Wisdom, Grace, and Intrepid Adventurers—A Thank You to Jannes Gibson and Betty Doerr

This spring the Andean Textile Arts (ATA) board said goodbye and thank you to two amazing women. Jannes (Jan) Gibson and Betty Doerr stepped down from their formal positions on the board, but their presence remains. Jan and Betty were truly pathfinders. Women of a certain grace and wisdom. Women who made a difference in the lives of so many. 

In 2020, ATA president Marilyn Murphy asked that I take on a project of working with Jan and Betty to glean their knowledge of Andean Textile Arts’ history. We loosely called it the “memories project.” The intent was to capture the stories of ATA’s early work with the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) in Peru. The Margaret Mead wannabe in me eagerly took on the project. What a gift to listen to their tales of the early days and, as often happens, the serendipity of what life bring us. What a ride. The story of these two women is nothing short of amazing. 

Jan in Machu Picchu.

Jannes Gibson spent her growing up years in the Midwest (Indiana, Wisconsin, and Iowa). A child of an academic and an artist, Jan spent her summers at the Camp Fire Girls camp in Walker, Iowa, where she honed her camping, backpacking, and light trekking skills. Jan met her husband, Tom, while a student at University of Colorado Boulder. Together they began a lifetime of expatriate assignments in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Malawi through Tom’s work with the USAID and International Monetary Fund. Besides learning to live in the most interesting places, Jan raised their three children, taught batik and ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) , and amassed a beautiful collection of art that graces her current home. 

Jan’s connection to Peru began in 1979 when she accepted a position as docent at The Textile Museum in Washington, DC. Through the years, she served as education program specialist and led tours to numerous wild and wonderful places—among them Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. In 1989 Jan led the Textile Society of America tour to Cusco where she met Nilda Callañaupa, CTTC founder and current director, and was introduced to Andean weaving. 

Betty Doerr came to ATA with a long history of activism and making a difference in the world. From her early days at St. Mary’s at Notre Dame, Betty has worked with community organizing and civil rights. As an educator, Betty taught struggling readers in Mexico and Central America. She helped found Middlebridge School in Rhode Island, a school for children with learning differences. Along the way, Betty published Teach Our Children Well, a book to assist educators working in diverse urban classrooms. 

Betty met her husband, Tim Wells, while working in the movement for peace in Central America and serving as a community organizer in San Francisco. As part of her ever expanding network, Betty was introduced to Nilda Callañaupa and Peru through Tim. Tim met Nilda at a San Francisco event and pledged his support for her incubating commitment to a project that reclaimed the importance of the traditional weaving cultures of Peru. After visits in 1997, 1999, and 2000, Tim, Betty and their two children (of Peruvian and Guatemalan heritage) moved to Peru in 2001. At that time they were also involved with ATA.

Betty and other community members dedicating the first weaving shelter in Mahuaypampa. They were on the roof placing two bulls with a cross and ladder in between them in order to bring protection, happiness, and prosperity.

Tim traveled to the communities, while Betty worked on English translations and developing educational materials. In 2002, Betty and Tim were among the group that found the CTTC’s current  building on Avenida Sol in Cusco, and they and other ATA members launched a capital campaign to purchase and renovate the building. The capital campaign raised $4.8 million over a four-year time period, leading to opening of the CTTC’s textiles center and museum in 2005. 

As part of these collective “start-up” years, Jan and Betty began to lead donor tours to build interest and support for the center. Betty wrote the La Tejedora newsletter. Jan and Betty worked together on fundraising efforts. In the telling of the tale of these early tours, Betty and Jan reminisced of what could be described as “low budget” (tent camping) but great fun adventures. Intrepid is the word that comes to mind. In a moment of serendipity, Linda Ligon and several others from Interweave Press went on the 2006 tour. According to Jan, Nilda had been talking about wanting to do a book. Jan, in recalling the moment, said, “I remember exactly where I was in the hotel lobby when I pulled her (Nilda) over and told her, ‘Talk to Linda because she is the one who can help you publish your book.’” That moment, as Jan recalled, was not just about a book but the beginning of a long collaboration. 

In listening to these tour guides extraordinaire, I began to understand the importance of the ATA tours and the connections they build. As Betty said, “where does the passion come from? It comes from meeting Nilda and being with the weavers. People get committed to the weavers.” As someone who experienced her first ATA tour in 2019, meeting Nilda and the weavers in their high mountain villages, I wholeheartedly agree. As many tour participants can recount, there is a moment where our individual passion for what is possible is ignited. Being within community. Building a connection. Committing to making a difference, however possible. 

My overwhelming sense, as I listened to Jan and Betty tell their stories, hearkened back to that famous Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Jan and Betty formed the nucleus of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. 

And so, Jan and Betty, we thank you. Thank you for your commitment. Thank you for your unwavering passion for the mission. Thank you for your grace and wisdom. Never doubt what a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can do. The world is truly a better place because of you. 

Main photo: (Left to right) Betty, Linda Stark, Linda Ligon, Jan, and Gynnie Mooney trekking in Peru.

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