Guatemalan Woven Wealth

When I was in Guatemala last January, I had the good luck to travel with a group of women from Friendship Bridge. This is a microlending organization that supports the business endeavors of Guatemalan women, many of whom are weavers.

The object the group was to visit local markets and small villages and buy up a lot of textiles for a trunk show which will be held in Denver this September 10-11. My object was to watch and, well, shop a little. Oh, boy! You can hardly imagine the mountains of one-of-a-kind backstrap-woven huipils (blouses) that we encountered in the markets. Or the weavers we met who invited us into their homes and offered us fresh, hand-formed tortillas from their meager stores. Each community had a distinctive style, yet each textile was as fresh as the imagination of its weaver.

The leader of our group, Mary Anne Wise, conceived this project several years ago on a visit to Guatemala right after Hurricane Stan. The damage to lives and property was devastating, and her instinct to help in some way resulted in a series of trunk shows, and more than $100,000 to date going back to the weavers. Her sidekicks (and they were a kick!), BJ Bobrowski, Jody Slocum, Meg Leonard, and Ellie Sturgis, bought by day and stayed up into the wee hours photographing, labeling, databasing, and packing bundles off to be carefully washed and mended.

I was able to join the group for a few days in the Ixil Triangle, a part of Guatemala badly injured by the 30-year civil war that didn't end until 1996. We bounced along mountain roads taking in the stunning views while Meg and Jody plied their laptops and calculators to keep track of the bounty and the rest of us tried not to slide off our seats. We were greeted by throngs of women holding out lovely textiles, hoping for a sale to supplement their families' scant $2 a day income. This little video is a snapshot of our experience in the village of Chajul.

My personal commitment after the trip was to help create a book that would serve both as a catalog for the trunk show and a glimpse into the world of the weavers who created the textiles. My old colleague and friend Deborah Chandler, who is now director of the weaving cooperative, Mayan Hands, agreed to write about the weaving life in her adopted country. Raymond Senuk, who has researched Guatemalan textiles for more than 30 years, offered to provide descriptions of the pieces. Several fine freelance photographers donated images of weavers in the villages.

The result is Guatemalan Woven Wealth: Preserving a Rich Textile Tradition, which Interweave has kindly agreed to make available to you. Profits from the sale of the book go to Friendship Bridge, and from there, back to the weavers.

— Linda



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