La Casa Cotzal

Guatemalan Goodies

On August 19-21 2012, the New York International Gift Fair® launches Artisan Resource™, a production-sourcing venue for overseas artisan enterprises, which will efficiently connect US-based importers with international producers.  La Casa Cotzal is one of the many enterprises that will be featured and is one of Guatemala’s largest exporters of culturally rich and unique designs.

Founder Ian Gonzalez states, "We are known for our wide range of products and our willingness to undertake new projects. Our communication skills in both Spanish and English and our rapport with artisans enables US-based designers to have a seamless experience in getting their ideas produced in Guatemala."
 
Ian is thrilled to be a part of Artisan Resource, as he wants to connect with larger US retailers, direct importers, mail order catalogs and e-tailers. “Our mission is to bring lines to market that US importers can adapt and adopt as their own. By attending Artisan Resource, we hope to find companies that would like to market our products and also keep them coming back season after season, with the goal of employing as many artisans as possible, thus ensuring the economic viability of Guatemalan crafts in general.” 

La Casa Cotzal exports a vast range of item categories including: textiles (yard goods, apparel, home decor), wood (furniture, home accessories, and folk art), ceramics and clay (utilitarian, religious art, folk art, art & artifacts), metals (decorative art, home accessories), Czech and Japanese glass beads (costume jewelry, ornaments, key chains), and other works of art handcrafted from cement, stone, leather, glass, and natural fibers.
 
Since 2000, La Casa Cotzal has exported an ever-increasing range of Guatemalan handcrafted merchandise produced by artisan communities throughout the country, specializing in the production of custom designs for international companies. Ian points out, “We are weaving thousands of yards per year of custom textiles for a couple of US firms, and sending the fabric to factories in China, Mexico, and Indonesia, to be used as accents on jeans or to make shoes. This is a business that has developed over the past eighteen months and we think there is a lot of growth there." Guatemalan weavers have also been emigrating to the U.S. for 20 years because demand for hand-woven fabrics (except for in the tourist market in Guatemala) has nosedived. So now we are scrambling to find enough weavers in their own country. Also, Mayan women traditionally have been backstrap loom weavers, but increasingly they are learning to use pedal looms, and so this is an extraordinary opportunity to employ them. That was our initial intention for AR-to throw a few hundred bolts of fabric inside a booth, brew some tea, and let buyers have a go at the stuff, just like in some Middle Eastern bazaar."

When I ask about the techniques La Casa has produced, Ian explains, “In traditional Guatemalan weaving, the two main specialized techniques are ikat and supplementary weft brocade. The former is accomplished by tying hundreds of dense knots at intervals along thick skeins of thread. This rope is then dipped into dye vats and when dry, the knots are cut away to reveal un-dyed 'blips' in the thread. These threads are then separated and placed on the loom in such a way that the un-dyed 'blips' form a design of a corn plant, or chevrons, or humans holding hands (there are of course dozens of traditional motifs). This is usually done in the warp of the loom but the ikat technique can also be done in the weft, or in both. Supplementary weft brocade is a way to manipulate the fabric design by adding non-structural threads within the weft of the fabric. This is done on a backstrap loom by manually picking up warp threads and wrapping them with (usually) contrasting color threads thus creating a pattern. It can also be done on pedal looms via the use of heddles, which lift some warp threads away from others in order to introduce the supplemental weft thread.”
 
Many new developments are always arising at La Casa Cotzal, reviving ancient techniques that have been forgotten over the years. Ian explains, “Eric Ledoigt, a transplanted French artist, who was once my partner in the retail store and has since become one of the country’s premier interior designers, accompanied me on a consultation visit to all the rural Guatemalan communities. The resulting designs seek to involve the greatest number of weavers (back strap as well as pedal loom), embroiderers (hand and machine), crocheters, knitters, sewing workshops, and ceramicists as possible. A single wide-ranging palette of threads is now being utilized amongst the artisan organizations. It also is very exciting because these are such remote population centers and a great deal of what the artisans produce—an exquisite, breathtaking range of ancestral technique—rarely makes it to markets, even inside this country.
 
This summer, don't miss the debut of Artisan Resource, held at New York City's Jacob Javits Center and Pier 92, which will be featuring La Casa Cotzal's collection of Guatemalan textile goods. Products will include cushions, throws, shawls, bags, beanbag chairs, hats and caps, and more. It will be a treat for the eyes, a way to explore the diversity of artistic talent throughout the country, as well as an opportunity to connect with artisans that are using the marketing of craft to help redress their needs while preserving their cultural heritage.

In addition to all its business activities, La Casa Cooztal
has partnered with the Guatemalan Ministry of the Economy's Zero Hunger Project, which has been specifically designed to support rural artisan communities. 
For more information, please visit: http://www.lacasaguatemala.com.

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