Natural Art - Interview with Andrea Benavente
Natural Art started in 2013, shortly after its founder Ingrid Gamboa witnessed most of
her former colleagues leaving rural Guatemala. The lack of job opportunity there had forced
many craftsmen to become migrant workers in big cities, often leaving their families behind.
Ingrid set out with the aspiration to provide market access to rural artisans.
In 2014, she met designer Andrea Benavente, who created a modern collection of
home accessories to be handcrafted using century-old techniques. Natural Art has
since been a refreshing addition to the Guatemalan handicraft landscape, showcasing
the beauty of indigenous natural materials, and honoring the craftsmanship
of the artisans who have continued their craft heritage till today.
"We are all united to expose a little bit of
Guatemalan culture to the world."
WHAT HAS INSPIRED YOUR DESIGN FOR NATURAL ART?
Our inspiration comes from nature and the natural elements that it provides. We are crazy about textures, and I believe this is reflected in the design of our home decor collections. Other than that, we seek simple but refined elegance in our pieces.
HOW DO YOU WORK WITH RURAL ARTISANS?
COULD YOU BRIEFLY INTRODUCE YOUR ARTISAN PARTNERS?
With most of the artisan communities that we work with - except our partners in Momostenango, Totonicapán, we provide all the materials for them to start the handwoven process. This is better for the artisans, as they don´t need to invest in materials before receiving compensation for their work.
Our rugs are made by artisans in Momostenango on a foot loom. The wool used here has been a signature material of this community for hundreds of years. On Sunday the market day, artisans would go purchase wool as it's just sheared from the sheep. Then they clean it, rove it, and card it in yarn. The colors such as cream, light brown, dark brown, and black are all natural colors of the sheep, while other colors can be dyed using flowers, roots, and insects from local areas.
The pillow above is made of cotton and maguey fiber - another signature material from Guatemala. Maguey comes from a plant called agave, which has been widely planted across the country. This technique is very special because of the long process it takes to craft a unified piece: First, artisans press and dry agave leaves to obtain maguey fiber, then they join the fiber with cotton during the weaving process to make the pillow.
Our wool and cotton pillows are made by a family of artists in Comalapa, Chimaltenango. They have been weaving over the years and also painting on canvas of various subjects, such as landscapes and Mayan symbology. This pillow is made on a back-strap loom by either Maria Elena or her daughter Oneida. They immerse the cotton fiber in a mix of water and cornstarch to stiffen the treads, so they won't break while weaving.
HOW DID YOUR WORK IMPACT THESE ARTISAN COMMUNITIES?
Over the past one and a half year that we have been in the market, we have been working with nine different communities around Guatemala. 80% of the artisans we work with are women and 20% men. Our main impact has been on the recovery of locally sourced materials, for example, maguey fibers, tecomate, and artisanal wool. We use traditional techniques that local artisans are proficient with to produce simple but modern styles. Since most of our artisan partners don't need to invest in raw materials, they bear no risk or financial burden, but have been paid fair wages for fair work.
OTHER THAN WOOL, MAGUEY, AND COTTON,
YOU HAVE ANOTHER PRODUCT LINE CALLED ART TECO,
IN WHICH WE SEE A LOT OF POTENTIAL IN
INTERIOR DESIGN AND HOME REMODELING.
Yes, last but not least, tecomate. The tecomate tree grows mainly in the Corredor Seco area of Guatemala, where the climate is very vulnerable to drought and the population suffers a high degree of extreme poverty. Tecomate fruits have a flavor that tastes like licorice, and their shells look similar to coconut shells. Over the past two years, we have developed a technique to adhere tecomate shells to rubber wood panels, achieving a mosaic-like texture for interior facades or furniture. The entire production process requires the collaboration of several craftsmen to clean, dry, immunize the tecomate shells, and coat them with beeswax and stucco to achieve a lasting shine. With random patterns formed by shattered tecomate shells, the finished texture of Art Teco is very interesting - it is inspired by the Mayan ceremonial masks.
Interview: MINZUU Photos: NATURAL ART