|Notes from the studio...|
|UPCOMING! I've curated an international exhibition of hooked rugs for the Anderson Center, Red Wing, MN. www.andersoncenter.org
The exhibit opens September 23 and runs through November 18, 2011.
|Rug by Juana Garcia, apx 33 x 33". Recycled clothing on cotton groundcloth.|
Anderson Center Exhibition: participating artists include Pris Butler, Oakwood, Georgia; Molly Dye, Jacksonville, VT; Deanne Fitzpatrick, Amherst, Nova Scotia www.hookingrugs.com; Rosa Garcia Garcia, Patinatique, Guatemala; Wand Kerr, Wiarton, Ontario www.wandaworks.ca Joan LaVine, Minneapolis, MN; Anne-Marie Littenberg, Burlington, VT; Mary Logue, Minneapolis, MN; Yoland Calgua Morales, Chichicastenango, Guatemala; Jan Mostrom, Minneapolis, MN; Tish Murphy, Minneapolis, MN; Arne Nyen, Stockholm, WI; Eric Sandberg, Athens, Georgia
Special Thanks to Oxlajuj B'atz (OB) www.thirteenthreads.orgfor their tireless devotion to figure out a way for two of our students to attend the exhibition opening! (With a lot of help from the Delta Family Foundation, thank you!). OB sponsors my rug hooking classes in Guatemala, scroll down to read more.
A REGION-WIDE HOOK-IN will be held in the lunchroom of the Anderson Center on September 23 from 1 - 5. Free, open to the public. Our co-exhibitors from Guatemala, Yoland and Rosa, will be the guests of honor.
I'm teaching a week-end workshop in conjunction with the exhibit. Nov 4 -6. For more information please phone the Anderson Center: 651-388-2009.
|Rug Hooking in Guatemala. In June, 2009, I taught beginning rug hooking to a 28 women (and 1 man) in Panajachel, Guatemala. Jody Slocum, my long-time friend and colleague, assisted and translated from English-Spanish. The participants belong to Oxlajuj B'atz, an educational organization empowering about 500 women in the western highlands. (www.oxlajujbatz.org).
On that first day of class? none of us could have predicted how rug hooking would 'take off', how our students would find markets for their rugs, and how money from rug sales would impact their lives. If interested to learn more about how you can help, please drop me a line firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call: 715/448-2511.
|Busy hooking alongside the students.|
|A participant working as her son looks on.|
|Taking a break to examine our work.|
June 19, 2009-Rug Hooking Workshop, Panajachel
The students arrived at the Maya Traditions Sala in Panajachel with their babies, toddlers, and young children. Brothers supervised toddlers and sisters held babies while their moms worked in class. When the babies grew fussy, the young girls handed the infants to their moms. After nursing and once quieted, the women tied the babies in a sling called a tuzte ( a handwoven all-purpose carrying cloth), then slung the tzute onto their backs and returned to hooking worrying their hooks in and out, in and out, while the babies dozed to the rhythm of their mother's movements.
We had a young American volunteer assisting us. When the older kids grew restless, we sent her out to buy chalk, color crayons and paper to entertain the kids. Note to self: remember that Guatemalan women always bring their kids along: have something to keep their older kids occupied and challenged, too.
Twentynine women (and one man) representing 8 textile cooperatives participated in the class. Each cooperative has about 30 members. The cooperative votes on which of their members to send to each class. Some of the women traveled to class from towns 4 or 5 hours away by chicken bus, the overcrowded and inexpensive mode of transportation used by 98% of Guatemalans. Chicken buses are old American school buses and most of them have been repainted in colorful stripes but every bus is elaborately embellished with religious or provocative detailing. Sometimes you see both religious symbols and girly-pictures on the same bus as if the driver's devotions were divided.
Attending the Sala classes must feel like a mini vacation for the women. They don't have to cook, the Sala prepares their meals, and the out of towners have a big slumber party sleeping in the Sala classroom on foam mattress pads pulled out of storage. Jody (my Trunk Show colleague, and long time friend who was translating & assisting my class) and I shared a small cabana on the hillside just above the Sala. We drifted off to sleep to the sound of the women gossiping and laughing into the night. No different from my classes at other rug camps around the US.
Our cabana was surrounded by flowers I did not recognize and medicinal plants. (Since health care services are limited, not to mention unaffordable, the women are interested in home remedies. The Sala also hosts classes on natural healing.) The cabana has a modern kitchen and a roomy bathroom with a hot shower. I fell in love with the place when I noticed the windows had screens. Screens! Earlier in our trip, in a different city, I was eaten alive by mosquitos for several nights in a row. It’s the first time I noticed a mosquito in Guatemala and it was not a good sign: I am a mosquito magnet. Without screens I was forced to shutter the windows. The small room grew stifling hot room. During the night their maniacal drone sliced through the fog of a sleeping pill induced sleep. In the morning my hands were covered in red welts.
