Molas exhibit depicts biblical stories

St. Luke's Church on Hilton Head Island is showing "Eden through Eternity," a collection of 40 molas from the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama that tell biblical stories from the Garden of Eden to the ascension of Jesus into heaven.

The exhibit is on display through the end of the month as part of St. Luke's Lenten program.

Molas are panels of reversed embroidery originally applied to the front and back of native women's blouses.

The molas on display come from St. Luke's parishioners Sandra and Bob Bowden, who have exhibited portions of their collection at galleries and museums across the country, said Rev. Jean DeVaty.

"We're very blessed to have this exhibit at St. Luke's," she said. "(The molas) are really astonishing artwork. The craftmanship is quite exquisite."

The Kuna Indians live on the San Blas Archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama, where much of their traditional culture is intact. Within a short time span of around 100 years, the mola art form emerged. Scholars of the culture say the mola grew out of traditional body painting, which was intended to ward off evil spirits.

Most molas depict animals and scenes from the Kuna Indian's surroundings, but some molas reflect the Indians' knowledge of Christianity.

The mola panel consists of several layers of different colored cloth, usually red, orange and black, that are stitched together and on which designs are created by cutting out portions of the top layers to expose the colors of the lower layers.

Molas are made by women and girls, who begin to sew around age 7. They use only a needle, scissors and thimble. A mola panel may take a month or more to make and requires 40 or more hours of work.