Across Borders

I came back from the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe at the beginning of the week bursting with the joy of it all—the music, the dancing, the color, the artisans and the crowds they had attracted, all embracing the beauty and importance of handmade goods from around the world.

Across Borders
Huichol yarn painting from Mariano Valadez Navarro, one of the 2016 International Folk Art Market artisans. Photo courtesy of the  International Folk Art Alliance.

At the same time, across the street and up the hill at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center, a much quieter, more reflective event was occurring. (Well, quieter except for late at night over shared bottles of wine.)

Weave a Real Peace (WARP)  was holding its annual meeting. WARP was hatched twenty-five years ago, just an idea in the fertile mind of Deborah Chandler (co-author of Traditional Weavers of Guatemala ). Through her work in the Peace Corps and with the fair-trade organization Pueblo to People, Deborah had met a number of people working with indigenous groups around the world. Wouldn’t it be great if these people had a forum for talking together, sharing, collaborating?
So Deborah pulled together an ad hoc meeting during a weaving conference in Washington, D.C., and a handful of people got together and began to tell their stories, to connect.

WARP members telling their stories in Santa Fe. Photograph by Carol Ventura.

Today, some 350 members share those connections. Their interests and activities vary wildly, from ambitious international marketing projects to intimate local meet-ups. Chances are you’ve never heard of most of their accomplishments, though their influence sends ripples around the globe.

Consider: Sam Brown and Tara Miller, who vacationed on remote Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca, Peru, twenty years ago, and were inspired to bring home some exquisite locally-made textiles to sell. They used the money they raised to buy solar panels to take back to Taquile. Today, 80% of Taquileños have solar electricity by way of Sam and Tara’s project—lights in their homes, news on their radios. And scores of Norte Americanos own handspun, handwoven fabrics that connect them to the ancient traditions of the legendary Incas.

Christine Eber (center) with Janet Darrow (left) and Dr. Jeanne Simonelli (right). Photograph by Carol Ventura.

Consider: Christine Eber, a retired anthropology professor who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She went to Chiapas in southern Mexico to work on her degree many years ago and has gone back again and again to nurture personal relationships. One result is a remarkable book: The Journey of a Tzozil-Maya Woman of Chiapas, Mexico.  The book is written by her compadre Antonia, a woman from the village of Chenalhó. To have a first-hand account of what it is to live as Antonia has—to learn the skills, do the backbreaking daily work, join the revolutionary Zapatista movement, raise children and toil to give them opportunities for education, to seek hope and grace in a challenging life—this is rare. This is connecting across cultures in a most intimate and authentic way.

From left to right: Catharine Ellis, Donna Brown, and Diane De Souza during a discussion at the WARP gathering in Santa Fe. Photograph by Carol Ventura.

Consider: Donna Brown of Denver, Colorado, whose passion for and knowledge of natural dyes led her to Guatemala with another WARP member, Catharine Ellis, to help teach women in Cobán how to reclaim the skill of teasing lovely colors from natural materials. The resulting yarns have found their way into countless yards of fabric—Guatemalan hand-dyed cotton, North American handwoven cloth. Connected by threads.

There’s much political strife these days around the concept of globalism. But when globalism simply means reaching across borders person-to-person to celebrate creativity and beauty; when it means acknowledging the skills and traditions of people from different worlds; when it means using our own resources, however modest, to make a friend or fill a need, then how can that not be a good thing?


Across Borders
Me, at the International Folk Art Market with Rangina Hamidi, founder of Kandahar Treasure, an Afghan business that empowers women while reviving a rare embroidery tradition. And also, I’m very happy to say, a Thrums Books author.
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