by Anna Gay
I’m in the third grade and am drawn to the hand loom on my art teacher’s desk. The design is as simple as a loom could be, but the possibilities for intricate tapestries are endless. I could weave a classic tartan pattern of my Irish ancestry, or make a welcome mat for my front door to give to my mother as a gift.“There is so much tradition behind the art of weaving, it was a community effort”, my art teacher tells me, it is as if she knows my interest in heritage before I did.
At this young age, I began to have an interest in history, and the classic forms of art and textiles that have been world traditions. Little did I know at that time I would be studying the weaving tradition once more through the lens of heritage. This is how I discovered the Heritage Management Organization’s blog post on the textile heritage of Gonies, Crete,written by Katerina Konstantinou a PhD Candidate at Panteion University in Athens. This post entitled, “ Weaving” the textile heritage of Gonies in Crete, is based on a community development project that Konstantinou conducted in the summer of 2016. She too found inspiration in the weaving community through her education, however it was a much more structured, heritage driven setting than the cluttered art room of an elementary school.
This project mixed the communal history of weaving on the Greek Island community of Gonies and the work of a visual artist, Alexia Karavela, who used the traditional methods of weaving as part of her final Masters of Fine Arts presentation, to research the non material heritage that is more closely related to the memory of that weaving community. Mixing the material and memory of the abandoned enterprise of the textile industry. This project, dubbed the “ Loom Project” would focus on the female centered weaving tradition but would encourage locals to weave a piece of fabric as a community while exploring new forms of ethnographic research through community engagement with a traditional skill.
This project reiterates the tradition of weaving as a part of a community, either as an active enterprise or the remnants of a bygone era. The engagement of community members to reignite the heritage of that place is gaining prominence in heritage management. An article written by Leanna Butters, Obafemi Mc Arthur Okusipe, Seth Bomangsaan Eledi, and Kelly Vodden from Grenfell University entitled, “ Engaging the Past to Create a New Future: A Comparative Study of Heritage Driven Community Development Initiatives in the Great Northern Peninsula” assesses just the type of projects that Konstantinou and Karavela enacted in Gonies. Both focus on rural community enterprises and community engagement with this projects in order to better understand themselves. While this article goes into more technical approaches to community inspired heritage initiatives in Northern Canada, the key point of a sheer lack of literature on heritage tourism is something that I have linked to the project in Greece. A lack of literature on these types of projects is due to the fact that they are just now becoming critical in communities.
There has not been enough time dedicated to producing findings on community heritage initiatives.
I believe that when it comes cultural sustainability, projects that use the community as the source of inspiration are key to the success of this methodology in heritage studies. We in heritage management make great efforts to not overlook the influence of the community in our studies, but the thought of incorporating the community when it comes to building tangible heritage is overlooked. The article by Butters, Okusipe, Eledi, and Vodden look at many cases studies that all have the conclusion that several forms of capital, including social and economic, are expanded when community based heritage initiatives succeed.
The forms of capital that were explored and expanded in Gonies may have been more driven towards the arts, social capital saw the greatest growth as the community was able to connect with the artist Alexia Karavela and have their heritage woven before them, often by them, instilled a renewed interest in their own heritage and textile tradition. Not only did “loom project” yield fantastic results in the community, the main goal of developing new methods of ethnographic fieldwork by Konstantinou open up the heritage field to looking at community heritage initiatives as a viable method to gather information rather than just bringing to life a dead community.
What these two sources have shown me is that quality heritage research should have deep roots in community engagement. While not to pull on heart strings, it is vital for communities to find their identities once more when such an important part of that communal fabric has been taken away. By being the focus and inspiration for research, the weavers of Gonies are able to reidentify themselves through the catalyst of the loom.