Isla Solentiname Balsa Cooperative (Balsa Ornaments and Jewelry)

Isla Solentiname, Nicaragua

Isla Solentiname is located in Lake Nicaragua near the Costa Rican border. It is comprised of a group of four large islands and around 30 smaller islands. The total population is around 1000 people. Women of the Cloud Forest had learned about the balsa wood cooperative in Solentiname back in 2000 while working in Costa Rica. The idea of journeying to the island to investigate the possibility of a partnership was finally made a reality in 2015. The trek to Solentiname takes all day with a combination of car and boat transport. We were surprised to find on our first trip how truly undeveloped the island is. There is no electricity on the island and only footpaths.

After our initial visit and cost analysis, we have been able to grow a thriving partnership with over 70 community members. Working with this cooperative is a highlight of our travels to Nicaragua. Twice a year, we make the trek and spend four days on the island in design workshops, developing new species to add to our growing ornament collection.

The balsa is sustainably grown and harvested on the island. The cooperative members are excellent carvers who initially use a machete to remove the bark from the balsa tree and then a smaller paring knife to sculpt their creation. Several passes with different grits of sandpaper follow the carving and then finally the piece is ready to be painted. Most families work as part of a team on their orders, sharing the task of carving and painting. What we love most about this group is their willingness to help each other while they are designing new piece. It could be by correcting the porportions of a template or perfecting the shading of a piece. We eat lunch together as a group and on the final day of the workshop, always play a group game to decompress.

Currently our collection includes over 200 designs of animals from North America and the world. The artisans are always looking for a new challenge so send over any ideas of strange and unusual species you'd love to see created!

View a video of the balsa-making process.


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