Local woman brings Peruvian art to life

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BRYANT POND – When college teacher Sara Wright went to the Amazon jungle on a grant to study medicinal plants, she didn’t plan on falling in love. That trip proved to be a life changing experience for Wright. She now plays a major role in helping women from four communities in Peru maintain a sustainable lifestyle while practicing conservation of the natural world around them. She has just returned from a recent visit to Peru.

Wright says, “I not only fell in love with the Amazon, but with the people. As an artist I was struck by the quality of the Peruvian arpilleras. As a woman with Native American roots, I felt a personal pull to act as a bridge to help bring this South American Indian art form into the United States to sell. This is how I became a part of the arpillera story.”

Arpillera is a cloth art sewn in relief designs created by native women in Peru. The art originally caught the eye of Dolly Beaver, who runs the research/tourist lodge at Tahuayo. Wright met Beaver while doing research on indigenous plant medicines.

Each one of the pieces of cloth art is different and hand-made. The relief art depicts one of four scenes in brilliant colors dyed with natural plant. A botanica is an all-flower panel, where a puna, or waste land, shows the barren land with animals. The river rain forest depicts animals and plants and the Andes harvest shows the abundance of food from their gardens.

Beaver knew the art would sell in the lodge, and asked the women to create an Amazon and rain forest theme for the arpilleras. She encouraged them to use only materials that were renewable and natural. They were taught to collect the chambira fiber to use in making baskets without destroying the plants. They also use legumes and wild grass.

Wright, proud of her Passamaquoddy tribe heritage, lives in a modest log cabin with a dog, cat, two doves and a parrot surrounded with orchids and other tropical plants. A wood stove makes the home cozy and warm as Wright shows off the arpillera art made by the women at Compacto Humano. She also displays colorful baskets made by the four communities in the reserve.

“The communal reserve is a living community which serves as a model for other communities in micro industry. It is a living experiment that’s working,” says Wright. The reserve lies 90 miles up the Amazon from Iquitos and can only be reached by boat.

Neither Wright nor Beaver make any profit from the arpilleras they commission with every penny going back to the Compacto Humano. They hope the lives of the women, men and children will be a little bit better as a result of their efforts.

According to Wright, the women do the animal herding while the men hunt and fish. The women take care of the gardens and run the home. The garden -or chacra – not only gives food, but is also the birthing place. The women go into the garden with their husband when it is time to deliver and squat to deliver the baby.

Hebron fifth grade teacher Lydia Eusden met Wright and saw the opportunity for a cultural exchange for her students. Having a child from Peru for a pen pal encouraged students to create a notebook of pictures and small gifts for Wright to take to the children of the Tamischico community. During her December visit, Wright brought back letters written in Spanish to the students at Hebron, giving the students a greater feeling of another culture.

Wright teaches English, psychology and women’s studies within the University of Maine system and at community colleges. She conducts workshops in natural science in her home. For more information contact Wright at 665-2695.

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