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Stellar Shigras

Andean textiles have the longest historical record in the world, with scholarly estimates dating them back to 3000 B.C.

This shigra is particularly valuable, both because of its size and because of the pictoral as well as geometric aspects of its design.

 One marvelous example, still being woven today in the highlands of Ecuador is the shigra. Traditionally utilitarian, shigras were carried to market as produce bags or in the high Andean fields as seed bags for planting. It has been theorized that shigras were originally woven in standard sizes and used for measuring and carrying seed units. While still in agricultural use in remote areas, shigras have recently taken their place in the world market as a fashion accessory.This shigra is particularly valuable, both because of its size and because of the pictoral as well as geometric aspects of its design.

Despite their emergence on the contemporary style scene, the method of producing shigras has changed little since ancient Incan days.  Leaves from the succulent plant known variously as cabuya, penca, fique, or maguey (similar to agave) are harvested and cut into slender strips.  Next, they are soaked for a period of 15 days to separate the pulp from the fibers.  Once they are separated and dried, the fibers are cut int

o fine strands and dyed.  Originally, vegetal dyes were used, but as they are not colorfast, aniline dyes have largely replaced them.  The colored fibers are then wound onto spindles and from there, the weaving begins.

Starting at the base, the weaver – who is almost always female – uses a blunt needle and begins a looping sequence rather like crocheting.  Round and round she goes in an ever-widening circle, eventually forming the seamless bag.  She will create wonderful patterns of color as she works her way through the piece.  Prior to 1970, human and animal forms were very typical, though those are rarely seen now, having

given way to a trend of geometric shapes.  The finished bag will have two long, braided, cross-body fiber straps.

That’s how mine looked, the day it was given to me. A beautiful shigra with bold geometric patterns, animals, trees, numbers, and letters in pink, red,orange, brown and black and two long fiber straps. Two days later, however, it had been altered by my dog, who decided to add a little fiber to her diet, I guess.  She had a mouthful and my straps were a tattered mess. I said, “Oh no, no, no, you naughty Little Darling,” or maybe something a tiny bit stronger, and saved what I could.   I retied the ends and that worked well enough for a while, but admittedly, they were a little short. Eventually I replaced them entirely with leather.  This was at no small expense, but in all honesty, I think it was worth the price. The new handles nicely preserve the integrity of my shigra and I happily carry a fantastically functional and fashionable Andean textile everywhere I go. My basset hound too, is pleased with my shigra’s stylish utility and she is very glad she didn’t eat the whole thing after all.

Maybe Coke holds the key to HIV/AIDS solutions in Haiti

Haiti is inspirational.  It’s colorful and it’s filled with amazing people that possess incredible vibrancy and joy of spirit. Their ability to produce wonderful art, to continually create and re-create and innovate is a phenomenal.  But it’s a tough, tough place. That’s why, no matter how tired we are of hearing about suffering and hardship and chaos and disaster, we have to listen and confront the realities of those who struggle just to survive from one day to the next in Haiti and elsewhere around the globe.

Confront the reality of HIV/AIDS, for instance. Since the International HIV/AIDS Conference is being held July 22-27 in Washington, D.C, it seems timely to do so. Worldwide, tremendous strides have been made in the fight against the disease, with 22 countries seeing a 25 percent or MORE drop in incidence of new infections over the past decade.  However, in Haiti in 2010 (the most current figures available) HIV/AIDS was shown to be present in 1.9 percent of the population, more than double the global average rate. That percentage may seem small, but it represents 120,000 individuals.  One in ten of those individuals is a child.

The aftermath of the earthquake has compounded the problem tremendously.  Population displacement and the nearly complete breakdown of infrastructure have limited access to the anti-retroviral drugs necessary for survival.  According to last year’s UNAIDS report, Haiti’s own Ministry of Health estimated that fewer than 40 of those suffering from HIV/AIDS have access to treatment.  While it is unclear whether anti-retroviral therapy can actually help slow the spread of the disease, there are indications that it might.  At the very least, it eases the suffering of those afflicted when administered on a consistent basis. By the way, that means administration on a consistent basis FOR LIFE.

Just about every source out there, from the World Health Organization to the Global Fund to the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief acknowledges that increasing access is the first and biggest step on the path to conquering the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  An intriguing pilot program that has met with early and somewhat surprising success is beautiful in its simplicity.  Dr. Christophe Benn, Global Fund’s Director of Resource Mobilization and Donor Relations noticed that there were Coca-Cola bottles in the most remote villages of Tanzania.  He thought, if Coke can get their product out here, why can’t we get medicine out here too?  Thus The Global Fund forged within the past year, a partnership between Coca-Cola, Accenture, and the Tanzanian government to improve the supply chain from end to end.  Though the program is still in its infancy, it holds great promise.

As Dr. Benn noted, there are great similarities between the problems in Tanzania and those in the rest of the developing world. He believes that if the problem of access can be solved in Tanzania, the solution can be exported to other places in need. Places perhaps like Haiti.

(To learn more, watch the video explaining the program at http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/blog/29348/ )

Santa Fe Folk Art Market 2012 – After Action Report

So how was it?  Being there for the dual purposes of A) supporting the worthy goals of the Market and B) personal acquisition, I can tell you without reservation, it was GREAT!  The high quality of the art and the variety of goods available is incredible.  Plus, it’s such a treat – not to mention an education – to meet the artists.  In many cases, there is the additional opportunity to see them demonstrate their craft.  Throw in the chance to participate in an event that last year generated $17,300/booth for the artists to take home to their families and communities and WOW, you’ve got plenty to feel good about.

