Throughout history and around the world, crafts have been gender specializations. The more common scenario is women as potters and fiber artists, and men take on the role as ironsmiths, metal casters, stone and wood carvers, and leathersmiths. In many ways this reflects the gender standards of society: women take care of hearth and home, while men are the warriors, hunters and builders.
Crafts are such a prerogative as a practical and economic staple that many traditional communities are born into craft castes. Young women learn the art from their mothers, and then pass the skills and rights to pottery or weaving to their daughters. The 20th century saw changes to the gender structure. With expanded global trade and tourism, women’s arts became more economically viable and men started adopting traditional women’s arts. Artisan collectives have also formed as a way to sustain centuries old artistic practices.
The Loaded Trunk supports many women collectives, especially important since women generally use their money to nurture and educate their children. Below are examples of the many regions around the world that depend on women and the arts:
Hand-woven fabric draws from traditional Mayan techniques and designs that continue to be practiced by the 300 Mayan women weavers from the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico who make up the Jolom Mayaetik Cooperative, as seen in the textile art of Petrona Gomez.
In Guatemala, women employ the back-strap looms that has been used in the area for centuries, if not millennia, to create vibrant textiles and cortes (skirts) that are woven on a very wide foot-powered loom. A shared aesthetic can be seen in the weavings of the Lenca people of Honduras, direct descendants of the Maya.
Takeo textiles are handcrafted by a women’s collective in the Takeo region of Cambodia.
Vintage weavings by women in Laos are intricately handwoven and women of the Hill Tribes in Thailand incorporate cross-stitching and indigo block printing in their fiber arts.
Sema women of Myanmar (Burma) also weave on a back-strap loom with small patches of embroidery added.
Kurdish women of the Anatolia region of Turkey weave wedding kilims (blankets) on a narrow loom, then village women add tassels and pompoms as best wishes for a happy marriage and home. The Berber women of Morocco also weave wedding blankets.
In addition to weaving, the women are also cleaning, preparing, dyeing and spinning the wool. Kenyan women weave sturdy bags from long strips of fiber extracted from banana palm and baobab leaves. Around Lake Turkana in Kenya, women make baskets out of palm fronds.Through their art, the women who produce these baskets are able to earn income that gives them status and enables them to help their daughters have a better life.
As an entrepreneur and a mother, supporting women and women's causes is a no-brainer for me. This International Women's Day (Sunday, March 8) and every day, we honor all the women around the world who work and are such an important part of our global economy.