Solentiname is an archipelago of 38 islands near the southern coast of Lake Nicaragua. The indigenous Nicaraos people called the lake Colcibolco. It’s about 100 miles long and 30 miles wide; it is home to tens of thousands of herons and egrets and ducks and many other species of birds. One island in Solentiname is a sanctuary for migratory birds – the trees bend with them and from a distance the earth seems white from the guano. The lake is full of fish – there are 46 different species, and it is the only fresh water lake in the world that has sharks.

Solentiname is isolated and hard to get to, and that has defined its history up to the present. They say that the indigenous people used it mainly for ceremonies and as burial grounds. Besides beautifully decorated pottery and metates carved with animal figures, caves and stones with petroglyphs have been found there suggesting worship of water gods. Perhaps these deities lived in the lake and emerged through these caves. Probably, Solentiname was believed to have been a gate to the abode of the gods – in other words, to paradise.
The people of Solentiname, about 1,200 in number, live by farming, fishing, and making art. The art movement that originated in Solentiname has become world famous, for the charm and quality of the paintings and crafts. It began when the Nicaraguan poet/priest Ernesto Cardinal and some friends moved to Solentiname in 1965, to found a spiritual community; gradually, liberation theology and campesino art blossomed and grew up there like twins. “The Gospels of Solentiname”, in three volumes, were published. The great composer, Carlos Mejia Godoy, wrote The Misa Campesina there. Poetry workshops led to publication of the anthology, Campesino Poetry of Solentiname. But most outstanding and famous were the painters and artisans, the books and posters and exhibits of art and carvings which showed so beautifully the world and life of the people on the islands.
One of the first painters, Olivia Silva, describes what art meant to the population there. She said, “The campesino who lives in misery doesn’t know the love of beauty or the love of nature. Their hunger and pain is so great they don’t give time or interest to contemplating a plant. But when they develop as a person, by knowing things as the subject matter of art, they are better able to see things as they are, as lovely things, and to see that one lives in a paradise. What is beautiful is nature, which God has made. Our painting shows the beauty of God’s world, so that people will love and appreciate it, and make our world become like God’s world."