Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vatanai Pamir. Interview with Maria Radvanova.

Nowadays the words "hand made" have become a great way of commercial advertising - hand-made soap with pieces of dry fruits inside of it can be sold for much more than the usual soap, and in a nice restaurant they can even brag about the chef cutting rucola without using a knife, with his bare hands. The hero of today's article is fond of experimental archeology, which is when scientists live just like people used to live in ancient times, they learn ancient crafts, rediscover forgotten technolog ies and perform seasonal agricultural activities.
Please, meet Maria Radvanova, who loves the art of weaving.

There is a special place in her small apartment: a separate room occupied by a very old loom, which Maria uses to create her wraps for carrying children, which have recently become popular in Europe and in the USA. Maria's cotton baby wraps called "Pamir" are unique because of the forgotten technology, which she has passionately rediscovered. One of those Pamirs, by the way, was sold for 800 euros on an American auction, and the interest for her creations is increasing.
Maria can make no more than 5 Pamirs a year. Young and beautiful, she doesn't like life in the city and dreams of inhabiting a house in the country, although at the moment she lives near Prague and works as an administrator at a kindergarten.
"It has all started with my grandparents, who were from Morava. They were real followers of authentic national tradition. I knew a lot about national costumes and I really liked them when I was a child. I grew up and entered the Social Sciences Academy, where one of the means of social therapy was weaving. I liked it so much that looms and weaving became the only things I cared about."

- Does it really have some kind of therapeutic effect?

" Definitely. Just like farming or, for example, cooking or any other traditional craft/occupation. It has its own special rythm, which calms you. Your one hand does one thing, the other hand is occupied with the other activity, your feet are also busy while your head is thinking. It develops coordination and the ability to concentrate. There is also a matter of colors. For example, a holeric person can treat his temper by looking at something blue. Therefore it is a widespread method. A person who spends a lot of time in front of a computer and starts weaving, might experiecne a great relaxation.

- And how did you get this enormous ancient loom?

"That happed accidently. Right now I have four looms, and I use only one of them. The other three rest peacefully in my friends' basement in Crconosh. One is for making light shawls, the second one is for making heavy woolen things and the third one is for making clothes. I have friends who are involved in the leather-processing business, and they asked me to help them to build looms. We had a carpenter make wooden details and I put them all together for the machine to work properly. They appreciated my help enough to give me this ancient loom.

-Five scarfs a year. Is that due to low demand or your physical abilities?

"I can make more than five if my husband helps me, but it is very hard. It is not very much fun to sit behind the loom for the whole day. There is demand, we get hundreds of orders for the Pamir, but we can only satisfy three or four customers, all the others have to wait long enough for their children to grow up. Besides, all the taxes and insurance take about half of what I make."

-Have you every though of taking studends, helpers, organising classes for weavers or tutoring?

"I have taught some people to weave. When I was 22 I was so inspired by the perspectives of the weaving on the loom for people with mental problems, that I used to spend great amounts of time just running aroung the city and promoting those methods, but nobody really cared. But in about 5-6 weeks I started receiving phone calls from people who suddenly remembered me.

They say it's very popular in Europe and the United States. People purchase looms, but don't know how to use them and they ask for help. So I did give some classes in 6-7 places. I taught doctors, who had to work with children and physically disabled people. But I certainly didn't get paid for that. I am a craftsperson and an experimentator, but I am not much of a businessperson."

-Why aren't your creations sold in Czechia? They are of great interest.

"I don't know where they are being sold and how many; I have partners who I work with. They probably know all that. I think that Czech babywearing mothers would rather buy cheaper colored fabrics."

-But, as far as I know, your wraps are highly talked about on babywearing forums, they are never resold, even when children grow up...

"This reminds me of the so-called "Panama hat effect". It is a hand-made hat of white colour, modern and stylish, made in Ecuador. Those, who make them, are poor people, but their products are worn by people of the upper class and they cost a lot. But, of course, the wealthy never get in contact with craftsmen, they have a structurized system of mediators.”

-But you're not a craftsman from Ecuador. 140 euros barely cover the expenses for such production.

"I tried to sell my products by myself. My friend and me used to come to people's homes, present our wraps to young moms and try to get them to like it, but usually their husbans chased us out of the house screaming "For so much? Get out of here!". I have tried to sell my products to some little specialized stores, which happen to be everywhere in Prague, but I was perceived as a crazy person, because the price seemed too high. A tourist needs something like a piece of soap or a wooden toy, which he can throw into his bag and go look around the city."

- Have you ever tried making something else besides baby wraps? Costumes, for example, or tapestry?

“We've tried numerous types of cloth, we even tried to process natural materials, like cotton, wool and flax. I would do that with great pleasure, but I can't find a supplier who would provide the same material for many years. If you make baby wraps, for example, you get a certificate for that and you have to work with only one supplier and use just one certain type of cloth. It is a problem, because all the textile products come from China."

All foto's are taken from and
Original interview recorded on 27-05-09 by Radio Praha

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