don Carmelo Martel's magic cuatros
Decades after his death, the cuatros made by this renown folk craftsman from Utuado are now regarded as
works of art due to their fantastic imagery, vivid colors and intricate decoration
The cuatros of Carmelo Martel in the Museo de Música de Ponce [Ponce Music Museum]:
Fotos de Guy y Donna DeVito
Perhaps the most famous of don Carmelo's works is his cuatro in the shape of a map of
Puerto Rico, which includes polychromatic inlaid or inked images of the radio towers of
all the major Island radio stations in their proper locations; the bell tower of the University
of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras; guiros and maracas; the faces of various illustrious Puerto
Ricans; different cathedrals of the Island; a sugar refinining factory; the shield of the
Puerto Rican government; and a great carved crab serving as the instrument's bridge for its strings.
Another of don Carmelo's cuatros is in the form of a shield, displaying thousands of tinted
and natural-colored wood slivers and inked lines, forming elaborate and intricate
geometric marquetry patterns.
Another fantastic creation of the great master folk artisan: a carved and painted rooster displaying all its
Another view of the same work, seen from the rear.
This cuatro is a real instrument, expertly made by the great maestro, as practical as it is
glorious in its imaginative decoration. Note the soundbox cut-away, which allows easier
access to the high notes of the fingerboard. This is a design detail that became very
popular on the Island decades after the maestro's death.
We have here a cuatro shaped like a guitar, keeping nonetheless a form which is
distinctive to the maestro. Note the extraordinary ink and inlay decoration on the
bindings, purflings and fingerboard.
Another rooster-cuatro of don Carmelo's, this one more rustic than the last one, carved with a freer hand and less detail. The cuatro neck is fused to the rooster in a more abstract way, distancing the work from the realm of practicality and bringing it closer to a clash of emotional icons.
This instrument borrows its form from the Italian harp mandolins that were in vogue
in Europe, the United States and Latin America during the 1920s.
Finally a duck-cuatro, purely iconic, carved by the late maestro. What freedom, what imagination!