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Guatemalan coffee and Mayan masks

December 01, 2000

Guatemala, bordered by southern Mexico, El Salvador, and Belize, is a country known for its Mayan heritage, its beauty, its poverty, and its art—especially the bright, intricate weavings done by the native Indian peoples. Bare Hands Gallery plans to introduce that art to Birmingham in an upcoming exhibit titled Threads Weaving Dreams, on display from March 9 through 31. Included are photographs taken by local photographers Melissa Springer and Michael Hanson in the Guatemalan highland towns of Nahuala, Chichicastanango, and Momostenango, of Mayan people crafting hand-woven textiles and other pieces. The gallery will also host a series of events to benefit Pop Atz'iaq, a group of Mayan people working to change the lives of those living in Guatemala's highland towns and villages.

Pop Atz'iaq (pronounced pop-ot-see-ak, which, loosely translated, means "the weaving together") was founded in the 1980s by several Guatemalan highland weavers who had been displaced from their homes by a civil war. The organization's goal was to provide work for the weavers and to preserve their culture. In the past decade, the group has added programs in education, reforestation, advancement of women, and computer education. To date, the cooperative has served more than 400 people in its community through a scholarship program for girls and a women's education project.

In 1992, Birmingham resident Nancee Neel met Pop Atz'iaq's founder, Maria Ixmatá Perechu, and has been working to support the cooperative ever since. In 2005, she took photographers Springer and Hanson to Guatemala to document the group and its work. The exhibit will be comprised of their photos along with hand-woven bedspreads, hammocks, tablecloths, clothing, bags, and shawls. Sales of the photographs and woven goods, as well as sales of fair-trade Guatemalan coffee and Mayan masks, will benefit Pop Atz'iaq.

The exhibit opens with a reception on Friday, March 9, from 6 to 10 p.m., for the artists and Pop Atz'iaq's founder and program director, including weaving demonstrations, marimba music, and food from Sol y Luna restaurant. On Saturday, March 10, local nonprofit Creative Wellness, which provides services and counseling for girls and young women, will present a children's Mayan mask painting workshop from 1 to 3 p.m. For $10, children ages 8 and older can paint a hand-carved wooden animal mask from Guatemala. And on Sunday, March 11, at 2 p.m., cultural anthropologist and Mayanist Erich Fox Tree of Wellesley College will give a gallery talk about Mayan culture in the modern world. Bare Hands Gallery, 109 Richard Arrington, Jr. Blvd. South. Open Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Further information: www.barehandsgallery.com or 321-2124.

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