Today we spent the day adventuring around Lake Atitlán, a huge lake in the Sierra Madre mountain range. We visited many destinations throughout the day, but one spot that collectively blew us away was our visit to a weaver's studio in the town of San Juan, along the coast of the lake.
Unique to this region of Guatemala, this style of weaving involves the pattern of the textile to be decided ahead of time, and the warp threads are dyed before they are set onto the loom based on the chosen pattern. It is a painstaking process that requires the threads to be wrapped in specific places before they are dyed to keep certain areas white.
At this studio, San Juan la Laguna, the threads used for weaving are hand-spun and naturally dyed, using materials found in nature. Our host Ingrid showed us what plants and insects produce different colors before taking us out to the back of the studio to show us the dye process.
After tearing up a plant by hand, similar to the indigo plant, Ingrid cut some banana tree trunk and boiled it in some water. She then mixed that water into the shredded plant. The mix was then placed in the sun, because UV rays facilitate the reaction between the water and the plant. After only a few minutes, we watched the water go from clear to a bright berry colored red. Ingrid then washed some clean white cotton thread (to help it absorb the dye better) and dipped it into the bowl.
When she pulled it out it was purple, and as she kept dipping, wringing, and repeating, the threads went from a light purple to a darker shade. When done properly, this process yields an indigo color she told us.
We were stunned at how quickly we were able to see the results of this process. Ingrid learned how to do this from her family, which placed an emphasis on how important it is that the traditions of this craft be passed down so that the knowledge is not lost. Our visit to this studio also gave us insight into how their work is taken for granted when consumers don't understand how much it takes to create their beautiful products. From start to finish, every step of the process is meticulously planned to create unique but consistent textiles.
WE ARE PLEASED TO ANNOUNCE OUR 2016 TRIP TO ANTIGUA!
WITH NEW DESIGNERS JOINING THE GROUP, AND ARTISANS FROM A WIDER RANGE OF LOCATIONS AND AREAS OF EXPERTISE, THIS YEAR IS GOING TO BE ECLECTIC AND FUN!
WE LOOK FORWARD TO GOING BACK TO A PLACE THAT FEELS LIKE HOME, AND WE WILL DO OUR BEST TO KEEP YOU POSTED.. SO FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK FOR THE LATEST UPDATES
ALDANA FERRER GARCIA
Text by Aldana Ferrer Garcia + Lili Jackson
In May 2015, a group of 12 New York based designers and artists led by Rebecca Welz arrived in the city of Antigua, Guatemala, to collaborate with artisans in diverse crafts and create a line of products. This project became The Antigua Project, and it follows a model previously conceived by Rebecca in Malinalco, Mexico in 2013 (The Malinalco Project) and in Guyana in 2009 (The Guyana Project).
“The environmentalist Paul Hawken writes in his book Blessed Unrest that there are many movements afoot on a small scale that are brewing all over the world which point to global change. He breaks the movements down into three major areas: environmental sustainability, social justice and preservation of indigenous people. As we become more and more mechanized and production and services are increasingly outsourced, these collaborative projects are a tribute to the makers who work with their hands and the traditions of culture that have been passed down for generations.” (Rebecca Welz, theantiguaproject.wordpress.com)
Guatemala is particularly known for its handcrafted textiles, continuously made with centuries old techniques. For instance, the típico (everyday wear) is composed of a huipil (a shirt woven with a backstrap loom), a skirt or pants (woven on a foot loom) and different accessories. It employs different patterns and color schemes so one can identify which village someone is from by the clothes they are wearing.
Our contact with Guatemala started through Elizabeth Bell, a historian and travel agent based in Guatemala. She put Rebecca in contact with Alida Perez, the founder of the Museo Casa del Tejido Antiguo, a craft museum and cultural center in Antigua. After one year of exchanging emails, the collaboration was finally arranged.
Arriving separately in Antigua, the thirteen of us found each other walking around the city, at the Bodegona (the supermarket) and the Posada San Sebastian, which would become our cozy home for the next two weeks. The following morning, assembled in our open-air living room, we were met by Alidita (Alida’s daughter), a perky woman dressed in the típico who spoke perfect English. She walked us to theMuseo, where we first met Danilo, our translator and staff of the museum, for a tour of the collection beginning with wonderful vignettes of traditional life from various areas of Guatemala. We saw examples of weaving from different regions and artifacts that date back hundreds of years and are still in use, as well as currently made artesanías. They walked us to our studio, a beautiful covered patio with common workbench space in the center surrounded by individual nooks for each of the teams.
