I met the talented artist, Martín, at a small art sale he was having at an American friend's house. John was quite excited about a mural Martín had just finished on a wall outside his house right on the Rio Navarro and was supporting him however he could. I bought a painting of Martín's years ago, but hadn't met him before. He lives here in the Orosi Valley, but painted murals in Oaxaca, Mexico for a year. Martín achieves the depth in his images by first painting a black background.
Typical of rural Costa Rican construction, our long, gabled roof is supported by 26 giant triangular trusses hoisted up into (or rather, creating) the attic and placed a meter apart. This leaves no room for vaulted or cathedral ceilings for the most part, except for in our view room, which juts out crosswise for a couple of meters. In order to accommodate a wall of high windows, the otherwise parallel trusses were spread apart diagonally on one end to open up the room. This created what the builder called an Americano ceiling, the likes of which I have not seen, before or since. But its tapered vertical surfaces created a perfect setting for our new mural up in the rafters, which are well lit by our hanging light fixtures.
So Linda and I decided on what we wanted in the mural, a pretty comprehensive list. Central to the painting, in the highest part, would be a waterfall (specifically a cascade) visible from our house in the cloud forest across the river (some older folks require binoculars to see it clearly). Most of the other images are also matched to our locale, such as the coffee field shaded by poró trees, many volcanoes, including an active one called Turrialba, and the mysterious stone spheres found south of here, perfectly carved by unknown indigenous Costa Ricans a thousand years ago. And even today, we see oxcarts (carrettas), holdovers from a bygone era when they were the only method to haul anything over our difficult roads.
Some of the mostly indigenous flora and fauna in Martín's mural are:
Plants: lobster-claw heliconia, orchid (specifically the guaria morada or purple country girl), shell ginger, bird-of-paradise, Spanish moss or barba de viejo (old man's beard), and a split-leaf philodendron or mano de tigre (tiger hand, indigenous and edible locally, a house plant in US), lantana (various colors), and porterweed, which are the best attractors of hummingbirds and butterflies.
Trees: poró (orange), corteza amarilla (yellow), banana, coffee
Mammals: three-toed sloth or perezosa, coati (diurnal member of the raccoon family, known locally as pizote), squirrel monkey (or mono ardilla, one was launched into space by NASA in 1959), ocelot (dwarf leopard), river otter or perro de agua.
Birds: Montezuma's oropendula (yellow breasted), black vulture, rufous-tailed hummingbird, keel-billed toucan, resplendent quetzal (legendary but rarely seen).
Butterflies: the enormous blue morpho, which frequently flutters past us, and the rusty tipped page, which lingers all day.
The finished product is twenty feet wide and up to six feet high and it took Martín only seven days to complete, sitting, then standing on the scaffolding, whistling along with his favorite 80's music. Our construction workers and their family, friends and neighbors filed into the house to marvel at its beauty and his rapid progress. The photos are sequenced to illustrate how he painted the mural.
At this point, there are still about eight square meters up in the rafters that are still unpainted, one panel at each end. We decided to have Martín paint some more scenes that we actually view from the vantage point of our house.
My wife and I wanted the famous Orosi church, which we can see across the valley, and is a historical landmark in Costa Rica. It is the oldest church still in use and was built 270 years ago and was previously a Franciscan monastery.
There is a single lane suspension bridge below our house that is rumored to be replaced soon, hopefully before it collapses.
And the beneficio, or coffee mill, on the hill across the valley, which processes the coffee cherries picked locally and shipped around the world to gourmet roasters.
Horses and roosters are all over our neighborhood, and twice a white horse stepped through our pool cover and had to be coaxed out.
And a most impressive poró tree that dominates our view to the south.
Martín was assisted this time by his niece, Marisol. The mural is now 36 feet wide.