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Power, imagination merge in Guatemalan rugs

Artist Peg Hansen created her rug with the butterfly motif to reflect the new beginning rug hooking is giving the Guatemalan women.

Some art shows happen quickly and some are years in the making. The story behind the new show at Red Wing Depot Gallery began in 2009, thousands of miles away from Red Wing.

The exhibit "Handcrafted Rugs by Women of Guatemala" opens today and runs through June 23. There will an opening reception from 1 to 4 p.m. today.

The hooked rugs are handcrafted by Guatemalan women who are members of Thirteen Threads. The Mayan women's organization located in Panajachel, Guatemala, seeks to empower women through expanded economic opportunities.

Four years ago Mary Anne Wise from Cultural Cloth in Maiden Rock, conducted a two-day workshop to teach the indigenous women the art of rug hooking. Even though all women worked from the same pattern, the outcomes were varied. Depending on the cloth and colors they chose, the finished rugs were each unique.

Two years later a Guatemalan rug hooker who participated in the first class commented to Wise, "When we returned home from that workshop our husbands looked at our rugs and said this new 'rug hooking' technique was nothing. They said, 'Who is going to want to buy something made out of old clothes?' Our husbands said we had wasted our time."

But as the men watched the women distribute the rug money earned by their wives, the husbands saw possibilities. They began to source hooking materials.

In 2012 a corps of seven talented rug hookers participated in a teacher-training program. The new teachers are now training more women in the area the art of rug hooking. Traditional textile patterns are reinterpreted and forgotten motifs are reintroduced as rug designs.

Peg Hansen, Red Wing artist and educator, attended the 2012 class in Guatemala to begin her journey into the art of rug hooking. Her rug will be on display with a complementary rug she purchased from the Guatemalan woman she worked with during her time there.

"When I went to Guatemala, I was pleased that I was going on a more 'personal' tour since I knew I would be meeting with women who worked with fiber techniques I had long admired," Hansen described. "Weaving, embroidery and sewing have been in my life since I was a child. Now I would have a chance to personally meet with women whose culture embodies a masterful understanding of all things fiber and of course - color."

Hansen was not disappointed by her journey.

"The experience surpassed my expectation," she said. "Rather than just observing, we North American women, served as learners as we fulfilled the role of student for our Meso American 'sisters' who were learning to teach a new technique using inspiration from their rich cultural history to inform their contemporary designs."

The new teachers were midway through their training to be mentors to more women from their villages hooking rugs using cotton strips cut from recycled T-shirts. In North America, rug hookers typically use wool, which is expensive. Using readily available used T-shirts was more accessible for these artisans.

As a former high school teacher, she says she was fortunate to be paired with 15-year-old Rosmery, who, since the age of 6 had been helping to support her family. One year later she now helps to support her family with beautiful rugs and successfully teaches eight other women her new found skills.

"I am so very proud to have been a part of her journey. Having one of her rugs in my living room allows me to connect with her every day in a personal way," Hansen adds. "It was an extraordinary experience to be able to reach down to 'another' America and find such a bond."

The rugs at Red Wing Depot Gallery are made by the Guatemalan women. The rugs are for display only, however order forms will be available to allow interested people to purchase a custom-made rug.

Wise and Hansen will present the story behind the production of the rugs on display and how they came to be in Red Wing Thursday May 16. A special reception is set for 6 p.m. and the presentation start at 7 p.m. at the Depot Gallery.

Red Wing Arts Association is committed to a focus on promoting the arts and support of the creative community in Red Wing and the surrounding area. For further information, contact 651-388-7569 or

At a glance ...

What: The exhibit "Handcrafted Rugs by Women of Guatemala and Red Wing" opens

Events: An opening reception will be 1 to 4 p.m. today, Saturday May 11 There will also be a special presentation about the history behind the rugs, 7 p.m. Thursday May 16.

When: Open daily through June 23

Where: Depot Gallery, 418 Levee St.

Cost: Free

More info: 651-388-7569 or

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

(651) 301-7880