Guatemala Visited

The youngest member of an extended family in Saquitaca, San José Poaquil.
The youngest member of an extended family in Saquitaca, San José Poaquil.

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.

A little neighbor in the home of Emilia Chay Poz, a cinte weaver. She wanted us to be sure and show that she had a cell phone of her own.
A little neighbor in the home of Emilia Chay Poz, a cinte weaver. She wanted us to be sure and show that she had a cell phone of her own.

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.

A daughter of  Amalia Güe, a backstrap weaver in Samac, Cobán.
A daughter of Amalia Güe, a backstrap weaver in Samac, Cobán.

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.

—Linda Ligon

 

2 thoughts on “Guatemala Visited

  1. Mary Holm says:

    Hi –
    Last year I was privileged to I spend Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala. I was bowled over by the spectacular, colorful textiles I saw there, and was fortunate to be able to purchase part of an unfinished huipile from a weaver friend of a friend, as well as some brilliant textiles in Antigua and in a town above Lake Atitlan. I would like to display the huipile piece so that it is protected (from dust, cats, etc.) and also visible on both sides. Local frame shops have been unable to suggest ways to do this. Do you or any of your readers have ideas?
    Thank you!

    • Pauline says:

      I have seen this done with plexiglass panels. Two panels of plexiglass cut to size. Holes drilled into corner areas and plexiglass rods inserted to make a frame. Textile suspended between the panels with study clear material such as thick fishing twine from the two upper rods. Can be hung and viwed from both sides.

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