I hold a debt of gratitude to each and every one of you.
14 months ago you responded to an email I wrote from Guatemala. In the email, I sent photos of hooked rugs produced in a workshop Jody Slocum & I had just completed. The workshop was sponsored by Oxlajuj B'atz' (www.thirteenthreads.org). I wrote:
"these are first rugs, their craftsmanship isn't top notch but the rugs emanate energy and vitality. If my students sold these rugs, perhaps it would encourage them to continue hooking. Would you be interested in buying a rug? Proceeds will go to our students and buy more materials, too".
You immediately responded. You bought rugs- or, tried to buy a rug. In a couple of cases, the rug was already 'taken'. Nonetheless, I am deeply grateful for your supportive response. I want to bring you 'up to speed' about what rug hooking has meant to the lives of our students.
Since that class in October, Oxlajuj B'atz' (OB) opened a Fair Trade store in a town frequented by tourists, Panajachel, on beautiful Lake Atitlan. Our students bring their rugs to the store and the tienda, we learned, is unable to keep their rugs in stock.
This month, from Mar 5 - 22, Jody & I taught a 4th class over three weeks. The point of this class was to work on bigger rugs- to move from small mats (18 x 24") to larger rugs (30 x 60"). Building on lessons covered in previous classes, our students increased the scale of traditional textile elements then applied the motifs to larger rugs. We also focused on craftsmanship standards. Many of these large rugs will be included in an international hooked rug exhibition I've curated for the Anderson Center outside Red Wing, MN. (SAVE THE DATE: exhibit opens Sept 23, 2011).
In conjunction with the Anderson Center show, OB received a grant from the Delta Family Foundation. The grant supplied funds to make our class possible AND it includes funds for two of our students to attend the opening in September. On the afternoon of the opening, if you happen to arrive early in Red Wing, stop by the lunchroom: we're hosting a region-wide hook-in and you'll see many rug hookers from the area hooking alongside my Guatemalan students. In case you can't make it to the Anderson Ct opening, the women will speak about their lives (and sell some new rugs from ALL our students) on September 22nd at the Textile Center, 7 p.m., St Paul, MN. (All of this is dependent upon the women getting visas, obviously, so: keep your fingers crossed!).
To my wonderful friends and initial supporters, the list is not that long. You were amazing, your support was essential and you reside in a special place in my heart. Who are you? Linda Burke & Friend, rug hookers / former student, St Louis, MO; Burneatta Bridge, WI Appellate Court Judge, retired, Madison; Tom Choi, professor U of MN, retired, Seattle, WA; Wendy Coggins, Interior Designer, Mpls; Connee Mayeron & Fuller Cowles, artists, Shafer, MN; Terry Cuddy, farmer, Maiden Rock, WI; Vicki Hoepner, home inspector, St Paul, MN; Sally Kling, volunteer, MN; Wes Kuske, IMS Carpet showroom, retired; Meg Leonard, activist, Evergreen, CO; Rick Nelson, journalist, St Paul, MN; Sandra Roe, volunteer, MN; Doug Spencer & Kathleen Parrish, activists/Water For People Project, Evergreen, CO.
Finally. On the last day of every rug hooking class we conduct a private, one-on-one critique with each student. Knowing that our students are now selling their rugs, we asked: what are you doing with the money from rug sales? Simply put, none of us were prepared for their emotional responses. We had no idea the impact rug hooking has made to their lives. Read on.
Keep in touch.
Mary Anne & Jody
Carmen (see photo, below): I am so grateful for OB (www.thirteenthreads.org) and for the opportunity they gave me to be in this class. I am so grateful for everything I've learned here, for the way Mariana y Jody open their hearts and give to us everything. They hold nothing back. I can see that, my campeneras, we can all feel that. Before these classes I believed I was nothing. I was a low person. I believed that because I do not read, I can't write, I don't speak much Spanish... Ive never been to school. If you are that way people see you as a low person. In the first rug class I did not dare to hope because I wasn't sure I could do it (the new rug hooking technique). But now I am selling my rugs and I have a different opinion of myself. I see the world different now and I am happy because I never thought that would be possible. I am not a low person.
Maria: I Am selling my rugs, it's incredible. I have so much gratitude. (breaking in to tears). Praise to god, my son studied in Cuba to be a doctor. I do not now how this opportunity came to him because he has no father, and I never went past third grade. Now he is back in Guatemala and he is an intern but he does not make any money in this position, I give him all my rug money so he can eat. I feel so lucky to sell my rugs and it makes me happy to help my son and that is why I am crying.
Maria (a different Maria): I never went to school, I do not have a husband, I only have one son. I used to go to the mountains every day to get wood to sell. It was very hard work, walking up and down the mountain I worked like a man and I still feel the work in my body. It is shameful to rely on your children but I had no choice. I am grateful for the opportunity to be in this class and for everything Mariana y Jody has taught me. Now that I can sell rugs (breaking in to tears) I do not have to go the mountain anymore. I am a lucky woman and I have a lot of gratitude for this opportunity.
Yolanda (below) has sold all seven of the mats she has made since the first class over two and a half yrs ago. She is involved in all kinds of textile production work: from fair trade scarves, table runners, napkins, and, her own huipils. When asked: "Which technique do you make the most money?" she responds: rug hooking. How does she spend her rug money? She bought six faucets for six families in her small village near chichi. There's a new potable water project in her village but you need a (complex) faucet to tap in to the pipe- Yolanda bought faucets. Note: you will meet Yolanda this fall at the Anderson Center- she was 1 of 2 women selected to come to the US to attend the opening.
Jessica,age 17. Muchisimo gracias por todo...- breaking down in tears - I remember the time OB offered the third rug hooking class and I was not selected to participate. I stayed home and felt sad, thinking about what was going on in the class. I spent the day weaving (on her backstrap loom) and feeling sad. But you called me on my phone and told me to come to class the next day and I want you to know how happy I felt then. I do not have the words to say how happy I was. After that class I started selling my rugs and sometimes I cannot believe it. I am very grateful -all of us feel this way- for a new way to make money,,, when the women in my group (who have taken the class) get together, before we start a hooking session we say a prayer to OB for this opportunity and how lucky we feel to learn this technique,,,we talk about you and Jody and we invite you to come be with us that day. You people were once strangers but we cannot believe it... You live so far away in Los estatdos unidisos and why do you come here to work with us- it's very dangerous to travel- and yet you still continue to come and we do not understand but we feel lucky and we give thanks to god every time because there is no other way to explain it.