The Market organizers said that there were more than 150 participating artists, including 60 newcomers, this year from 54 different countries. In real terms, that meant I saw many of my old favorites and met a few new ones.  Among those I was particularly excited about was not entirely new, just new to me.  Cuban painter and wood-block printer, Roberto Domingo Gil Esteban was delightful.  His paintings are bright and cheerful and beautifully executed, but it was his woodblock prints that I couldn’t walk away from.  The one that I seized upon is of two roosters contemplating an egg and the title of it is “Paternity?”  Too funny!  My original thought was that it could go to a friend of mine for Christmas.  She’s a great collector and has been wanting a piece of Cuban folk art for some time.  Wouldn’t that be nice of me?  Problem is, I don’t know if I am indeed nice enough to give it up, worthy though she is.

Oh, and there was so much more!  It’s hard not to gush and get all frothy.  There were Tibetan puppets and Uzbek ceramics and Peruvian textiles that I was mad for, but for every visitor, there is undoubtedly a different list of favorite things.  Which is kind of the beauty of it all.

NEXT TIME – for this has become a July tradition for me ranking right up there with fireworks on the Fourth – I will definitely purchase the early admission tickets again, if not go to the Market Opening Party on Friday night.  You pay more for these – in the case of the Opening Party, quite a lot more.  However, with the Market’s increasing popularity has come increasing crowds.  That’s good in the Big Picture, but from a shopping standpoint, this means that by 10:00 and lasting until about 4:00 on Saturday, the booths do become quite congested.   From 4:00 until closing time at 6:00, it slows down and the tents become more navigable once again. Sunday, the second and final day, gets pretty reasonable after lunch, ” they say.”  The risk there is that many of the “goodest goods” are long gone.  Who wants to be saying “Coulda…shoulda…woulda,” at the end of the Market and still have money left in their pocket, begging to be spent?  Not ME!

Decorating with your collection

How do collections get started?  Maybe we’re drawn to certain images because they remind us of something special – a favorite time or place or experience.  I was with my good friend, Jennifer at the San Diego Zoo one day, having an absolute ball.  We were in our 40’s mind you, but I started playing with the masks at the gift shop.  Holding up first the giraffe mask and then the panda mask to my face, I asked her, “Which do you like better?” To which she thoughtfully replied, “Well, the giraffe is more your color.”  Immediately, I started laughing so hard I could scarcely stand up, and I bought the giraffe mask right then and there.  Since then, I have bought a few other giraffe items and find myself always tempted by more.

By the way, I have played this all pretty close to the chest.  No one really knows about my great affection for giraffes but Jennifer and me. Thus, my collection has heretofore remained modest and very manageable.

Sometimes, however, friends and relatives get wind of our affinity and suddenly, in their generosity, we find ourselves in possession of gaggles and flocks and herds and swarms. So what is one to do with a great collection gone wild? Just about every interior designer out there says that collections should be displayed as a whole, or at least in groupings within a defined area.  This, they say, gives a cohesive look that defines and personalizes the space and provides the greatest visual impact. For added interest, we should try varying color, size, texture, and medium within the assembly. For example, on a shelf I could arrange my framed photo of a giraffe, my carved wooden giraffe face, and the folk art pottery giraffe, and hang my Haitian metal giraffe sculpture above them.

We must go carefully, though.  Anna, author of the interior decorating DIY blog, “Take the Side Street” cautions against clutter. Ideally, she says, your display should add interest and character your home without overwhelming it. She advises, “If your collection  is enormous, store and rotate the items you display as a means of keeping the whole thing fun and fresh looking.”  Indeed.  If a giraffe collection isn’t fresh and fun, what’s the point? I’m just so glad I don’t have to rotate things in….yet!

Not to be missed: The International Folk Art Market

For color, cultural richness, and acquisitive opportunity, you can’t beat the International Folk Art Market.  Held annually the second full weekend in July in Santa Fe, NM, this year’s Market holds plenty of promise.  Beyond Borders has sponsored artists in the past, and though we’re not participating as a vendor this year, it’s not because it’s not worthy.  It IS!  By plane, train, automobile, or on horseback, if you can make it, GO!

According to their press release dated May 23, 2012, the mission of the Market is to “provide a venue for master traditional artists to display, demonstrate, and sell their work.  By providing opportunities for folk artists to succeed in the global marketplace, the Market creates economic empowerment and improves the quality of life in communities where folk artists live.” Many of the artists come from developing countries where political, social, and environmental hardships can make everything – including the creation of art – challenging. To illustrate the impact of Market sales, $2.3 million went directly to the artists last year alone. That money was carried back to villages around the globe and used to build homes and schools, to dig wells for clean water, and construct generators for electricity.  It’s a powerful bottom line.

It might be well to mention here that the Market is also A LOT of fun. In addition to the wondrous array of folk art for sale, there is ethnic music, dancing, and food, not to mention the visual feast.  Many of the artists come in their local, native costumes, and to be honest, the shoppers are pretty colorful too!  A few years past, there was a petite, blue-eyed blonde woman, heavily laden with her Market purchases, wearing a Pakistani bridal gown, mirrored and appliqued in brilliant shades purple, scarlet, and yellow.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of her – she looked amazing.  So I told her just that.  Her reply was, “Do you like it?  I absolutely love this gown.  I got it in India years ago.  But you know, here in the States, you can’t wear it just everywhere.” I sympathized.  Probably not.

It’s not too late to plan your trip.  The official Market website www.folkartmarket.org has everything you need to know in the way of events, artists, getting tickets and getting around.  Get clicking and when you see what marvels are in store, just try to tell me you’re not tempted to drop everything and go.  (I won’t even believe you.)

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