International artists show color and flair


GREAT BARRINGTON -- On a quiet evening in late spring, Antonio Triana's daughter saw him paint for the first time. She wanted to know about his painting, to play with the colors and make her own colors and shapes. She was too excited to sleep.

"It was emotional for me," he said.

He had learned the technique of painting on glass from his brother and jewelry making from friends. As a teenager in Colombia, he would travel from city to city, selling his work.

In Pittsfield, he has spent his free time caring for his family and his house. His daughter had never seen him as an artist.

Because she has grown up here, fluent in English, she has often taught him new words and how to say them. Now, he has something to teach her.

Triana has picked up his paint brush again because of a new artists' group emerging in South County, International Artisan Hands of the Berkshires.

Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25, at the Renaissance Arts Center in Great Barrington, they will hold a show of artwork made in the Berkshires and brought from the members' native countries, with music, dancing and food. The artists will bring homemade dishes and music from their countries -- Marinera music from Peru, Andina music from the Andes. Renaissance Arts Center will hold a painting social from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday.

With Genis Mendez-Delaney of North Egremont to translate, Sonnia Patiño of Great Barrington explained the new artists' and artisans' collective began with her. Patiño came to the Berkshires from Ecuador.

She wanted a way to express her talents, she said, an outlet for her creative passion. She has energy to spare, and she knows how to build a business. In Ecuador, she ran a clothing store and went to Peru and Colombia to buy products.

"I started to look and to listen to people in the community, and I found others who thought the same way I did," she said. "I feel you do your best work when you are doing what you love to do. I went to an artisan fair in New York and realized we could do the same thing -- and better."

She found a dozen people who have talents she had not known they had. They had learned crafts when they were young and had made gifts, but often they had not thought of selling their work.

Diana Tacuri, originally from Ecuador, began to learn macramé knotwork when she was 9. The essence of the craft has come down through the generations, she said. Her great-grandmother taught her grandmother, and she will teach her son in Great Barrington.

She makes macramé jewelry made from knotted fiber and beads, stones, often in sun shapes. Her brother makes leather wallets, and she designs decorations for them.

"I like to sew and to create," said Beatriz Villar, who came to Adams from Colombia. "I am happy I've found someone to motivate me."

Her passion is flowers, and she has made pillows bright with appliqued blooms.

Her son in Colombia is about to graduate from the Instituto Popular de Cultura in Cali, Colombia, with a degree in plastic arts, she said, and it is part of her dream to see him successful. He will send her his work to sell.

Veronica Johnston of Sheffield has come here from Peru and now teaches Peruvian native dance to children in the Multicultural Bridge summer programs in Great Barrington. This weekend, they will dance to traditional music, Marinera from the north coast of Peru.

Johnston has helped Peruvian artists to contribute work to the group, including her mother, who has just come to this country and does not speak English fluently. It can be isolating and hard to make friends, Johnston said, in a new place with a new language.

She has contributed dolls in Peruvian dance dresses -- she wears a deep blue dress embroidered with blue peacocks on white -- and earrings made from butterfly wings. The artists who make these earrings do not kill the butterflies, she explained carefully. They gather butterflies that have died in the Amazon, and the wings are dried and preserved.

Her husband, Chris Johnston, comes from Mill River and has also contributed work. He is an artist, a writer and a painter, from a family of creative people, she said. Chris's father works with wood, and Chris also prints and designs T-shirts.

Triana will bring his own work, painting on glass and jewelry with stones from Brazil and Argentina. He will also bring work from a friend in Colombia, who lives with a community of American Indians along a wide river and does macramé and bead work in many colors. This community will let people stay with them and learn their craft, and the visitors will work in the community in exchange.

Though many of the original members of International Artisan Hands of the Berkshires have roots in Central and South America, the group hopes to expand as broadly as their name suggests. They have one Eastern European member now, Olga Maryshchuk, a fiber artist originally from the Ukraine -- and they are looking for new artists here and abroad.

They plan to sell work online with the Women's Peace Collective, in consignment shops in the Berkshires and at handcraft fairs. They will have work at Arrowhead this summer, at Third Thursdays in Pittsfield.

They all thanked Patricia Navarino, director of Renaissance Arts Center, for mentoring them.

"It's my pleasure," Navarino said. "Sonnia came to me and talked about what she wanted to do, and she wanted to rent the space. She asked me what I would charge, and I said, ‘Nothing -- it's yours.'"

Like Patiño, Navarino defines herself as a businesswoman and a creative woman -- in her case, a dancer. As a woman, she said, she has worked hard to get where she is, from a single mom onward. Her husband supports her and has supported the International Artisans, and Navarino helped the group to set up a structure and to plan for the future.

"Arts are a visual communication," she said. "We are a global community. In two seconds we can talk to Ecuador."

Now, she said, people in the Berkshires can bring these cultures into their homes.

Mendez-Delaney agreed. Her family came to the Berkshires in the 1940s. She said, as Patiño has said, their community is not always visible in the Berkshires, and they love the Berkshires and want to make a difference here. They want to share what's theirs -- and the beauty in what they have left behind.

If you go ...

What: International Artisan Hands of the Berkshires' show

When: 3 to 6 p.m.

Saturday, May 24, and

noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, May 25

Where: Renissance Arts Center, 420 Stockbridge Road,

Great Barrington


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