viernes, 2 de mayo de 2008

The silletas

Exhibiting a huge flower that spreads before the eyes of spectators, this Emblematic Category Silleta is a magnificent example of craftsmanship, detail, and creative genius on the part of the silletero.

The sun of August in Medellín is enhanced with the beauty and the fertile showing of the countless silletas anchored on the street while waiting for the parade to set out. Arranged for the march, the silletas awarded with any prize lead ahead; their arrangement follows a silleta hierarchy that has been progressively built along this half a century of ceremonial existence.

  There are similarities and differences between the silletas used in the times of travelers and commodities transportation and the ones used for the Silleteros Parade. We could speak of a historical silleta used as a means to carry goods and people and the ceremonial or festive silleta, derived from the former but cleverly adapted to exhibit the many types of flower arrangements shown in the annual parade.

Faquín, caballito, peón de tercio, sillero o peón de brega names given to the original silletero immortalized in this French etching of the 19th century, as he trudges up the rugged Colombian Andean Mountains with his cargo.

  The silleta used to carry people was comfortable and allowed travelers to match the bodily rhythm of the carrier. It had arms and a stirrup or rest for the passenger’s feet; an extension in the upper part allowed the adaptation of a rustic roof made of leaves and a veil to protect the traveler from the sun, the rain, mosquitoes or the roadside branches, allowing him/her to sleep, read or enjoy the scenery.
  Both the silletas used to carry commodities and the one adapted to carry people were built with flexible but strong materials. So, they combined wood, vines or wicker to make it reusable. However, and not to the detriment of the one built for the parade, the festive silleta is as ephemeral as flowers.
  The silleta used by former flower vendors gave way to other kinds of silletas which have been classified by the parade authorities into categories, following their design, size and their creators’ ornamental intentions.

  The first category, the oldest and simplest one, is the traditional silleta. This silletas is the one that was used in the time when Santa Elena farmers used to go from home to home, to the church steps on leaving the mass or to the streets and plazas in Medellín, carrying a silleta on their back and offering their fragrant, eye-catching flowers. It’s basically a light wooden box, sometimes with a frame of vines and branches that allow the display of the different varieties of flowers in long bunches. What is judged in these silletas is the flower freshness, their color and variety. They are preserved by resting them on a bed of wet moss, surrounded by pine greenery and branches.

Dora Luz Atehortúa-Alzate, from the San Miguel district, walks through the streets of the city exhibiting a Traditional Category Silleta.

  The second category is the emblematic silleta. Its main characteristic is having a composition bearing a motif and a message chosen by its creator. Its grace resides in the way it refers to recent striking national and global happenings. This silleta is made by sticking the flowers to a flat cardboard surface or by driving them into a Styrofoam sheet on which a design has previously been drawn. Some volume can be added to this silleta by creating some convexities or projections of the supporting frame. It is usually bigger than the traditional silleta, but necessarily heavier. Among the motifs, we may see sceneries, people’s faces, peasant life chronicles, comments on Colombian politics and even civic messages or claims. It is a floral graphic art achieved with imagination and mastery of the materials, of the color and forms of the Colombian floral wealth.

The crowd attending the Silleteros Parade tune in with the messages that silleteros, with fine art, weave by knitting flowers in an Emblematic Category Silleta.

  The third category is the monumental silleta, characterized for having a larger frame made with sticks, which widens the support area for the flower decoration. It uses flexible branches and vines that bend and intertwine making a mesh that supports the big and bright floral ornaments. This silleta may weigh up to a hundred kilos and be about four meters tall. The silletero always requires a couple of assistants for lifting the load and to avoid accidents. The utmost splendor of the parade is seen when the monumental silletas go by.

City streets become a veritable carpet of flowers when Monumental Category Silletas make their way in the Silleteros Parade.

  A variant of this category is the three-dimensional type which is a recent creation having a widespread acceptation. It has volume, sceneries, characters and objects that have the intention of highlighting some traits and recreating some scenes relating national or international happenings. An even newer variant is the animated three-dimensional monumental silleta to which the creators and designers attach mechanical or electronic devices that move parts of the composition. They sometimes bear some music or dialogues.

Silleteros emboss with flowers those memories that have become inseparable from their roots, as revealed in this Emblematic Category Silleta.

  The last category is the institutional or corporative silleta. A remarkable trait is the fidelity with which they reproduce the emblem or the logo of companies, industries or entities that want to be represented in the annual parade. Since they are made of dry dyed flowers which last longer, these silletas may be exhibited for several days at the institutional headquarters, thus prolonging the spirit and the echoes of the Flower Fair and the Silleteros Parade.

The Santa Elena silleteros handiwork reproduces, in this Institutional Category Silleta, the Caja de Compensación Comfenalco corporate image, one of the Silleteros Parade habitual sponsors.

Edgar Bolívar Rojas

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