A special thank you to Liza Blair, Raquel Hidalgo and Ellen Heavilon for all of their help with this post.
A stray thread brushed off a garment, a thread of an idea, a thread linking two people in our six-degrees-of-separation-community…these are the threads easily torn and inconsequential. But then sometimes a thread is everything - holding fabric from unraveling, linking strands of evidence to solve a mystery, the small link keeping us in close relationships with loved ones. Ana Martinez is a testament to the power of a thread.
It all began at age 8 when young Ana, a child in Jalisco Mexico, sat with her mother and learned to crotchet, experiencing this delicate craft from loving hands, developing her skill and then going on the streets to sell it. As she grew, so did her skill, and as circumstances led her to the US, she brought this gift with her.
After moving around the South, she settled in our community and has lived here for 15 years, raising two young boys and offering them the chance to get an education, to not have to go to work as she did as a child and to be kids. She’s also taught them about family, given them ties to their Mexican relatives with regular calls home to her parents and eight siblings and scores of nieces and nephews. And she’s taught them the craft that she herself learned as a child, so her 10- and 14-year-old sons can now masterfully work threads like their mother (with one expressing it differently through his left handed approach).
And she continued her craft on her own, expanding from dresses for baby Jesus dolls during the Mexican nine day Novena for the Virgin of Guadalupe into children’s clothing, headbands, purses and table runners. She favors vibrant colors and intricate patterns, pieces made of love. She thought of her work as items for sale, beautiful objects of commerce, and when she came here, she discovered the recognition she had long deserved. When Ellen Heavilon of H*Art Gallery first told her that her work was art, she began to realize that she herself was truly an artist. (Thanks too to Ellen and H*Art gallery for these images of pieces that are also available for purchase in the gallery.)
And this is reflected as you talk to Ana. Her face lights up when she talks about her work, just as it does when she discusses her family. Her dazzling sweet smile, her dancing hands that move with grace and mastery and the delight in her eyes all evidence that she is speaking from the heart. While Raquel Hidalgo of the Partnership for Families Children and Adults kindly translated our spoken words, so much more was said simply through those hands, that smile and those eyes. Ana’s days are filled with her work at a restaurant and with raising two boys but she reserves her precious free time for creating, for practicing her craft and for sharing it with others through the Partnership and H*Art Works Program sponsored classes she teaches in East Lake. She even shares photos with her younger sister in Mexico in order to help her develop into the master artist she is becoming. Her art ties her through generations as does the actual type of Crystal String she sources from Mexico, distinctive for its unique shimmer. Now that her mother is ill, this takes on a deeper meaning as her art sales help to pay for her mother’s medicine, and with each knot tied, the art ties her back to her memories of home.
For Ana, there is the literal Crystal String - the string that holds her delicate works together – as well as the strings that she gently wraps around her son’s hands as she teaches them the family tradition and the strings that tie her to her mother who once taught her. With Ana’s art as in her life, the thread is strong and filled with power, truly a tie that binds.