Human Flower Project

Silletero to Demonstrate on the Mall

As the Smithsonian Folklife Festival features Colombia, a silletero will bring his floral craft to Washington.


Silleta by Alexander de Jesús Nieto of Santa Elena, Colombia for the 2010 Feria de las Flores, Medellin

Photo: Cristina Diaz-Carrera, Smithsonian Institution

This year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival, held annually on the national Mall in Washington, D.C., will feature, among many others, Alexander de Jesús Nieto of Santa Elena, Colombia.

Nieto is a silletero, a flower carrier and in folklore-ese, a “tradition bearer” too.

The silleteros carry huge loads of fresh blooms from flower farms, many in the mountains, into the city market centers for sale. We suppose that most flower growers get their blooms to market in trucks these days, but the silletero tradition lives on, perhaps the clearest human flower project on Earth to show the back-bruising work behind cut-flowers.


Alexander de Jesús Nieto carries his silleta in the Medellin parade, 2010

Photo: Cristina Diaz-Carrera, Smithsonian Institution

To balance and protect their perishable wares, they used to carry the flowers on armatures like ladderback chairs (silletas). The most famous congregation of silleteros takes places each year in Medellin, when flower carriers from around the nation transport immense beautifully designed arrangements into the city.

At the folklife festival, Nieto, from Santa Elena, Colombia, will demonstrate the arranging of over 50 varieties of flowers onto a silleta (see his entry from the 2010 Medellin Feria de les Flores above). According to the Smithsonian, Nieto’s displays are not just designed to be beautiful: “He also strives to represent the diversity of the flowers according to their uses, applications to medicine, aroma, magic….” And of course, along with hard work, the Colombian climate and long-standing culture of flower growing make that kind of bounty possible.

This year’s folklife festival, which also puts a spotlight on Rhythm and Blues and the Peace Corps, takes place over two long weekends, June 30-July 4 and July 7-11. (Thanks to Marie Mencher at the Smithsonian.)

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