Colorado State University unveils new ‘mola’ collection donated to the Avenir Museum

Note to Reporters: Photos of ‘mola’ artwork are available with this news release online at

Today Colorado State University unveiled a striking collection recently donated to the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising: colorful textile creations called “molas” made by a group of indigenous women from the San Blas Islands of Panama.

Molas are created through a reverse appliqué process in which two to five layers of fabric are stacked, cut through and sewn together. The term “mola” is the Kuna word for clothing, and it refers to Kuna women’s traditional blouses as well as to the hand-stitched decorative front and back panels of the blouse. Made by the women of Kuna Yala in Panama, they feature original imagery inspired by local influences such as the Kuna life and worldview, as well as global influences such as tourism and pop culture.

The exhibition, which runs through May 29, 2015, is on display in the Avenir Gallery (UCA Room 115) at the University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington St. in Fort Collins. “Kuna Molas: Sewn Stories and the Interplay of Tradition and Change” highlights the mola as both textile art and cultural artifact. It examines how molas reflect the complex interplay of maintaining Kuna cultural traditions in a changing world and global economy.

The exhibition features more than 70 items made between the 1920s and the 1990s, including mola blouses and panels, two full ensembles, small tourist items, a large quilt consisting of 73 mola panels and photographs of Kuna villages and villagers.

All of the molas, photographs and supporting objects are part of a new donation to the Avenir Museum by Colorado Springs textile collector, exhibition developer and author Joyce Cheney. The collection traveled for almost 10 years as part of a national touring exhibition curated by Cheney. She collected them in Panama from the Kuna in the 1990s.

A host of events are being held in conjunction with the new exhibit:

Thursday, Sept. 18: Lecture, Reception and Gallery Walk — reception from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by a lecture from Joyce Cheney: “On the Textiles Trail: Collecting Molas in Kuna Yala.” University Center for the Arts, Room 136. Gallery walk to follow lecture.

Thursday, Oct. 23: Lecture — 7 p.m., Dr. Susan J. Torntore, Avenir curator, Kuna Molas: Stories of Cultural Expression, Influences, and Trade.” University Center for the Arts, Room 136.

Thursday, Nov. 20: Film — 7 p.m., “Molakana: Sewing the World,” film about Kuna women, their lives and their molas, made by French ethnologist Michel Perrin, in Kuna Yala, Panama, 2003. (Location to be determined.)

Mola designs developed from Kuna body painting. As imported cloth became available in the early 20th century, women began sewing the designs onto blouses. A wide range of imagery can be found in the designs — traditional abstract motifs, local plants, fish, animals and birds, Kuna ceremonies such as funeral and healing rites, plus historic and more recent global media-influenced images such as cartoon characters, World War II planes over Panama, modern cruise ships and ad symbols like the RCA Victor dog.

The largest of seven indigenous groups in Panama, the Kuna inhabit the San Blas Islands, a chain of more than 350 small coral islands and mainland rain forest stretching 140 miles along Panama’s Caribbean coast.

The Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising is part of CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising in the College of Health and Human Sciences. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and until 8 p.m. on Thursday. For more information, visit, call 970-491-1983, or email