is now the home to the Puerto Rican Tourism Company. This promenade is home to many artisans selling their goods. This will lead you back to the waterfront where you can pick up the trolley or walk back to the bus depot.
Paseo La Princesa
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