To know a Maya woman in Guatemala is to know resilience. A Maya woman has an undeniable strength, despite poverty, despite discrimination, despite the obstacles in her path. It is a strength that allows her to keep her children fed and to negotiate an uncertain future. This story of Maya artist Bartola Morales is an excerpt from our book Rug Money: How a Group of Maya Women Changed Their Lives through Art and Innovation. The book tells the story of Multicolores, a nonprofit artisan organization in Guatemala, and highlights the individual stories of several of its rug-hooking artists. Wanting to support these Maya women who are especially hard hit during the pandemic, we hit on the idea of publishing a coloring book created from 12 of their unique hooked rug designs. The Joy of Maya Color is available now. We have never produced a book so quickly, but the need has never been so urgent. All proceeds from the sales of The Joy of Maya Color will go directly to support Multicolores artists and their families.
—Karen Brock, associate publisher
I Am Still Here
On being referred to as an artist, Bartola says, “When I hear you use the word ‘artist’ about me, it elevates me. I don’t have the words to say what this signifies, but I am very happy. When people look at my rug, I want them to see the happiness, the emotion, the time that I have dedicated to it. They are seeing a part of me, and they will also see something from Guatemala. I seek inspiration in things that make me feel happy, like birds, flowers, and nature. The past has left many scars, but I keep moving forward to continue growing as an artist, mother, and wife.”
In 2014, after becoming pregnant and wanting to find a way to earn money working at home, she approached Glendy, her cousin’s wife, and asked to join the rug-hooking project. Working alongside of Glendy, Bartola discovered she possessed a natural aptitude for rug hooking. At first, she asked her husband to draw her designs because his drawing skill was better than hers. But she soon realized that she couldn’t always rely upon him, and that with practice, she could learn to draw. Little by little, her drawing skill improved.
She now enjoys a growing collection of templates, explaining, “The templates are like a catalog of design ideas I have created from my drawings.” Continuing, she added, “My husband is very supportive of me. He knows what colors I like and what fabrics I use for my rugs, and sometimes on his way home from work, he will stop and buy me a bag full of paca (second-hand clothing). If I feel uncertain, I will ask his opinion about a color to use in my rug, and he always has a good idea for me.”
Life was not always so agreeable. Bartola grew up feeling undermined by a father who directed most of his anger toward her, although, referring to her siblings, she says, “All of us were beaten.” She still remembers his scathing comment when she asked to attend high school. “What’s the point?” he replied. “You’ll never make anything of your life; you’ll soon swap carrying a backpack for carrying a baby.” She completed the sixth grade and wanted to study more, but he insisted that she now work to help support the family. At age eleven, he sent her to work in a local canteen.
Bartola now lives with her husband and young daughter in San Jorge La Laguna, a hillside community overlooking Lake Atitlán. Three of his siblings, along with their children, share the small, dark house. Each family is confined to a single room. During the rainy season, they navigate rivulets of water that course through their dwelling. But Bartola anticipates better living conditions soon. Combining income from the sale of her rugs, her husband’s salary, and a loan, the couple is adding on to the second level of his family’s home and building their own apartment. She looks forward to the day she can move upstairs into the dry, bright new rooms, and have her own kitchen, too.
I asked Bartola if there was anything she wanted to say to our readers. “I’m not going to tell you I’m a strong woman, but I’ve learned a lot from what happened to me. These things left me with many scars, many wounds, but I am still here. I continue ahead, I won’t let these things kill me, even though I was at the point of falling. The words of those who talk against me, they are only words, they can’t affect me anymore.” She went on to say, “I am succeeding as a rug-hooking artist, yet I still value the opinion of my teacher Glendy and my compañeras, too.
When I finish a rug, I am eager to show it to them, to hear their opinion. I always want to improve. When I think about my rug being in a museum in Los Estados Unidos, I grow emotional.” In 2016, Bartola’s rug was one of six large-format hooked rugs included in the exhibition at the Textile Center in Minneapolis. “I wish I could have been in that room where my rug was on display. I imagine the feeling of seeing my rug in that room.”
She finished by describing her life with Multicolores, “I am happy, and I feel proud of myself because I know I am capable of doing more, of continuing to produce for Multicolores. My life has changed. I discovered a talent I never knew I had. I feel positive and self-confident. I no longer have to conform to my father’s view of me.”
—Mary Anne Wise & Cheryl Conway-Daly
The Joy of Maya Color is also available at Cultural Cloth who also sells the Multicolores hooked rugs.