It was a warm day in 1991 and the Santa María de Fe was sleepy. Edith and I decided to take a side trip to visit a museum that Marianna Beech of Kansas Paraguay Partners help create and maintain. Both the town and the museum are special. We took the bus on the main highway from Asunción to Encarnación and after 5 hours got dropped off at the side road to Santa María. We caught a small bus for the 10 km into town.
Jesuits established many missions in Paraguay in the 17th Century. Along with proselytizing they helped maintain Guaraní the indigenous and first language of Paraguay. Each mission established a speciality for religious and economic reasons. The mission at Santa María specialized in religious sculpture. Here is an example.
The workshop became known as the Great Workshop of the Ancient Missions due to its high quality work and Santa María became one of the largest missions with about 7,000 indigenous residents. The museum is housed in a 1670s building that once housed the people living at the mission. It consists of 6 rooms that house 56 items. These details are from Romy Natalia Goldberg’s great guidebook to Paraguay.
Edith and I marveled at the workmanship. It was interesting that while many of the saints depicted were European they were represented in Paraguay with the features of local indigenous people. It would have been easy for these sculptures to disappear over the hundreds of years of existence. It is wonderful that they are preserved in this wonderful small museum.
In the 1970s Marianna Beech was president of Kansas Paraguay Partners and learned about the sculptures and worked to create the museum to preserve them. She was an avid supporter throughout the rest of her life. Here she is in 1979 receiving an award for the creation of the museum. Marianna is next to the women holding the award.
Back to our trip. We easily found the museum and had a wonderful tour. When we left the museum about noon we asked about the next bus back to the main highway. We were told that it was not until 4 pm. We decided to have lunch at the local restaurant. Well calling it a restaurant is generous. Remember this was some 25 years ago. It was a dimly lit large rectangular room with a few tables. The food was good and we heard English being spoken at another table. We introduced ourselves and asked where these other gringos were from. It turns out that they were from Kansas State University and there on a agriculture project. A small world indeed. The partnership was alive and working.
The next challenge was waiting until 4 pm. That was pretty easy. Like most Paraguayan towns after lunch siesta was an important part of the day. So the town shut down and we rested on the porch of the museum being entertained by a family of monkeys that lived in the park across the street. We were fascinated by the family and they seemed happy to entertain. I imagine that at least some of the towns people considered the monkeys to be a nuisance. When we have Paraguayan visitors who are in Kansas for the first time they tend to fall in love with squirrels. We would be happy to trade our squirrels for their monkeys.