Posted on 16 November 2019
Mayan Hands is mourning the death of beloved artisan partner Catarina Barán, who died in October. Catarina was one of our artisan partners in the group near Santa Apolonia. She had just turned 60 at the time of her death and had worked continuously with Mayan Hands since our very earliest days.
The area where Catarina lived was very hard hit by the civil war in Guatemala and many women lost their husbands in the war. That’s why Mayan Hands decided to work there. The women in Catarina’s village are well known throughout Guatemala for their finely embroidered huipiles, so we thought that embroidering t shirts, popular at the time in the international market, might be a good project for them. Through the 1990s, the women stitched colorful designs and the women had steady work. However, trends change and embroidered t shirts lost their market appeal after ten years and the women saw their income decrease.
That’s when the pine needle basketry came to life. Our good friend Michele Hament, a basket artist from the San Francisco area, came to Guatemala to teach the women. Michele loved working with Catarina's group. These women knew how to work a needle! When Michele saw the baskets they had created on their own only months after their training with her, she was stunned. The women had learned the skills from her, she said, but had taken flight from there.
Catarina was an excellent basket weaver and wove some of our most technically difficult designs. Among her favorites were the Haida and the Medusa. Weaving baskets allowed Catarina to earn an income month after month and buy the food that her family needed to complement the corn and beans from their small family plot. Catarina also kept a small vegetable garden and went frequently to Chimaltenango to sell guisquiles (chayotes), avocados, and other vegetables in season.
During an interview several years ago, Catarina told a visitor, "I thank God for this opportunity. It brings me happiness every day. I have security, knowing that when I work hard, the income will be there. Every time I deliver baskets, I am paid. With this, I can meet the basic needs of my family, like food and education." She was especially proud that she was able to send her children to school. In her later years, she dearly loved visits with her grandchildren.
The women in her artisan group are missing her tremendously. In their weekly gatherings, her voice was heard and respected by the other women as she was dedicated, patient and wise. They now take comfort in their time together, sharing their memories of Catarina.
When we visited her family recently, her husband and children thanked Mayan Hands for providing steady work for Catarina for 30 years, work that was crucial in sustaining her family. The cooperative invited Catarina’s daughter, who lived with her parents, to join the group so that the family continues to benefit from working with Mayan Hands and so that she can continue Catarina's artistic legacy.