TH Eco-Action: Bridging Cultures Through Design - RISD Students' First Impressions Of Guatemala

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Last week we told you about Rhode Island School Of Design's Wintersession module — Bridging Cultures Through Design. The 6 industrial design students and 3 textile design students have now arrived in Guatemala for their 10 day sustainable design workshop with local artisans. One of the students Chelsea Green is keeping us up to date with their progress. She has sent some photos of the students and artisans along with some insightful first impressions by everyone involved.

February 4, 2006: 'We arrived in Guatemala City on February 2nd and were quickly off via bus to our first hotel in Antigua. Antigua is a striking city of colorful Spanish colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. Yesterday we set up our first temporary studio in the courtyard of Casa de los Gigantes. Here we were introduced to some weavers from Chajul, as well as crochet artisans and pattern makers from Antigua. A local designer, Mario Rodas Hegel, owner of toy shop Mico, also met with us to discuss his experience of working with local crochet artisans for European fair trade export. 'Tomorrow we are catching the earliest morning bus to Chichicastenango for the local market experience. From there we will continue on to Panajachel where we will be setting up our second studio space working with artisans from various communities around Lake Atitlan.'

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The following are some initial impressions from the group after our first full day of work here in Antigua:

"The thing that is so great about this project is that you can literally watch as our designs make a positive impact. It is interesting because usually, as designers, we try to create objects which will impact the end user's life. Here we are in a unique position of really being able to make an impact on the producer's life as well". - James Minola, RISD Industrial Design; Junior

"Guatemala was a country off many of our radars before the start of the Bridging Cultures Though Design. After weeks of research, lectures and material explorations, our arrival struck me with moments of instant familiarity. When first beginning our research in Providence over a month ago I felt slight uneasiness about how our work could begin to speak of a culture that we had very little initial knowledge of. In meeting Chajul artisans Anna and Rosa and their children, here at Casa De Los Gigantes, this uneasiness began to fade. As I started to ask some questions about their family life, weaving and materials, they also became curious of what had brought us here. It was our shared curiosity of one another and working together with our hands that helped to transcend this distance."- Chelsea Green, RISD Industrial Design; First Year Grad


"In Antigua, the design process was transformed from computerized patternmaking to drawing stripes with a crooked wooden ruler on brown paper in front of the artisan who is going to be fabricating it." - Christina Milos, RISD Industrial Design; Junior

"Watching women on their backstrap looms made time slow down, giving every moment meaning." - Brit Kleinman, RISD Industrial Design; Junior

"We have to remember that our learning experience here is the livelihood of these women artisans. While we watch in amazement, taking photographs and asking questions, these women are hoping to sell these designs so that they can feed their families. This makes us all remember that what we are doing down here is serious business." - Kathryn Maresca, RISD Textiles; Junior

"In Providence we worked with diligence and good intention for a cause - using books to inform and inspire. Now in Guatemala, what resonates with me most are the people. The artisans have reminded me that every object, every thing around us truly originates from the hand made and that inspiration is much more of an organic process." - Erika Carmichael, RISD Industrial Design; First Year Grad

"Through the act of collaborating, giving and receiving of our hearts, minds and talents, we are able to engage in conversations that we might not normally have — and that leads to learning and cross cultural understanding. The creative spirit is nurtured on both sides as we engage in the making of things together". - Mimi Robinson, RISD Bridging Cultures Through Design; Instructor