summer 2011 Issue fourteen

Perhaps you noticed that I didn't get out a Spring issue, and this summer issue is very late. I have been thinking a lot about the future direction of Arte Maya. It is hardly surprising that the economic downturn has affected the art world along with most everyone else. This semi-break has helped me recoup my vision and return with new enthusiasm.

Since January I have been taking classes in photography and the next time I return to Guatemala and San Pedro la Laguna my photographs will (hopefully) improve. For the past twenty five years, I have promoted the work of other artists. I am now excited to be creating my own.

Joseph Johnston

  The current and back issues of the Arte Maya Tz'utuhil Newsletter are now available on the Arte Maya Tz'utuhil website. Each newsletter will be added as it comes out.
  In this issue:

Book: Developing Destinies
Arte Maya 2012 Calendar
Juan Sisay painting mystery
2012: Meaning of the Maya calendar
Mario Gonzalez Chavajay
  Book review:
Developing Destinies

A Mayan midwife and town

By Barbara Rogoff

For anyone interested in understanding the soul of a Maya town, Barbara Rogoff's new book Developing Destinies: A Mayan Midwife and Town (Oxford University Press, 2011) will give you a good idea. Barbara Rogoff breaks new ground in the way she thinks about change in a traditional society. The book documents San Pedro la Laguna during the lifetime of Chona, a Maya ixjoom, or midwife. Rogoff's book is an intensely personal story about her relationship to Chona, Chona's family, and to the Tz'utuhil Maya town. Rogoff observes the changes in San Pedro and offers insight into how people, not only the Maya, retain their cultural heritage, and at the same time open themselves to new horizons. Her book is illustrated by photographs that she and her daughter took, along with many unpublished photos taken by anthropologists Ben and Lois Paul in San Pedro la Laguna from 1941 on. Barbara has followed Ben Paul in the tradition of making scholarly books interesting and accessible for the general reader.

The book has a Facebook page that has many new color photographs and information. There is a link to a pdf flyer that tells a lot more about the book than there is space for here. Barbara is donating all the royalties for the book to the San Pedro Learning Center and other projects. You can purchase it through Amazon.

  2012 Arte Maya Calendar

Our new 2012 Arte Maya Calendar features a detail of the painting of texeles in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan on the cover. The artist, Lorenzo Gonzalez Chavajay, died in 1996. Like Grandma Moses, he had taken up painting late in life when he retired. Lorenzo painted things he remembered from his lifetime, customs and traditions that had changed during his life. Lorenzo developed a style of painting that is unique among the Maya artists.



The calendar, as in previous years, has original paintings by twelve different Maya artists. The paintings of three women artists highlight the calendar. Among the population of Maya artists, there are only a handful of women painters whereas there are hundreds of Maya men who paint. The twelve artists come from three Maya towns, two where Tz'utuhil  and one where Kaqchikel is spoken.

  Juan Sisay Painting Mystery


In Developing Destinies, Barbara Rogoff includes a painting by Diego Pop Ajuchan about a divination ceremony. The painting and the artist have been a mystery to me since I purchased it some years ago. It came with a letter dated April 3, 1957 from the artist to the first owner. He apologized for being so late in finishing the painting but explained that Juan Sisay (Santiago Atitlan's first and most famous painter) had been sick for six weeks. The painting was clearly in the style of Juan Sisay and the signature was in the block letters that Sisay used when he signed paintings. I told Barbara that I suspected Sisay had painted it but I couldn't figure out why it was signed by Achutan. Barbara thought that since we couldn't prove it was a Sisay, that it should be attributed to Achutan in her book. The painting raised a lot of questions: why couldn't the painting be finished while Juan Sisay was sick? Why was the style of the painting and of the signature identical to that of Juan Sisay? Had Sisay painted it or had Ajuchan painted it? Who was Ajuchan and why, if he was a Tz'utuhil artist, had I never seen another painting he had created? Why was this painting even done?

Last week I got a call from a man in San Francisco who wanted to come over and show me a Juan Sisay painting he had inherited. He wanted to know if I could tell him something about the painting. When I saw his painting, the mystery behind the Ajuchan painting was solved. See Juan Sisay's painting and read the conclusion:


the meaning of the Maya calendar

On December 21, 2012 the current or twelfth B’aqtun of the Maya calendar will end. The 2012 Arte Maya Calendar includes an article about how the Maya calendar works, especially the Long Count, and the meaning of the end of this cycle to the Maya people. We needed to shorten the article for the calendar, but the entire article has been posted on the Arte Maya website. Another web page explains how the daily calendar works (the "calendar round," a repeating cycle of days and months—Tzolkin and Haab').


Mario Gonzalez chavajay
New paintings

Mario Gonzalez Chavajay has spent eight to ten hours a day painting, six or seven days a week, for the past thirty-five years. Pictured here is one of his new paintings, Agradecimiento, Q'iij N'oj (giving thanks on the day N'oj), which appears in the Arte Maya 2012 calendar. It shows Maya celebrants from Todos Santos Chuchumatán performing a traditional Maya ceremony in a cave. This and several other of his new paintings appeared in an exhibition this summer in San Francisco. I published a short piece about our history together and how Arte Maya has helped Mario maximize his creativity.