During a candlelit dinner on his July honeymoon in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala, Israel Garcia wasn’t looking out the picture windows of the resort restaurant. Though the view from the dining room of Posada de Santiago was breathtaking — volcanic even — he was almost certain that the art hanging eight feet off the floor was even better.
Garcia, owner of Garcia Squared Contemporary in the Crossroads Arts District, resolved to return to the restaurant the following day, when the lighting would be brighter. When he did, he could hardly believe what he’d found.
He’d stumbled on the work of the late artist Antonio Ramirez Sosóf, a member of the Tz’utujil community. Sosóf lived and worked in Santiago Atitlán from 1927 until his death in 2014. The artist worked as a lumberjack for his first 50 years, then dreamed of a woman wearing an embroidered garment. He took it as a direction from God. He began teaching himself the art of embroidery.
According to Garcia, Santiago Atitlán is home to 12 indigenous communities, each known for strikingly colorful, intricate works of embroidery, often depicting local birds or elements of everyday life. The artisans grow their own cotton, harvest it, spin it and dye it. Each community has its own recipe for the natural pigments.
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In these communities, embroidery is the work of the native women. They sell their pieces, which often take several months to create, along the roads to tourists. Garcia had seen these pieces and even bought one: a 12-by-12 orange and yellow striped piece swarming with bright, tropical birds.
What he found in the restaurant was similar to the women’s roadside wares, but on a different level. Stitched onto old clothing, scraps of fabric and, really, just any textile Sosóf laid his hands on, the pieces are less like stitched work and more like paintings.
“He seemed to be the only one who took this very traditional art form and really kind of dug in deep and really depicted his own imagery without being censored in any way. In some of them he mixed sexuality with religion and it just seemed to be kind of what we might consider contradictory or out of place, it seemed to be very easy for him to continue to go into these forms quite a bit,” Garcia said.
Garcia was so taken by the work that he canceled the exhibitions he’d scheduled from August through December and began working with the Posada’s proprietor, who also owns the Sosóf collection, to bring the pieces to Kansas City.
Word of the collection’s arrival spread quickly through the Kansas City arts community. To Garcia’s surprise and delight, people began contacting him, among them a textile conservator from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the author of “Traditional Weavers of Guatemala,” and the man who owns YJ’s Snackbar, just across the street from Garcia Squared.
The conservator wanted to help preserve the pieces, which had had a rough life in Guatemala. The author said she had devoted a section to Sosóf and sent Garcia several copies of her book. And the YJ’s owner just happened to have several artifacts from Santiago Atitlán that he wanted to lend to the exhibition.
Garcia, a graduate of the Kansas City Arts Institute in mixed media, strives to incorporate both educational and sensory elements into his shows and gladly added the books and artifacts, which he hopes heightens the experience of the show. The conservator taught Garcia how to clean the pieces and has said she’ll give them a final professional cleaning herself before he sends them back to Guatemala. The show closes Dec. 29.
To add to September’s First Friday festivities, a local international indigenous collective, Colectivo Yankuitl, will play traditional Guatemalan music.
Contact Anne at email@example.com or @annekniggendorf
Garcia Squared Contemporary
See the works of Antonio Ramirez Sosóf through Dec. 29. Second floor of Bauer Machine Works, 115 W. 18th St. 6-10 p.m. First Friday. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
More First Friday events
18th and Vine Jazz District
What: First Friday with music, art, dancing, storytelling and more. 4-9 p.m. Sept. 2. Free.
Info: Paseo Boulevard to Woodland Avenue. americanjazzmuseum.org, 816.474.8463
Belger Arts Center
What: “Humankind: The Sublime and the Ridiculous” by Paolo Porelli. Opening reception, 6-9 p.m. Sept. 2; runs through Dec. 17.
Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. First Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday.
Info: 2100 Walnut. redstarstudios.org, 816.474.7316
Belger Crane Yard Studios
What: “Mascots, Hearts of Love and Proposals” by Dan Anderson. Opening reception, 6-9 p.m. Sept. 2; runs through Dec. 17.
Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.
Info: 2011 Tracy. craneyardstudios.org, 816.474.7316
What: “Shampoo Rinse Repeat” by William Rainey. Opening reception and artist’s talk, 6-8 p.m. Sept. 1; First Friday, 6-9 p.m. Sept. 2; runs through Oct. 2.
Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. First Friday.
Info: 118 Southwest Blvd. bluegalleryonline.com, 816.527.0823
What: “Reflecting the Times: Works by Harold Smith, Stefan Jones and Jason Piggie.” First Friday opening, Sept. 2; opening reception, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 9; artist’s talk and closing reception, 3-6 p.m. Oct. 22.
Gallery hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Info: Commerce Bank Building, 1000 Walnut, Suite 211. theboxgallery.org, 816.760.7885
What: “Playlist No. 2” by Melissa McCracken. Opening reception, 6-9 p.m. Sept. 2; runs through Oct. 28. Also, “Feminine” by Teresa Magel (through Sept. 30).
Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday.
Info: 1820 McGee. hilliardgallery.com, 816.561.2956
What: “Peters/Waterman-Peters: Recent Work” by Barbara Waterman-Peters and Larry Peters. First Friday show, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sept. 2; runs through Sept. 30.
Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday.
Info: 1717 Walnut. 816.421.2111
KCAI Crossroads Gallery
What: “The Position We’re In” by Hamish Fulton, Kent Monkman and Guido van der Werve. Through September.
Gallery hours: 6-8 p.m. First Friday; noon-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.
Info: 1819 Grand. kcai.edu/crossroads-gallery, 816.914.5394
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
What: BravoKC! Kauffman Center Fifth Birthday Party. 5-9 p.m. Sept. 2. Free.
Info: 1601 Broadway. kauffmancenter.org/bravokc, 816.994.7222
Kemper at the Crossroads
What: 2016 Charlotte Street Visual Artist Awards Exhibition by Shawn Bitters, Madeline Gallucci and Rodolfo Marron III. Opening reception, 5-9 p.m. Sept. 2; artists’ presentation, 5 p.m. Sept. 29; runs through Jan. 7.
Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, noon-4 p.m. Saturday.
Info: 33 W. 19th. kemperart.org, 816.753.5784
Leedy-Voulkos Art Center
What: “Contemporary Abstraction: Outspoken Soliloquy of Dreams” by Rashelle Staley-Stutts. Through Sept. 30.
Gallery hours: 6-9 p.m. First Friday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Info: 2012 Baltimore. leedy-voulkos.com, 816.474.1919
Mid-America Arts Alliance
What: “A Photo Album of Ireland.” Preview with music by the Young Folk and the Killdares, 6-8 p.m. Sept. 2
Info: 2018 Baltimore. maaa.org, 816.421.1388
Plenum Space Gallery
What: “Inapt” by Casey Whittier. Opening reception, 6-10 p.m. Sept. 2; closing reception, 6-8 p.m. Sept. 24.
Info: 504 E. 18th. plenumspace.weebly.com
Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art
What: “Back Where They Came From” group show. Opening reception, 7-9 p.m. Sept. 2; runs through Oct. 22.
Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
Info: 2004 Baltimore. sherryleedy.com, 816.221.2626
Todd Weiner Gallery
What: “The Art of War.” Opening reception, 5-10 p.m. Sept. 2; closing reception, 4-7 p.m. Sept. 16; runs through Sept. 17.
Gallery hours: 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.
Info: 115 W. 18th. toddweinergallery.com, 816.984.8538
Weinberger Fine Art
What: “In Beauty There Is Guilt” by Margaret Evangeline. Runs Sept. 1-Oct. 29; VIP cocktail reception and artist book signing, 5-8 p.m. Sept. 1.
Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday.
Info: 114 Southwest Blvd. weinbergerfineart.com, 816.301.4428
Windhorse Tattoo & Gallery
What: “Weird Women Who Draw.” Opening reception, 6 p.m. Sept. 2; runs through Oct. 30.
Info: 717 Wyandotte. windhorserising.com, 816.285.0500