Helping Handwork

Changing the world one stitch at a time.

Paola Gianturco is a Bay Area marketing and communications consultant and educator. Her friend Toby Tuttle, with whom Gianturco once worked at the nation's first women-owned advertising agency, shares responsibilities with her husband in their Evergreen-based investment banking company. Together, these high-powered entrepreneurial women seem far-removed from the dirt-poor women who live and toil in Third World backwaters around the world.

But that changed when Gianturco, inspired by information generated at the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing and a lifelong love for handmade objects, realized that an enormous number of women in the world were actually supporting families and educating their children on less than a dollar a day, often earned through the sale of traditional handcrafts -- mirror embroidery from India, Guatemalan textiles, hand-painted batiks from Indonesia and the like.

"These women took on a level of heroism in my mind," Gianturco says. She visualized a volume thick with imagery and first-hand observations culled from travels to faraway places where such work was being done: "I thought if such a project was successful, it could change everything for their families, and maybe even eventually change the world all of us live in."

Making do: A new book explores how women artisans help themselves.
Making do: A new book explores how women artisans help themselves.

She called Tuttle, who agreed to journey with her, and thus began an odyssey that took the women, with cameras loaded and pens poised, to 28 villages, twelve countries and four continents, where they interviewed and photographed a diverse cross-section of the world's unsung craftswomen.

Now, the pair is touring to promote one very visible result of their travels: In Her Hands: Craftswomen Changing the World, a beautiful picture-book and travel journal with noble intentions beyond those of the usual coffee-table tome. Gianturco and Tuttle will be on hand for a slide presentation and book-signing at the Tattered Cover LoDo Thursday.

Project completed, Gianturco and Tuttle can now begin to measure its success. "The seeds of our original goals refined themselves into full-blown goals," Tuttle says, and the first of those goals seems particularly fulfilled: "We began to realize how magnificent these women are all over the world -- God, I love women -- we wanted to shine a little light on these very poor women who are doing a very big thing." But the authors also hope to stimulate their readers to action -- by looking for fair trade indicators when they buy world handcrafts, making donations or doing volunteer work for nonprofits helping craftswomen. And most importantly, they'll help by sharing profits from their books with six organizations offering aid to women artisans. "People can actually participate simply by buying the book," Gianturco says.

From there, Peruvian needleworkers or Turkish dollmakers can channel those resources, much as one remarkable Ndebele beadworker they met in South Africa did: "We had a blind date to meet Dinah in Pretoria and go out to a village," recalls Tuttle. "We always tried to compensate the women we interviewed because we were taking them away from their handicrafts, so we asked her what amount would be fair. Dinah thought a minute, and then said, 'I don't think you should give any one woman compensation.'" Instead, Dinah suggested putting the money into a checking account from which the women could borrow to buy raw materials: "She had invented in her own head a micro-enterprise model," Tuttle says. "The real facilitator was her own brain -- we just put up the wad of cash. She wrote later that she had gone around the area and organized 22 other villages into the same sort of groups."

Go, you girls.

 
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