Despite its wealth of remarkable pre-Columbian artifacts, including iconic polychrome pottery, enigmatic stone spheres, and priceless jade and gold pieces, Costa Rica once struggled proud to display the work of its ancient indigenous artisans. These unique styles, crafted where North and South American nations have long mingled, have only in recent decades been accorded the museums they deserve, such as the excellent Jade Museum, glittering Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, and the National Museum of Costa Rica.
The National Museum is about to receive an infusion of ancient Costa Rican artifacts that have, for far too long, been held outside the country. For almost a century, some 5,000 pieces have been protected by the venerable Brooklyn Museum, with the full knowledge and blessing of the Costa Rican government. They were donated by Brooklyn native and United Fruit magnate Minor C. Keith, who first came to Costa Rica in 1871 to construct the country’s first coast-to-coast railway and ended up transforming the Central American economy.
Today, the Brooklyn Museum is cleaning up its epic collection of artwork from all over the globe, and has offered to repatriate 80% of its Costa Rican collection. The remaining artifacts, including the most valuable jade and gold pieces, will remain in New York, for the time being. The rest will be shipped throughout 2011, and the first 983 ceramic pieces have already begun the voyage home.
These new acquisitions will not be displayed immediately, but be sure to visit the iconic National Museum, housed in the dramatically turreted former military barracks, Fortaleza Buena Vista, next time you’re in San José. This gem in Costa Rica’s bustling capital already exhibits top-notch examples of Central America’s indigenous artistry that are well worth seeing.