Board Member Profile: Reflections on a Life Touched By Textiles

Jannes GibsonMeet Our Board

Memories flood back: Trying to get the rhythm of my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine when she taught me how to sew at age 10 . . . at 16 learning to knit from the neighbor who made me the classic blue and white sweater with skaters on it that I still have—a 1940s pattern.  (Interesting that both of my daughters love textiles but are makers and creators in different forms.)

My interest in textiles has been a life-long journey. My mother, who got her masters in painting at the University of Iowa in the 1930s, often drove us to the countryside, pointing out colors, textures, and landscapes—encouraging us to try new things and new colors together. Travel has enhanced my ability to appreciate textiles. When my husband and I left Boulder, Colorado to be posted in Kabul, Afghanistan with USAID from 1968 to 1970, it was the textiles I fell in love with—ikats and suzanis in the shops in Kabul, embroideries in the Tashkurghan covered bazaar and in Kandahar. (We were lucky enough to travel all over the country in those days.) 

Jannes in Afghanistan

All the places we lived—Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Malawi—from 1968 to 2002 were rich with textiles. Even when we returned home to Washington, DC and Maryland from 1979 to 1994, I had the good fortune to volunteer at The Textile Museum three days a week in the library and conservation area, and as a docent. It was the perfect place for me. I first organized small projects such as the Celebration of Textiles and Rug Convention, then became a permanent, part-time employee as the museum’s education program specialist until 1994.  

My first connection with what would become Andean Textile Arts (ATA) was in 1989. I was on my first trip to Peru as The Textile Museum rep on a Threads of the Andes travel tour with anthropologist and traditional textile expert Lynn Meisch as study leader.  It was on that trip that I first met Nilda Callañaupa, now director of the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco (CTTC). With the help of Ed Franquemont, I brought Nilda to Celebration of Textiles in 1992. (Read our ATA story to learn more about Ed Franquemont and his connection to our mission.)

Nilda in Chinchero welcoming our Textile Museum group.

Upon retirement my husband Tom had promised to go on the 2003 Textile Society of America trip to Peru led by Ed Franquemont and his wife Chris, but Tom’s premature death meant I was on my own.  On that trip I remember we camped out at 25 degrees in Chahuaytire.  It was after that trip I decided to give myself a gift—a return visit to Cusco.

Not long after coming back from Peru, I received an email from Ed saying it was time for ATA to expand and diversify their board.  They were interested in my education and background at The Textile Museum. At the time, ATA was working with Nilda on a capital campaign to pay for a new CTTC building in Cusco. They were also helping Nilda to sell CTTC textiles and support her travels to and throughout the US for occasional gallery shows, lectures and other activities. Though I wasn’t ready to dive into anything, I went to their meeting and was captivated by what Nilda had accomplished in her work with local weavers to revive traditional Peruvian textile practices.  How could I resist working with this group of people—Ed and Chris Franquemont, Libby and Dave VanBuskirk, Betty Doerr, and Susan Bruce—as they assisted Nilda in her CTTC efforts to preserve the region’s textile heritage. 

Back then, we met in person twice a year for a weekend and considered what Nilda requested and what the board felt would be most helpful. The goal was to facilitate and advise so CTTC could expand and realize Nilda’s vision of a sustainable textile future for local weaving communities.

We operated on a tight budget so we could contribute as much as possible to CTTC. La Tejedora, our newsletter sent out by mail, was first edited by Libby then Betty.  Adventure travel specialist Andean Treks helped us logistically but we publicized our own Peruvian tours to keep costs down. To fill tours and raise funds, we went through all our families and friends. It always delighted me to be in communication with donors and tour participants.

Tour participants were the ones who donated funds for the weaving shelters that the communities built themselves.  Most of our future board members also joined us after participating on one of our tours.  In addition to fundraising tours, we found knowledgeable volunteers to go to Peru to help CTTC develop systems and give Nilda and her staff feedback on their business.  

I remember the time a few years ago that we realized we needed other expertise on the board that we didn’t have . . . we were operating on too small a scale and our board members were getting older! What pleases me now is our board continues with a great crew who are skilled at communicating in the digital world so our reach is greater. Special thanks to board members Marilyn MurphyLinda Ligon, and Betty (Elizabeth) Doerr for their amazing leadership.  The family of friends on this board over the years has made my life richer! As I look back, the most poignant moment for me was being in Cusco in 2005 for the opening of CTTC on Avenida del Sol when the city blocked off the road and the weavers gave the speeches.

Yes, I’m looking forward to my next trip—the world has changed but there will be another opportunity to visit the marvelous weavers of CTTC in Peru!