The Elisabeth Hans Collection

A Gift of Theodor Hans in Memory of his Wife Elisabeth Hans

In 1963 Elisabeth Hans made her first excursion to the San Blas Islands along Panama’s Atlantic coast, home to the Kuna Indians.  Her husband Theodor Hans, a United States Civil Service employee, had been assigned to the U.S. Army Southern Command in the Panama Canal Zone in 1962.  He recalls that the tropical climate and lush vegetation strongly impressed her, and while visiting the nearby islands she was immediately drawn to the colorful and unique mola blouses worn by the Kuna women.  She acquired her first two molas and so began a collection that would continue to grow over the course of thirty years.

As she continued to collect in the 1960s – and even came to understand the Kuna language to some degree – members of the U.S. Armed Forces, diplomats stationed in Panama, and important visitors to the area contacted Elisabeth Hans to obtain the best molas.  Her activities as a collector and advisor led her to open a specialty shop, Arte Caribe, in Panama City in 1970.  Here she sold molas as well as other objects crafted by native artists and artisans from all over Latin America and the Caribbean.  She remained with the shop until 1977 when she and Theodor Hans moved to Munich, Germany.  Of the estimated 30,000 molas she had collected, she brought 16,000 to Germany.  From 1977 until her death in 1993, she owned and operated an export-import firm for Latin American native crafts.  Many mola collectors and friends not only respected her as an expert on molas but for her great kindness, generosity, and good humor.

With Theodor Hans’ gift, the Benton Museum has become home to 300 pieces from Elisabeth Hans’ extraordinarily rich collection. Thanks to his generosity and the passionate collecting of Elisabeth Hans, visitors to the Benton Museum can always enjoy this intricate art form.