Artisan’s inspiration brightens Mexico nights

Lights carved from jicara fruit and gourds adorn a Jellyfish Co. shop in Playa del Carmen. Lights carved from jicara fruit and gourds adorn a Jellyfish Co. shop in Playa del Carmen. (Bethany Bodengraven for The Boston Globe)
By Barbara R. Bodengraven
Globe Correspondent / December 26, 2010

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PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico — Stroll along the colorful Quinta Avenida (“5th Avenue’’) in Playa del Carmen, and you’ll come upon tiny, open-air storefronts strung with magical bulbous lights called jellyfish lamps.

Carved with intricate designs and embedded with glass marbles, the lamps resemble their namesakes in shape, with bodies crafted from the regional jicara fruit or dried gourds and decorated with dangling “legs’’ of nuts, seeds, seashells, and thorns.

The handmade lamps are sold at four Jellyfish Co. shops along the downtown pedestrian walkway, but they seem to decorate the entrance of almost every establishment throughout Playa’s tourist area.

(Another shop is located on Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancún.)

“They have become a distinctive emblem of Playa del Carmen,’’ said Fernanda Aguilera, daughter-in-law of Jellyfish founder and artisan Raul Rodall.

The idea for the lamps came in a moment of inspiration when Hurricane Gilbert hit the Yucatan Coast in 1986. With nothing to do and nowhere to go during the storm, Rodall picked up a hollowed-out gourd, grabbed a drill, and began creating patterns on it.

He was so pleased with his creation that he turned out several more, wired them with lights, and started selling them in his shop on the corner of Calle 4 and 5th Avenue, which serves as the main Jellyfish store today.

The lamps quickly became a local folk-art favorite. Now the company employs a dozen craftsmen and numerous villagers — a bright idea that bore fruit for an artist and a community.

BARBARA R. BODENGRAVEN Jellyfish, Calle 4, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, 011-529-848-035-642,