Guatemalan native to demonstrate backstrap weaving at Schweinfurth


Marines Perez Santos is an unusual Maya weaver: He is male. As a child, Marines would help his mother prepare her backstrap loom for weaving by setting up the warp, or the set of threads placed lengthwise on the loom. One day, when he was around 10 years old, he asked his mother, master weaver Drusila Santos de Perez, to teach him. There, surrounded by his sisters, he began to learn.

Weaving is traditionally considered women’s work in Guatemala, so Marines is something of a peculiarity – at least publicly. “About 20 percent of men are closet weavers,” he said in his thick Guatemalan accent. “They are ashamed to go public. I never have that problem, so I’ve been weaving since I was a little one.”

Maya weavings from three generations of the Perez family are featured in the Schweinfurth Art Center’s current fall exhibit, Maya Textiles and Identity in Guatemala. Marines himself will be demonstrating his backstrap weaving skills at 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, at the art center, in Auburn. Exhibit curator Carol Ann Lorenz, a Colgate University professor, will give a guided tour at 2 p.m. that day.

Maya weaving was born out of the necessity to make clothing. Drusila’s mother taught her the art that kept her family in clothing, and she passed it down to her four daughters and Marines. The family became known as some of the best weavers in their village, San Antonio Aguas Calientes, which was already considered to be turning out some of the best quality weavings in the country.

Marines came to the United States in 1976 after a strong earthquake devastated many villages. He brought Maya clothing and sold it in this country, going back regularly to bring back more textiles. He traveled the country for years, giving lectures, demonstrating backstrap weaving, and teaching the skill to others at colleges and museums, before settling in Santa Fe, NM.

That’s how he met Carol Ann Lorenz, who curated the Schweinfurth’s exhibit with textiles from her personal collection. Lorenz first met Marines when he visited Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and she continued to work with the Perez family while teaching at Colgate.

Maya weaving is a dying art, Marines said. Because it takes about a month to weave enough material for a traditional blouse, or huipil, a weaver makes the equivalent of 5 cents an hour or less. “I don’t know of any weaver who makes a living at weaving,” he said, adding that it’s cheaper to buy clothing at the Walmart in Guatemala City. “My sisters don’t weave anymore.”

Marines said he is honored to have his family’s work included in Lorenz’s exhibit. “I’m proud of where I come from,” he said. “I’m proud of my family. But it’s not just my family that is being featured, but the whole community. I’m proud to come and promote my culture.”

If You Go…

What: Demonstration of backstrap weaving and guided tour of “Maya Textiles and Identity in Guatemala”
Who: Guatemalan native Marines Perez Santos and Colgate University Professor Carol Ann Lorenz
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018
Where: Schweinfurth Art Center, 205 Genesee St., Auburn
Cost: Free and open to the public
Details: Demonstrations are at 1 and 3 p.m. Tour is at 2 p.m.