In 2006 Mary Anne Wise, an American rug hooking artist, writer and teacher, traveled to Guatemala with Jody Slocum, a textile artist, and volunteer with Farmer to Farmer, a non-profit coffee company. They saw the amazing textiles, the hand woven huipils the women wore, the rolling landscape—but they also saw the poverty, the discrimination against the Maya culture, and the tragedy of a landslide that buried a village. Mary Anne and Jody joined forces to help the Maya women.
In 2009, Mary Anne returned to Guatemala with Jody to give her first rug hooking class to eighteen students. Rug hooking, it was reasoned, is compatible with the way the women’s lives are organized because it’s portable, equipment costs are minimal, and recycled clothing is an inexpensive local source for hooking material.
The success of this first class led to a further seven workshops in which Mary Anne taught her students more advanced drawing and design techniques. The students drew design inspirations from the symbols and motifs found in their ‘huipils’ (traditional blouses). In evaluating progress in 2011, she remarked, ‘the craftsmanship has improved, the designs are becoming more complex, the rugs are getting larger. Their ‘visual vocabulary’ is becoming richer. Like life, not static!’
In 2011 the Guatemalan students received an invitation to participate, alongside artists from the US and Canada, in an exhibition of hooked rugs at the Anderson Center, Red Wing, Minnesota (Sept 23 – Nov 18). A donation from the Delta Foundation enabled two students to travel to the exhibition.
A Teach the Teachers Program was developed in 2012 with the purpose of ensuring that the knowledge needed to hook rugs stayed in Guatemala. This program elevated the teaching and technical abilities of seven rug hookers, creating a group of teachers who could competently and confidently teach rug hooking. All seven students graduated on October 26th, 2012. Mary Anne’s co-instructor during this time was Reyna Pretzantzin, a talented indigenous woman with a background in Fair Trade and product development.
On Friday 17th February 2012 ten women from Texas, Massachusetts, Montreal, Wisconsin & Minnesota traveled to Guatemala to participate in a ten day international ‘hook-in’ with the Guatemalan rug hooking students. The women were united in purpose: to share rug hooking experiences and to build meaningful cross cultural friendships. To date, tours have been held in 2013, 2014, 2015 and already fully booked for 2016.
The rug hooking teachers began year long in-community classes in 2013. By the end of the year over fifty women from six highland villages had learned the skills necessary to produce high quality rugs for local and international markets. This program was supported by the Delta Foundation and private donors.
In 2013 the rugs received international recognition and critical acclaim. Several, formed part of exhibitions in galleries in the United States and Canada:
– Ancestry and Artistry: Maya Textiles from Guatemala, Textile Museum of Canada, May 29 – October 13, 2013. Still touring in Canada through 2014 and 2015.
– Traditional and Transitional Textiles from around the World, Textile Center of Minneapolis, March 8 – April 27, 2013.
– Rugs Created by Women of Guatemala, Red Wing Arts Association, Minnesota, May 11- June 23, 2013.
The Maya Women’s Rug Hooking Cooperative was formed in September 2013 when Reyna Pretzantzin and rug hookers from Chirijquiac, Patanatic, Totonicapán, Quiejel, San Antonio Suchitepéquez and Chuacruz, decided to make an application to sell their rugs at the International Folk Art Market (FAM), Santa Fe, New Mexico. Up to this point the group had been operating under the umbrella of another Guatemala based non-profit but the women felt they would have more self determination if they became independent.
In December 2013, the FAM Artist Selection Committee notified Reyna that their application had been successful, only 150 artists were accepted from 431 applications.
The Folk Art Market, July 11-14, 2014, was a huge success, the women’s unique designs, which reflect Maya culture and traditions, were appreciated and admired by many of the 25,000 visitors. Of the two hundred and fifty two rugs that were taken to Santa Fe, only two were unsold. The rug hooking artists have since been invited to participate at the Folk Art Market, July 10- 12, 2015.
By June 2014, Multicolores was formed with the mission to create economic opportunities for talented and motivated artisans. Reyna Pretantizin is President of Multicolores, and the Maya Women’s Rug Hooking Cooperative play an important role in the new Association with Board members and interns coming from within the ranks of the rug hookers. The philosophy of Multicolores is to grow leadership from within.
Multicolores and the Rug Hooking Cooperative continues to thrive and grow as the women respond to new opportunities and build the foundations for continued success and sustainability. Mary Anne and Jody continue to play an important role in the new Association.