Prior to Cultural Cloth’s opening, Cultural Cloth founders Mary Anne Wise and Jody Slocum offered to teach rug hooking to a group of Mayan women in Panajachel, Guatemala. Recognizing that rug hooking is a non-traditional technique, the goal was to teach a new skill in order to expand income earning opportunities in communities where few opportunities exist. Twenty nine women (and one man) signed up for the very first weekend long workshop.
Three years later, as the women grew increasingly interested in pursuing rug hooking to improve their economic well-being, Mary Anne created a design curriculum where literacy and math were not a prerequisite for participation. Beginning in January, 2012, Jody & Mary Anne embarked on a 4-part teacher training session where 7 star students learned design skills necessary to teach new rug hookers in their communities. Those 7 women went on to teach 52 more, and in 2013 the rug hookers formed a Cooperative comprised of nearly 60 women- and growing. The Cooperative was accepted at the prestigious International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2014.
The Guatemalan rug hooking program supports individual artistry, personal inventiveness, artistic resourcefulness, and seeks to convey pride in the textile heritage of the Maya. The design classes have provided the tools to extract small, woven motifs and combine these motifs with other textile elements to design rugs that possess the energy and vitality that characterizes Guatemalan textiles.
"In spite of language and cultural barriers, their knowledge about materials and process gives them an immediate shared ‘vocabulary’ with the women they represent. Understanding the demands of the US market, they apply their knowledge to curate a collection that reflects the energy and vitality of the talented women they represent."
Yolanda is 39 years old, from Quejel, Guatemala. She is married, a mother of 2 teenagers, and recognized as a leader in her community. Yolanda completed the 4th grade. She is a talented weaver who weaves her own clothing, and she is recognized as an ‘entrepreneur’ among her peers.
Yolanda was chosen as one of seven women to become a rug hooking teacher and she is dedicated to expanding income earning opportunities to more women through rug hooking. Her dedication won her 1 of 2 paid positions as a roving rug hooking ambassador and she rotates throughout the highlands every couple of months to 7 communities where 52 women are now learning to hook rugs.
The experience of working with other women, helping lift their lives out of poverty, has inspired Yolanda to complete her education. In 2013 Yolanda resumed her 5th grade education. The joke in her household: who will finish school first? Yolanda or her teenage daughter.
Jessica lives in Quejel, Guatemala, department of Solola. She is 18 years old, and when we first met Jessica in 2009, she was a talented but shy young woman. She is single, and lives with her parents. She attended school through the 4th grade. She helps her parents earn money through weaving, agricultural work (when available) and now, through rug hooking.
Jessica is a very attractive young woman with an engaging personality- although we rarely saw her smile. And then we learned she had lost most of her front teeth. She has little access to dental care and, like many poor families, drinks inexpensive and sugary sodas.
We’d known Jessica for about two years when we received a new photo. It turns out she saved her rug hooking money and bought new teeth.
Carmen lives in Chiriquiac, Guatemala. She is 49 and a widowed mother of 2 adult children, with 5 grandchildren. She lives with her son and his family in a small, overcrowded dwelling.
Carmen never had an opportunity to attend school- and subsequently, had few income earning opportunities. She joined a Fair Trade textile production cooperative to learn a craft- but nothing ‘took’. She felt defeated and embarrassed to live off of handouts from her children who were struggling to raise their own children.
Something about rug hooking intriqued her and she plowed through the first class -and showed up for the 2nd class- and all subsequent classes ever since. It turns out that Carmen is a natural at rug hooking. She has developed a flawless technique and is one of Cultural Cloth’s top producers.
In 2012 Carmen participated as 1 of 7 women chosen to become Rug Hooking Teachers and she now helps other women in her remote village learn rug hooking. When asked about the impact of rug hooking upon her life, Carmen replied:
“I used to be a low person. That is how people see you if you have not been to school or don’t speak much Spanish. But now that I am selling my rugs I see the world differently. I have a lot of gratitude for this opportunity. I am not a low person anymore.”
In 2013 Carmen finished construction on her own small home with money she earned through rug hooking.