This week’s blog comes straight from Guatemala! Madeline Kreider Carlson, Creative Director at Multicolores, sent us this beautiful dispatch about the newest creative work and education of the talented Maya rug-hooking artists of Multicolores. We continue to be amazed and inspired by their work and their lives. Thanks, Madeline.
Many Colors, Many Stories
In February 2019, in a darkened room in Panajachel, Guatemala, twelve Maya women artists gazed with rapt attention at the projected image of Frida Kahlo’s painting “The Wounded Deer.” Reflecting on the prompt, What story does this artwork tell?, they contemplated the iconic, powerful image of Kahlo’s head on a deer’s body pierced with arrows, framed by a dark forest.
Sara, an embroidery artist from Santiago Atitlán, spoke up first. “That painting is by Frida Kahlo, I believe,” Sara mused. “To me, it seems that the deer symbolizes the pain, suffering, and inequality that women face.”
“Or maybe the deer symbolizes the environment—the arrows represent the ways that humans harm the earth and its creatures,” added another artist. “And in harming the environment, we harm ourselves as well.”
These women artists are part of Multicolores, a non-profit organization that creates opportunities for talented Mayan women artists. The story of Multicolores, and the innovative design education that has enabled these women to gain international recognition for their artwork, is told in the award-winning book Rug Money.
Storytelling through Design
The February workshop on Storytelling through Design was led Multicolores founder and Rug Money author) Mary Anne Wise. Exploring techniques for telling stories in hooked rugs and embroidered artwork, the workshop was the latest design education opportunity for Multicolores’ artists. Ongoing creative workshops are a key part of Multicolores’ mission to support these talented women in expressing their unique creative voices through original, distinctive textile designs.
Setting aside their needles, thread, fabric, and hoops, the artists used pencil, paper, and their imaginations to explore their own stories. “Where do stories come from?” Mary Anne asked. The women responded: from our communities, families and personal experiences. From our traditions, legends, and folktales. From our feelings and imagination.
“It’s funny,” reflected rug hooking artist Rosmery on the last day of the workshop. “Often, my rugs tell a hidden story. I just didn’t always realize that’s what I was doing. Now I have more techniques and more confidence to share my story in my artwork.”
Storytelling through Rugs
A few months after the first Storytelling through Design workshop, several of the artists’ stories have come to life in intricate textile designs:
My inspiration for my rug is the féria (festival) of my village. The cinta (sash) and the traje (Maya traditional dress) represent the Reina Indígena, the Indigenous Queen. The maracas and the drum represent the parades. The flowers symbolize the adornments of the church. The guitar and the flute represent religious songs, and the birds represent St. Michael, the patron saint of our town and its people. – Ramona Cristina Tumax Tzunun, Totonicapán
The Story of My Sister Micaela. When my sister was 8 years old, my mother taught her how to weave a huipil (Maya traditional woven blouse). From a very early age, Micaela learned how to weave very well. She made all different kinds of weavings: huipiles, fajas, napkins, cushions, sashes, and more. (Here, Irma’s sister Micaela is symbolized by the quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala.) – Irma Churunel Ajú, Chuacruz
Once upon a time when I was small, I wanted a butterfly. I loved them because they always flew very high in the flowers of the garden. The butterfly, always flying, flying in the flowers. Because I loved butterflies, I always felt as though butterflies were my friends. The butterflies that I’ve imagined here have different colors, big and small. (Here, Tomasa is symbolized by the deer.) – Tomasa Ventura Cúmez, Quiejel
“The bird represents me and my story of personal growth and new opportunities: traveling to the United States, seeing my artwork receive so much appreciation. I didn’t always feel this way, but now I feel like a bird. I feel free. I feel like I can fly, and participate wherever I go.” – Rosmery Pacheco, Totonicapán
—Madeline Kreider Carlson
Learn more about these artists’ journey of creative discovery in Rug Money, the award-winning publication from Thrums Books.