Wheaton Conversations: Colorful Sawdust Carpets

Wheaton Conversations:
Colorful Sawdust Carpets – A Guatemalan Tradition

Watch the March 25, 2021 recording above

Join this Wheaton Conversations event as Maya artist Ubaldo Sanchez creates a colorful sawdust carpet inspired by Popol Vuh, the creation story of the Maya world. This tradition has evolved in the Latino and Maya communities of Guatemala and the US over the past 500 years, becoming a sign of identity, tradition, and pride. Discover how Ubaldo gives color to the sawdust and brings life to images from a rich oral tradition that pulls together the Euro-Christian and Maya images in a beautiful and dynamic ephemeral art form. 

The sawdust carpet or alfombra de aserrín will later be displayed at WheatonArts’ Down Jersey Folklife Center. Genaro Jacinto Calel, our regional Maya shaman, will offer a ceremony to honor the beginning of the new time-cycle of the Águila—the Eagle, which begins in February and continues for the next four years. Other themes and images associated with sawdust carpets will be discussed, including those created on the streets for Lent and Holy Week processions, the Day of the Dead, and other celebrations. 

El 25 de marzo únanse a ver a Ubaldo Sánchez, artista maya, crear una colorida alfombra de aserrín inspirada por el Popol Vuh, la historia de la creación del mundo maya. Tendremos una conversación de cómo esta tradición se ha evolucionado en las comunidades ladinas y mayas en Guatemala y en los Estados Unidos como un símbolo de identidad, tradición y orgullo durante los últimos 500 años. Miren cómo Ubaldo le da color al aserrín y le da vida a las imágenes de la rica tradición oral que une a las costumbres euro-cristianas y mayas con esta bella y dinámica arte efímera.

La alfombra estará en exhibición en el Centro Folclórico Down Jersey de Wheaton Arts. Genaro Jacinto Calel, nuestro chamán maya del área, nos ofrecerá una ceremonia en honor del nuevo ciclo de tiempo del Águila que empieza en febrero y durará por los próximos 4 años. También vamos a explorar otros temas e imágenes que se acostumbran practicar juntos con las alfombras, incluyendo los que se hacen durante las procesiones de Cuaresma y Semana Santa, el Día de los Muertos y otras celebraciones. 

This event is part of “Wheaton Conversations,” a new virtual series highlighting select artists with ties to WheatonArts! To see the full schedule of conversations, Click Here. 

Artist Ubaldo Sanchez kneels in front of a colorful sawdust carpet.

Ubaldo A. Sánchez is from a family of artists from Concepcion Chiquirichapa, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, whose projects explore the rich art and culture of the Maya of Guatemala here in the United States. Ubaldo was noticed at an early age by his teachers in the Guatemalan public schools, and at age eight, bringing him to neighboring towns to motivate and work with other children on art projects. Taught and encouraged by his older brother Enrique, he arrived in the US at age 16, already an accomplished young artist. As a student at Arlington Mills High School, he won an award for his “My Dreams… My Future” painting. In 2009 as a senior, his painting of Barak Obama, “New Dawn,” was selected to represent Virginia’s students and is in the White House collection today. 

Ubaldo continues to work and develop his portfolio using traditional and inventive techniques. His work includes sculpture, painted pottery and gourds, murals, silk-screen printing, painting, and Sawdust carpets or Alfombras. The Alfombra, a traditional ephemeral art form practiced in communities throughout Guatemala during Lent, has become a hallmark of his work in Arlington, the Smithsonian Festival, the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, as well as various cultural centers, churches, museums, and embassies throughout the US East Coast. As an activist within the Guatemalan community, he is constantly initiating and completing projects that help people across the diaspora. In 2017 he was bestowed “La Orden del Quetzal,” the Guatemalan government’s highest honor to its citizens, for his artistry and community service. 

Headshot of Yolanda Alcorta in an orange outfit, smiling wide.

Yolanda Alcorta is a cofounder of “Raices Culturales Latinoamericanas” and a longtime Board member of the “Friends f the Ixchel Museum” (FOIM). She has been collecting textiles for forty years and curated Maya textile exhibits at Longwood Gardens, the Morris Arboretum, and Taller Puertorriqueño. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education from George Washington University and a Master of Science in Biology/Botany from the University of Michigan. As Executive Director of Raíces, she worked closely for 16 years with the Latino communities in Philadelphia, Kennett Square, Camden, Trenton, and Wilmington. She developed and presented countless educational programs, annual festivals, and many exhibits. Currently, Yolanda resides in Washington, DC, where she expanded the “Raíces” programs by creating actual and virtual “Cultural Corridors” in the mid-Atlantic states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Virginia.

President of “Alcorta Connections,” Yolanda is a bilingual consultant to the Guatemalan Embassy for cultural programs, to various museums, and the non-profit community. She currently presents and develops programs for the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), including events featuring Maya traditions and textiles, dance with live marimba music, and traditional sawdust carpets. Her work has also included interpretive projects at the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian Folklife Center. One of her many current projects is forming a women’s weaving cooperative, “Weaving For The Future,” sponsored by FOIM.

Thank you to our sponsor, PNC Arts Alive!

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