A special, behind-the-scenes look from author Deborah Chandler:
“Making” is such an all-encompassing word, a good word for the discovery, research, and creation processes that led to the birth of Traditional Weavers of Guatemala. It truly was a privilege and an honor, and equally, an adventure at every level.
I confess that some of the people who live the farthest away, like wool spinner Ana Pu, or who were the most fragile, like embroiderer Antonio Ramirez, we met only twice, the day we got to know them and the day we were there so that our third partner Joe Coca could take his exquisite soul-touching pictures. In their cases, like so many others, we were introduced to them by people who had known them for years, so we arrived with some background knowledge already. At the other end were Catarina-the-cotton-spinner and Tomasa-the-jaspe-tier whom I have known for so many years I don’t even remember the first time we met.
The human aspects of the artisans’ stories were the most humbling. The loss of so many family members through war or non-understood health problems seems unfathomable. Equally surprising to me, who comes from a culture where divorce is so common, is that fully half of the marriages have lasted 50+ years, and there were others that might have if widowhood had not cut them short.
In the Preface, Teresa Cordón and I mention that the artisans have not lived their lives with clock and calendar in hand; in the epilogue we say that we laughed hard. One connection between those two became our mantra: “Don’t Do the Numbers.” While we went to great lengths to smooth them out, often the numbers did not add up. Early on, one woman wanted to know if she was the oldest person we had spoken with—but she did not know her own age. Others must have had their first children when they were two years old. It was wonderful for us, who carry our agendas with us wherever we go, to be in homes where the value of a calendar on the wall is for the picture on it, the year it shows irrelevant.
A Humble Privilege
Pride. They glowed with such pride, mostly in the education of their children. From those who are the first in their families ever to go to school to those with college degrees, every child and grandchild has gone beyond where the artisans could go, and all worked very hard to make that happen.
The book really is Their Stories, Their Lives, and I am excited to see how readers react. Like any piece of art, readers will have their own responses, depending on what touches them. I hope our book will have reach far beyond the textile community, to the students of anthropology, women’s studies, Latin American history, and so many others. Traditional Weavers of Guatemala encompasses all of that. Even more, I hope that everyone reading it will experience a taste of the same satisfaction we did in discovering, researching, and creating it, and feel the humble privilege of knowing these artisans.