Their stories, their lives


Authors Deborah Chandler and Teresa Cordon take their love for Guatemala along with its luscious textiles traditions and invite readers into the homes of 19 artisans in Traditional Weavers of Guatemala (Thrums, September 2015). Readers meet master weavers, dyers, and embroiderers, and learn about their lives during the chaotic period of civil violence, natural disasters, and their daily struggles. In spite of the turmoil in their lives, there’s also immense pride in their traditions, the creative process and the finished product: textiles with dazzling detail and color that takes one’s breath away.

Chandler and Cordon pack an abundance of material about the creative and technical processes that textile lovers will relish, but also write about region’s rich and varied cultural history. Joe Coca’s eye-popping photography captures the vibrancy of the land, the architecture, the wide array of textile treasures. His portraits of the artisans show the essence of the Guatemalan spirit, endurance, and steely determination to create and pass on their knowledge to younger generations.

Each weaver’s story provides tales of hardships and heartbreak, but also lessons of courage and strength. Among the many extraordinary stories is that of Antonio Ramirez Sosof. A former lumberjack whose vocation spanned 30 years until the military and guerilla conflicts within Santiago Atitlan forced him to quit. Antonio’s first foray into craft naturally gravitated towards wood carving, working with branches and roots. The shape of the various pieces of the wood would guide him to what the carving would later become, resulting in objects that attracted both local and foreign attention. Unfortunately, Antonio gave up wood carving due to pain in his shoulders and his back, but a dream led him to pursue another craft—embroidery. Confident, he could learn to embroider, Antonio learned everything he could about needles, yarns, backings, color, and subject matter. Ideas come from his strong belief in God. Nearing 90 and losing his sight, Antonio recruited his grandson to keep the tradition alive. It’s become both a teaching and learning adventure between the two men.

Interspersed between the intimate personal histories of the weavers, Chandler and Cordon have added sections that feature process as well as historical and cultural context to their stories. “It’s all about Chocolate and Color” provides a historical summary of the Spanish conquerors interest in cacao beans, which the King demanded in large quantities during the mid-1500s–paid via forced labor and taxes. In the 1600s, the Spanish King became enamored of jiquilite, a species of indigo, and ordered to increase production for commercial purposes. There was a caveat: the conditions in creating the process to extract the indigo was toxic, killing entire villages of workers.

Traditional Weavers of Guatemala is a book to revisit often. Readers interested in cultural studies will be touched by the artisan’s stories, and textile fans will want to include this must-have, must-read tome in their libraries.

For more information, please visit Thrums, LLC at–llc-publish.