Thursday's Child: San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

Thursday, May 15, 2014
One of my favourite experiences in Guatemala - and there were many - was visiting San Juan la Laguna. This tiny town on Lake Atitlan is well off the tourist path. But it's known locally for beautiful textiles, and the use of traditional methods to achieve vibrant colours.

The elders in these tribes were dying off, and younger members realized their knowledge would be lost forever if nothing was done. And so a group of women formed a collective to master the skills and keep the local traditions alive.

We travelled across Lake Atitlan by boat, the only way to reach San Juan La Laguna that doesn't involved serious climbing. The main street slopes steeply uphill from the dock, and all the stores are located along this short street. We wandered in and out of the shops, each of them tiny but pulsing with colour. We were interested in learning about their methods, but found the locals don't even speak Spanish (they speak Tz'utijil, one of the dozens of languages and dialects spoken in Guatemala). We were grateful to be travelling with a guide who helped translate.



We discovered that camomile produces shades of yellow and light green, while avocado wood yields brown. The lovely pinks in the photos above are made from ground-up cochinilla, a local insect, while adding rusty nails to the mix produces red. 

With the help of our guide, we chatted with Wendy, one of the weavers who was working in the shop that day. And today we have a beautiful runner for our kitchen table that Wendy made.






13 comments:

Velva said...

When I travle I really enjoy going off the beaten tourist path to really discover the culture. This was really very cool to gain a real appreciation of Guatemala's culture. Thanks for sharing.

Velva

Valerie Gamine said...

Oh, what brilliant colours! Who knew an insect, ground, could be so lovely. :D

Catherine said...

Great photo's! Sounds like you really got to see the country from the perspective of the real lifestyle.
Blessings, Catherine

Angie Schneider said...

Beautiful vibrant colours! The lake looks so peaceful.
Ciao,
Angie

Elzbieta Hester said...

I would love to have some of those in my house, hang it on a wall or put it on the floor. Beautiful place you found there, off-the-paths are the best..
:) ela@GrayApron

Joanne said...

Oh my, those are so beautiful!! Love the vibrant colors.

Barbara said...

Such amazing colors, Beth.
The boarding school I went to was famous for their looms, Lillian Holm was the instructor (Eleanor Roosevelt even bought her work) and the rugs and fabrics she turned out were beautiful. Everyone had to take at least one semester with her and I made some wonderful placemats and some unusual fabric I entered in their end of year contest. Of course, it didn't even place as we had some spectacular rugs made by students.

Beth said...

What a wonderful story, Barbara! I googled Lillian Holm, and saw that some of her work is now in galleries. Such a great opportunity for you to work with a master of her craft!

Mary @ The World Is A Book said...

Those textiles are absolutely beautiful! What a great experience to see the local making these and glad you have a special souvenir from your trip. It's heartwarming to know that these unique traditions will live on with future generations.

Kathy said...

Such lovely vibrant textiles! I love that you take us to all these “off the beaten path” places. A true hidden treasure!

Andrea_TheKitchenLioness said...

Dear Beth, I am absolutely taken by the colors in all your stunning photographs! What a fabulous post! Love it!
Have a great weekend, dear friend!

Grettel (Usha) said...

San Juan La Laguna is all about art. I personally loved the indigenous paintings specially the 'bird-eye view' and 'ant's-eye view'. Observing the different processes of textiles, from extracting natural dyes, creating the threat from the cotton balls, learning how women use the traditional back-strap and foot looms to create those extraordinary textile patterns is priceless. I'm glad you also appreciated their culture and thanks for sharing your lovely pictures.

I Wilkerson said...

These pictures are stunning--especially the colors! I would have wanted to learn to weave after this!

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