Gettysburg is a sister city with Leon, Nicaragua — as noted if anyone in town looks up at the sign on Baltimore Street and Middle Street, which tells of a distance between the two places of 1,925 miles. There’s much geography between that distance, but a strong bond between two places that stretches back more than 35 years as sisters. Geographically speaking and looking at a map of Nicaragua, what stands out are two bodies of water in the middle of the country, Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua, often called by their indigenous names, Xolotlan and Cocibolca. In the far south of Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) on a detailed map, there is an archipelago of islands. These are the islands of Solentiname, close to the Rio San Juan and the border of Costa Rica.

The Solentiname Islands are famous within and without Nicaragua for traditions of art, dance and poetry. The most well-known modern poet of the country, Ernesto Cardenal, founded an artist community there, and he worked with people of the islands to promote a style of painting called primitivista. These paintings are far from primitive. In vivid colors and great natural detail, the primitivista style portrays the endless natural beauty of Nicaragua, to an almost surreal degree by juxtaposing wildlife, active volcanos and shimmering sunsets on grand bodies of water.

Greg Bowles is the current director for Project Gettysburg Leon, the sister city program between Gettysburg and the country of Nicaragua that was founded in 1986.

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