Here at the cabana, the danger was scorpions which happily we didn't see. (In a cautionary tone I was advised: if you get stung by a scorpion eat as much sugary candy as you can possibly stand. Their bite is painful and the sugar helps take away the sting). No scorpions, but ants swarmed the hand pump in the large Agua Pura bottle. In the morning, before we made coffee, we first had to fish the ants out of the kettle and then boil our water. Not knowing if they were stinging ants, I wasted no time in stepping on them.
Jody & I both wrestle with the question of introducing new, non-traditional techniques to this culture... but the cooperatives seem ever interested in ways to expand their product lines, especially products that can be produced with recycled materials as well as products that can be produced using inexpensive equipment. If the technique is portable, like embroidery- or rug hooking, so much the better. Products sold by the cooperatives provides a livelihood for their members and like any business, the cooperatives need to offer new objects or sales will be slack and the women will be offered less work and earn less money. Which immediately translates into less food for their families, never mind money to send their kids to school. Some of these women 'live' with their children on $4 a day.
After this teaching experience I've come to think: it's chauvinistic to pretend I know what's best for the women. Don't they deserve an opportunity to learn something new?
Not having taught a class to indigenous Maya, I consulted Deborah Chandler to help me prepare. Chandler is the director of Mayan Hands, a Fair Trade weaving cooperative and founder of WARP, (co-author of Guatemalan Woven Wealth, scheduled for release by Interweave Press at the end of July) . Deb recommended I come up with one design ready for the women to work on the first morning of class. She was exactly right. It would have taken far too much time to create an original drawing especially without more interpreters. And it might not have been successful. Chandler's point was, more or less, that the women are unaccustomed to drawing designs unique to their lives, the 'individual' is not a widely stressed cultural value. (She also added, slightly off topic, that there is no such thing as privacy in Guatemala and it would take some special coaxing to draw-out personal stories). Most of the women knew to fill in the main design elements before starting their backgrounds although a few had at it, hooking the bird and flowers in crazy wild patches of color right beside the crazy wild patches of color they'd depicted in their backgrounds. They all appeared confident and added more detail to my design.
Few of the women understood what rug hooking was before they signed up for class . Nonetheless they took to rug hooking like ducks to water. In the morning it was apparent that some of them had worked into the night. I felt relieved knowing they were enjoying the process. Most of the women were embroiderers and all of them were weavers so working with their hands is second nature. Their use of color was painterly and instinctual.
Note to self: Artistically, these women are 'loose'. Was I ever that loose in my hooking? It's a lack of artistic inhibition, a characteristic I admire.
Thanks to Chandler for delivering a projector to the Sala, I presented a brief slide show. Arriving from the City, several hours away, she handed the projector to me saying: “Check the bulb- Guatemala’s bumpy roads are hard on bulbs”. The slide show must've seemed miraculous to some in attendance because Jody thought about half of the women had never seen images appear from a projector. I started off with a shot of a big snowman in our yard in the wintertime. I explained that children who live in places where it snows bundle up in warm cloths and play outdoors in the snow. They make things out snow, like snowmen, which you form as you would shape thick mud except it’s not heavy like mud. I showed our yard in the summertime and the women said obviously I must like flowers; other shots were of me at the loom; a shot of my "guapo espouso" (handsome husband) at work on a tufted rug. The women laughed and laughed. I ended the show with a dozen or more hooked rugs made by contemporary hooking artists. The most popular rug was Patty Yoder's sheep head portrait. Patty was a wonderful rug hooker who died several years ago. I thought: Patty, are you watching? Your audience continues to expand.
We also demonstrated another off-loom rug making technique, a sewn pile rug made with scraps of fabric. I had brought along one small sewn rug nearly completed and since several students were keenly interested in the technique, I decided to start a second sample to demonstrate how to begin the rug. But the plug-in cord was missing and no one could find it. I guessed the Sala leader put the cord away for security purposes and when she arrived at 10 a.m. she'd retrieve the cord from storage and I'd be in business. When she finally arrived she looked at me with a puzzled expression and proceeded to demonstrate the machine worked fine. It was a treadle machine.
Diego was only man who participated in the class. He was a dapper, polite gentleman who sat in the corner working diligently and did not appear ill at ease as the only man in attendance. Diego came down from Chichicastenango where he is the head of a cooperative of sewers called Naomi and Ruth. Things are very slow for his group and he came to my class hoping to learn something new to add to the portfolio of products his group produces. New products boost sales. His members have few alternatives for making money. Getting a job typically means the head of household leaves the family and travels to a coffee farm 10 or 12 hours away by overcrowded chicken bus- where they work long hours Monday through Friday for a chance to earn a slave wage.
