For four decades, the embroiderers of Ninhue, Chile, have been stitching scenes of rural life in the “place of stones”—their village in the foothills of the Coastal Range between Santiago and Concepción. Their work stands today among the most evocative of Chilean arts, as evocative as the story of how they came together at a crucial moment in Chile's history.
Amid the political upheaval of 1971, stitchery expert Carmen Benavente returned to her native Santiago to find much of her family’s farmland expropriated and resentment fomenting against former landowners. “Death to Benavente” she saw painted on one wall as she drove through the streets.
Despite her family’s anxieties, Benavente was determined to bridge alienation, to reach out to the families she’d grown up among. Going door to door on foot, she offered to teach the women of Ninhue wool embroidery, a nontraditional art. What followed is the story of a remarkable group of women empowered creatively and economically by their new undertaking. As artisans and entrepreneurs who found eager markets for their original works in such imaginative patterns and textures as those showcased here, they continue to stitch a success story all their own.
In Benavente’s poignant telling, the embroiderers of Ninhue map a social, economic, and artistic journey inspiring to artisans, aficionados, curators, historians, and economists. Despite dramatic swings of the political pendulum, what these women built together succeeded in giving them a sphere of standing too little explored.