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The Artistry of José Sicay Tzina and his Family of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala

The Artistry of José Sicay Tzina and his Family of Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala

Posted by Mary Anne Wise on 28th Aug 2021

Our history with Jose goes back nearly 30 years when Cultural Cloth co-founder, Jody Slocum met and befriended José as a volunteer with Farmer to Farmer, a Wisconsin based non-profit. Jody understood that income earning opportunities within Santiago are scarce- yet her friends were abundantly talented. Jody's long history in Santiago has shaped Cultural Cloth’s commitment to commissioning pieces from talented friends like José. 

Mary Anne and Jody with Delores, José and three of their four children.

The Tz’utujil Maya
Santiago is home to the Tz’utujil Maya. Long ago, in their Creation Story, birds helped them win a battle with the neighboring K’iche' (Quiché) people. To express their gratitude, it is said, the Tz’utujil venerated birds by adorning their clothing with embroidered bird imagery. Even today, visitors to Santiago find the traditional clothing mesmerizing. Indeed: we’ve been known to follow a local woman down the street just to get a better look at the artistry displayed on her huipil!

Above: Traditional Santiago Atitlan Huipil (women's blouse) and men's pants.

José: Master Machine Embroiderer

When you read “machine embroidered” you might think ‘computer generated.’ But José embroiders on an old Singer sewing machine. Nothing computerized about it. His talent reminds us of the saying “Great mastery is as if unskilled.” He seamlessly switches colors and in the blink of an eye a bird quickly comes to life so vividly you think it’s going to take flight. Need a fresh look to a well-loved room? We’re hard pressed to think of anything that transforms an interior so effortlessly as José’s extraordinary curtains!


Above: José at his machine; Jose and 2 of his daughters rinsing a curtain panel in the outdoor pila (sink) behind his home.

Rosa:  Jose's Daughter Hand Embroiders

Rosa is Jose's daughter and  a hand embroidery artisan ... it may be in the genes?  We have known Rosa since she was a baby.  Rosa is accomplished and she is busy.  She is also a teacher in the local Catholic school.  She currently embroiders custom designs for us.  

Jose’s Fabric As Room Divider In The New York Times!

A Cannon Falls customer (and her Minneapolis interior designer) used Jose’s flying bird fabric as a room divider for a small bedroom situated in an alcove off a Great Room. The photo, below, was included in a spread about the home in the NYTimes. Later, during our next trip to Guatemala, it was our pleasure to deliver a copy of the Time’s article to José.

Goals of Product Development

When working with Jose, and all of the artists we represent, our goal is to create products that retain identity of the culture, to honor traditions while co-creating products that appeal to our customers in the US. The Santiago Satchel, below, is an example of a perennial favorite at Cultrual Cloth, available in 6 colors, we joke that “we don’t sell the satchel to shy people because if you carry this overnight bag through the airport? People will stop you. They’ll want to talk with you. They’ll inquire: where did you get that bag?

José’s Fabric Applied To Furniture

We applied Jose’s fabrics to the chair and ottoman, below. Both pieces sold immediately- but we wonder what creations you might envision with Jose’s fabrics applied to your own upholstery projects?

More From Jose

A lined cotton coverlet using Jose’s flying bird fabric and Jose’s birds on a serene sage-colored cloth give a garden-fresh look to an antique chair. Readers note: we have a very accommodating -no interest- lay away plan. Inquiries invited. 715-448-2053.


The Weaver Behind Jose’s Cloth

In the creation of all our products, we strive to leave as much money as possible in the hands of local artists. We could’ve shopped elsewhere for fabric for José to embellish. It definitely would’ve been quicker and maybe even less expensive. Instead, we lent money to another long-time friend of Jody’s, a weaver named Francisco who had dreams of weaving at home to earn income. A wider loom meant he could now weave cloth to our specification- and stay home.

We thank you for your help in keeping these talented artisans working by buying their products and supporting our work!