I’ve been back from a couple of weeks in Guatemala, working with Joe Coca on a photo shoot for a book that Deborah Chandler and Teré Cordón are writing. I’ve ransacked my shelves and stacks of books, looking for a slim volume published in 1946 titled Guatemala Visited. The author was Mary Meigs Atwater, who is credited with the revival of handweaving in America following the Industrial Revolution.
She was quite a character: in addition to understanding and promoting handweaving in every possible way, Mary Atwater wrote murder mysteries, smoked and drank with gusto, ran guns into Mexico under her voluminous skirts, stood down armed union activists in a Montana mining town, had a beaver ranch, whatever it took to support her children after her husband died. You can read her fascinating story in Weaving A Life: The Story of Mary Meigs Atwater, a book I had the pleasure of publishing under the Interweave Press imprint a couple of decades ago.
Well, I can’t find her little self-published Guatemala volume, but working from memory, I’d have to say that many things have stayed the same in that fascinating and challenging country. Many women in the countryside still weave on backstrap looms and wear their glorious traditional dress. Market day in Chichicastenango is still worth the arduous trip to get there (though now the roads are mostly paved). Some things have changed, though. We didn’t have to ride on burros to navigate the one-track dirt roads that led to many of our destinations, because now there are SUVs. I purchased the gorgeous huipil that one woman was wearing, but unlike Mary Atwater, I gave her actual money for it instead of trading my own shirt. (Why would she want that?
Photography has changed a lot—no more film and flash bulbs. And for us amateurs, there’s the ever-handy “smart” phone—all the better to take quick shots of obliging children, who might be lovelier than they were 70 years ago – or maybe not. Judge for yourself.