PUCHKA Peru weaves a new pattern
The following article was written by Ellie Kemp
The news that textile tour company PUCHKA Perú is changing hands brought a mix of emotions. A touch of sadness, to think that Sasha McInnes, whose brainchild this remarkable initiative was, is moving on, after years of bringing fanatics from around the world into contact with Peru’s magnificent textile culture and talented artisans. But curiosity too, to see the spindle (‘puchka’ is the traditional drop spindle of Peru) being taken up by master weaver Máximo Laura, together with Giancarlo Soldi. As well as a wave of remembered excitement from my own experience with PUCHKA 18 months ago…
When I turned up in white-walled Arequipa to learn from the great Máximo Laura I was new to weaving, and new to Latin America, but drawn to both in that way that has you taking instinctive pleasure in running your fingers over fine cloth, inspecting the detail of a weave or resting your eyes on a perfect piece of embroidery. Other textile junkies will understand! (The pull of Latin America was less physical, but the draw of landscape and social history and literature no less strong.) The PUCHKA tour gave me a quite remarkable initiation in both, travelling with other ‘thread-heads’ through the glorious landscapes of Peru and learning directly from modern-day masters the rudiments of textile crafts which have a tradition here going back many centuries.
The three-week voyage of discovery held many delights, but a four-day workshop with Máximo Laura was always going to be the highlight. My favourite among the tapestries gleaned from www.maximolaura.com before I travelled, looks a little like you might imagine Picasso’s Guernica on fiesta day: an almost cubist explosion of colour, energy and sheer fun. The PUCHKA group had visited Máximo in his studio and home in Lima before travelling to Arequipa, and had an opportunity to observe his team of weavers at work, receive a demonstration of colour blending, and appreciate at close quarters both the great beauty and the technical skill of his tapestries.
At this point, my own tapestry output totalled one uneven square of knobbly weave about 15x12cm, the product of a crash course in the basics of weaving. As Máximo gave us an introductory talk on colour and technique on the first day, my mood veered between elation and terror. Over the following days, it built into a steady upsurge of excited delight and growing confidence.
Our teachers (Máximo and two of his team of master weavers) simply left no place for apprehension. With humour, unfeigned patience and what looked like double-jointed fingers, they showed us how to do some of what they do, proved to us that we really could, and laughed delightedly at our pleasure each time another penny dropped. The frightening array of multi-yarn weft threads in graduated shades resolved itself into an intelligible sequence and then (in fits and starts initially, but eventually) into smooth sumac. No detail was too mechanical to be worth explaining. Máximo took half an hour to show me how to decode the direction of knots, and suddenly my fingers knew where to go to make the line move from left to right, up or down.
Nor was it only the mechanics they were generous with: we were also invited to understand the artistic and aesthetic choices behind their art. We were using fragments of Laura designs as models, but choices of colour and technique were largely left to the students. With the greatest seriousness, suggestions were made, and rationales discussed—which part of the design did we want to stand out, how sharp did we want to make the contrasts of light and dark, or of texture? Where should we place this or that tone in the composition to complement the main block of colour over here? By the time my own fish-man tapestry had taken shape, despite the huge amount of help I had received, it felt entirely mine: I knew its every line, knot and colour blend, what went where and why. Part of me was woven into it, and with it that small part of Peru and of its age-old textile genius that I had assimilated.
So it is exciting to imagine what new textures and patterns Máximo and his associate Giancarlo will weave into PUCHKA as they take it forward. Sasha’s dynamic presence will be missed, no doubt about it, but the philosophy of the Laura team’s teaching, rooted in Peruvian tradition, as much as their creativity and technical mastery, are at the heart of what makes PUCHKA such an extraordinary venture. The new weave will be wholly Peruvian, and wholly original: most definitely one to watch.
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