I made my way around the classroom distributing words of encouragement and when I came upon Diego he motioned me outdoors. He opened a large sack and out spilled scraps of beautiful handwoven corte. (Corte are traditional seamless skirts worn by most Maya women. With one or two exceptions, corte are hand woven on floor looms). Were these scraps good enough to use for class, he asked? No, no, I thought: I want them all. But Jody cut some of the scraps into strips for hooking and I took other scraps and began to shape a small sewn sample. Using his wildly patterned scraps and arranging the pieces in contrasting colorful combinations, the sample quickly took shape as a spectacular piece. I gave it to Diego so he would have a sample to show his group.
During a break Diego asked to see our cabana. Fishing out more ants, we boiled water and made coffee. Jody asked about his life in Chichi and he calmly described fleeing from the Guatemalan military during the civil war. Matter of factly he explained that his family, and many of his friends and neighbors, hid in the surrounding mountainside for months never knowing if they would be captured and killed.
Every participant in my class could tell a similar story. Or worse. I once read that no family in Guatemala survived the 36 year long civil war unscathed.
Jody took photos of the students at work and she also took a portrait of each woman displaying her rug-in-progress. Jody got the brilliant idea of printing a photo of each woman holding her rug. Then, with her camera memory stick, she ran to the Kodak store in Pana. Two hours later the photos were ready. Just before class ended we gave each woman her photo portrait with rug. They loved this- remember that many of the women rarely own a photograph of themselves. It was a big hit.
Note to self: include this in the 'budget' for any future class. 160 Q ($20).
Since there was no way their rugs were going to be completed before class ended, and since they can't find hooks for hooking in Guatemala, Jody wondered aloud if we should donate the hooks to our students. (No one had ever seen the hook before although the women said it looked like a crochet hook with a handle.) It was a shame to get them started on this project- that they were clearly enjoying- and not be able to complete it. Not wanting to do something that would encourage dependence on outsiders, like us, we phoned Chandler to ask her opinion about donating the hooks and the hoops. Chandler thought it was ok to donate the hooks, which cost me $4 each- a days wage for some of these women- but the women would have to pay Q10 ($1.20) for their hoops. The women were very grateful for the hooks. I never learned how many of them bought hoops.
We had a busy afternoon ahead of us: a stop at small village, San Juan La Laguna, a village known for it's natural dye communities where I needed to shop for a few more textiles for the upcoming Trunk Show (to be held in Denver in the fall of 09). San Juan is located twenty minutes by boat from Panajachel. After shopping in San Juan we needed to get back on the boat and make it to our posada in Santiago before dusk. No one operates a motor boat on Lk Atitlan’s choppy waters after dark, it is too dangerous. So as the women continued to work on their rugs, we quietly packed up our equipment.
Standing in the doorway of the classroom, Jody and I said our goodbyes. As if on cue the women dropped their hooking, pushed their chairs away from the work tables and stood to formally express their gratitude. They spoke with confidence, their speeches were straightforward and articulate. Some of the speeches were translated from Quiche or Tzuitijil or Kachiquiel because the speaker did not speak Spanish. They first thanked God for the Sala and next they thanked God for delivering us to this place. They were grateful for the new skills they learned that expanded their possibilities. It was at this point I could feel my eyes begin to fill. On they went. They acknowledged the trust their cooperative placed in them. Sincere and solemn promises were made to return to their cooperative and teach their members what they learned over the past couple of days. And finally, they expressed hope their new skills would improve their financial lives. They clapped- hard and long- and lined up to give us hugs and kisses. One shy woman whispered the only English words she likely knew: I love you.
I have never taught a more appreciative class.
And then we hired Guirmo, our trusted launcha driver, and for $27 we bypassed the cheap but never-runs-on-a-schedule-that-I-can-figure-out public launcha and motored over to San Juan la Laguna. We pulled up to the dock just as the sky opened and delivered a downpour. Since San Juan is situated on a steep hillside, the rain turned the streets into streams. I tried not to think about all that was being washed away which I was now wading through in my sandals. Without pausing to look down I attempted a mental inventory: any open cuts on my feet? Almost as soon as the thought entered my mind I let it go. Oh well. Given the circumstances, what’s the point. Done is done.
|My Spring Break Story on Weekend America, National Public Radio. In March ('08) I was working away in the studio, listening to NPR one Saturday afternoon. At the end of the broadcast, Weekend America asked listeners to send their stories about their spring rituals, favorite memory, or perhaps a spring break story. Winners would record their stories and be aired on NPR. I don't have a ritual, or favorite springtime memory, but: I had a killer spring break story. I went to their website and told my story. It was selected from hundreds of submissions and my story aired last May. Go to this link and try to listen- the podcast, with accompanying music is far more evocative than the transcript. http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/04/24/spring_fling/ Note: there's a follow up interview, one that surprised me and left me speechless. Check it out: (the link may be archived. Google: weekend america letters a hitchike reunion) http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/05/15/letters/|