Before arriving, we had chosen two main materials to work with. The artisans (including a ceramicist, silversmith, weavers, metalworkers, woodworkers, seamstresses, leatherworker and shoemakers) who had come from nearby towns and further away places were waiting for us in our new studio.
We started work instantaneously! Though we only had two native Spanish speakers in the group, plus Danilo and Alidita, we soon remembered the official language of design: a combination of drawing, fabricating little models, and hand gestures. By 2 pm we had spread out in smaller groups around town and neighboring villages sourcing materials. We went to the local lumberyard, where they were freshly milling cedar and palo blanco; to San Antonio to buy cotton thread and sedalina (cotton+silk); to Pastores to source leather. A wonderful resource was the Mercado just around the corner from us, with a wide selection of stores from fresh produce, to buttons and sanding paper.
At the end of the day, objects were already starting to appear and a general spirit of camaraderie was in the air. We agreed on meeting Monday to Saturday from 8.30am to 5pm, leaving two Sundays off for fieldtrips.
We settled into our daily routine: waking up early in the morning to greet the sun on our rooftop surrounded by mountains and volcanoes; or going out for Guatemalan coffee sourced from the surrounding estates, continuing on to the museum through narrow sidewalks and pebble stone streets. During the day the teams would work together, hands on the project. We helped each other translate, bounce ideas, share tools, concepts, stories and food.
Designing and building from the hip, we found inspiration all around us: in the indigenous patterns, romantic architecture and the new skills we were learning from the artisans. The whole studio spilled out with our backstrap looms as we began learning to weave.
On our two Sundays off, we visited other villages and market towns farther away. We took a boat on Lake Atitlan, visiting remote villages and discovering even more incredible textiles. On our second trip we traveled to the market town of Chichicastanango, one of the largest markets in the America’s and quite overwhelming!
Through these experiences and friendships we merged traditional craftsmanship with our design backgrounds to create objects that tell this story. As we were finishing our work and packing the objects to bring back home, we began to say our tearful goodbyes, hoping we’d see each other again the next year. The relationships we built have impacted our lives forever and we hope to continue this project.
Once the groups were assigned, we jumped straight to work on the projects. Some of us had a more defined idea of the designs, some came more spontaneously; at the end of day one, objects were already coming along!
Thanks to the Museum of Textiles in the city of Antigua, and specially Alida, we were provided with a beautiful studio space just for us, where the weavers, woodcarvers, shoemakers, ceramicists and silversmiths brought their tools. We work in the museum from 8.30am to 5pm everyday (except Sunday of course!), the staff is absolutely welcoming and helpful, from organisation tasks to technical and sourcing support to even Spanish-English translation!
Here are some pics of all of us collaborating.. Enjoy!
The Antigua Project is the third collaboration organised by Rebecca Welz, of Pratt student designers and local artisans working together to fabricate products using sustainable, traditional materials and craft techniques. The previous projects areThe Guyana Project, from Guyana, South America and The Malinalco Project, from Malinalco, Mexico.
The Antigua Project is made up of 12 designers who are paired with artisans of their choice in a sequence that will combine to produce designs. The working relationship is a collaboration utilizing the contemporary sensibilities of the New York designers and the ancient traditional expertise of weavers, woodcarvers, carpenters, leatherworkers, a shoemaker, a welder and a silversmith. We are working intensively for 2 weeks in a studio in the Museo Casa del Tejido Antiguo,the textile museum in Antigua, Guatemala.
The environmentalist Paul Hawken writes in his book Blessed Unrest that there are many movements afoot on a small scale that are brewing all over the world which point to global change. He breaks the movements down into three major areas: environmental sustainability, social justice and preservation of indigenous people. As we become more and more mechanized and production and services are increasingly outsourced, these collaborative projects are a tribute to the makers who work with their hands and the traditions of culture that have been passed down for generations.
We are honoured to collaborate with the artisans and learn from them.