Response to blog post:”Splendours of the Cloth” by Judith Roche

I was overwhelmed by our visit to the Maiwa Handprints atelier. You gave voice to the richness and sensuousness of the experience of being surrounded by the textiles in that space. Not only were those textiles rich in colour and texture, but they were rich in history, in community, in identity, and in the deep skill of their makers. Where Morris was concerned about the de-skilling of mass production, Charlotte’s business model supports the re-skilling of the artisans with whom she works. It should be noted that she is not merely interested in training artisans to duplicate traditional work, but is specifically interested in capturing the authentic, culturally specific handwork that communities have lost or are in the process of losing. This is perhaps why we both felt the strong need to examine, to handle, and to drape ourselves in those exquisite pieces – could it be that Benjamin’s aura was calling to us?

I concur that Charlotte has done an admirable job of navigating “the treacherous shoals of humanitarian work while forging a business” (Roche, 2017). I pondered this at length and the word that most occupied my thoughts was “generous”. A spirit of generosity runs throughout their enterprise. We were told that the atelier functions as a library for the general public, that the books and textiles are available to be handled and studied. Charlotte and Tim were generous with their time and knowledge during our visit, speaking at length about their work and responding to our inquiries with a refreshing transparency. Charlotte’s openness to error, to experimentation, and to taking the time needed (needed to learn, needed to meet community demands, needed to reach for the sublime) are all extensions of that generosity. I even see the workshops offered through the atelier as an extension of that generosity. I will acknowledge that the cost of the workshops place them above the means of many, but I respect that they are priced in line with the expertise of their instructors. Looking through the catalogue of classes, I see the care that Maiwa takes in seeking artisans with extensive skill and knowledge. I also see a generous number of inexpensive or free lectures and events that offer the interested public an opportunity to learn from the artists themselves. I agree that Maiwa’s success could/should be used as a framework for duplication – I don’t believe I would feel this way if I had not experienced that spirit of generosity in action. Thank you for helping me think through this experience Judith.

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