The Tale of a He-bu - A Letter from Ian Gonzalez to Ibu Allies

The Tale of a He-bu - A Letter from Ian Gonzalez to Ibu Allies

Dear Ibu Allies,

I am the son of an American anthropologist and a Guatemalan industrial designer. My mother—the anthropologist—did her doctoral fieldwork in Guatemala among an ethnic group called the Garifuna, or Black Carib, and my father—the designer—crafted Scandinavian-style furniture in tropical hardwoods. I frequently accompanied my mother on research trips to indigenous Mayan villages in Guatemala, and traveled with my father to scout lumber, which he made more interesting by visiting pre-Columbian sites during a period in which these were largely unexcavated and reachable only along very rudimentary roads or on rivers. So I had a sense early on of both a living culture and a disappeared one, each of which possessed extraordinary material elan. 

Years later, after college and graduate school and stints in New York City, my father asked me to return to Guatemala and help him run his business designing and building houses on a beautiful lake. He had become ill, and when he died, I closed out the business and went to work as the export manager for a Guatemalan ceramics factory. The factory’s customers soon asked us to expand our offerings to include textiles and the wide array of crafts offered in Guatemala.

I began to spend more and more time visiting villages to find makers. Within a couple of years I had become so enamored of the work in the villages that in 1992 I opened a retail store in Guatemala City offering only the crafts that I most admired. Soon the store became a destination for U.S. collectors, direct importers, and retailers looking for Guatemalan crafts. 

A men’s cooperative in Chichicastenango had existed for over twenty years focused on agriculture. About ten years ago, the wives and daughters of those men formed their own association to produce and market their handwoven and embroidered textiles and beaded merchandise. Currently eighteen women belong to Asociacion ArteDiba and they have created beaded coin purses, glasses cases, and cosmetic bags for Ibu’s Marketplace.

The Ibu Foundation very generously has given us a grant enabling us to modernize our 15 year old database and craft a platform that can appeal to even more markets. Additionally, Ibu provided crucial production capital to a jewelry studio we work with that was stalled during a prolonged lull due to COVID. Markets are coming back and we are siphoning work to them again.

La Casa Cotzal - Cuatro Caminos Adiba (Mostacilla) from Ibu Movement on Vimeo.

We currently contract, during any given year, 600 to 1000 artisans, the great majority of them women, and 90% of them homeworkers that receive raw materials and design instruction from us, make products in their homes, and return finished goods that we export to clients all over the world. We are grateful to Ibu as a partner in these efforts, and appreciate you as allies who support their work and the people of Guatemala.


With gratitude,
Ian Gonzalez
Founder,  La Casa