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The History

50 YEARS, 5 GENERATIONS

Casa de Artes started as convenience store ("tiendita") next to the only Gas Station in Panajachel adjacent to Hotel Tzanjuyu in the idyllic Lake Atitlán. The owner, Mrs. Eva Hannstein de Smith, a Guatemalan native of German descend, was born in a Coffee Plantation in the state of San Marcos in 1910. Many locals stopped by to get refreshments and as a payment method, she not only accepted money, but traded folk art, stones, ceramics and pre Columbian Jade.

 

Eva Hannstein

Eva Hannstein in a painting by famous artist
Humberto Garavito in Panajachel, 1947

Soon she found herself with a lot of Folk Art which she loved and decided to decorate the "tiendita" with those artifacts. Panajachel was visited by many tourist and they stopped at the Gas Station and of course, visited Eva's miscellaneous shop. People were always interested in the beautiful and rare Ethnographic goods that she offered and so she started selling the pieces and established herself as the Art Dealer in Guatemala. John Smith, a Texas native who ran cattle from the States as far as Nicaragua, visited the area during one of his many journeys and met beautiful Eva and her two children, Gwendolyn and Hans. He also noticed during this trip that there was something missing in the beautiful lake; there were no boats! So he went back to the States and managed to bring a convoy of boats to serve at the lake where he established his business.

 

Eva Hannstein

John Smith & Eva Hannstein de Smith, at Casa de Artes,
Antigua Guatemala, 1972.

Even today you can still see, many of those boats cruising from Santiago to Panajachel. Eva and John married in the spring of 1964. John and Eva decided to move to Antigua that year after being offered the Hotel Antigua project and established themselves at the Headquarters of a Coffee Finca at the end of the 4th Avenue South. John was in charge of supervising the building of the Hotel and subsequently managing it; but Eva found herself without much activity. She missed the contact with her costumers and of course, her runners.

So she decided to open the first shop in Antigua; she could not have found a better name that described the place that held so many wonderful objects, CASA DE ARTES. Soon tourist and collectors that visited beautiful Antigua made a mandatory stop at the museum-like store.

Eva's daughter, Gwendolyn was born in Berlin in 1935, and after surviving the horrors of WWII, she first came to Guatemala as a teenager. Her work as a social worker made her travel across the country to help and study the different Indigenous Communities. She became very intrigued by the designs and colors of their dress and the ceremonies that were performed by the CofradÝas.

Eva Hannstein

Gwendolyn Ritz & Eva Hannstein de Smith, showing a mask to
a customer at Casa de Artes, Antigua Guatemala, 1979.


Her interest and respect for these traditions helped her befriend many of the most important leaders of the various Indigenous Villages. Gwendolyn was highly respected to the point that she was invited in many occasions to ceremonies where normally, women were banned. She took upon herself to tell the world about the marvelous way of life of Guatemala's Maya People.

Gwen saw in Casa de Artes the perfect place to show and tell about their traditions. Since the mid 1970Æs, mother and daughter, Eva and Gwendolyn, managed the shop.

In the 1970's & 1980's, many American Universities and Professors came to learn more about the Maya Communities and found in Gwendolyn the best guide to the country. Gwen was the key that allowed opening the secret of the Maya Traditions to the Western World. Textile symbols and techniques, the meanings of their Ceremonies, Beliefs and Traditions are the subject of many publications in which she is mentioned as a collaborator.

Eva Hannstein

Gwendolyn Ritz helping a customer during the 1970's.

Eva Hannstein

Lady admiring textiles. 1980's.

 

By the 1990's Eva had retired herself from the business and left Casa de Artes' management in the hands of Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn needed assistance running the shop and she found in her daughter Desiree and Blanca Bethancourt, the helping hand that she was looking for. Blanca, an Antigua native became soon after her right hand. She is a seamstress by profession and became the ôexpert eyeö for textiles that Gwen bought for the shop. She has now worked more than18 years at the shop and runs the quality control for all the pieces that come to Casa de Artes.

Gwen traveled to the US and Europe to promote the traditional weavings and asked her daughter, Desiree and granddaughter, Karla to look after the shop when she was not around. Both developed a taste for the antiquities and learned from Gwen the ways of the Maya Traditions. Unfortunately for us at Casa de Artes and her friends, Gwendolyn passed away in 1996 leaving great sadness and emptiness in the Cultural Community. Eva passed away in 2007 after a long and adventurous life.

Eva Hannstein

Gwen and Desiree in a Textile talk, 1990.

Eva Hannstein

Karla at the shop, 1992.

Eva Hannstein

Blanca sewing, 2006.

 

By the 1990's Eva had retired herself from the business and left Casa de Artes' management in the hands of Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn needed assistance running the shop and she found in her daughter Desiree and Blanca Bethancourt, the helping hand that she was looking for. Blanca, an Antigua native became soon after her right hand. She is a seamstress by profession and became the ôexpert eyeö for textiles that Gwen bought for the shop. She has now worked more than18 years at the shop and runs the quality control for all the pieces that come to Casa de Artes.

Eva Hannstein

Lorena and Patricia, 2006.

Eva Hannstein

Lucia, 2008.

Eva Hannstein

Karla, 2008.

 

Gwen traveled to the US and Europe to promote the traditional weavings and asked her daughter, Desiree and granddaughter, Karla to look after the shop when she was not around. Both developed a taste for the antiquities and learned from Gwen the ways of the Maya Traditions. Unfortunately for us at Casa de Artes and her friends, Gwendolyn passed away in 1996 leaving great sadness and emptiness in the Cultural Community. Eva passed away in 2007 after a long and adventurous life.

Karla and Desiree took over Casa de Artes and with the help from the staff, Blanca, Lorena, Patricia and Lucia continued with the heritage of Eva and Gwen.

 

Eva Hannstein

Karla and Barbara, 2009.


Nowadays, Karla runs the business and has in her newborn daughter Barbara, the key to Casa de Artes' future; the fifth generation of women caring for Guatemala's Cultural Heritage and traditions.

 

Casa de Artes wishes to thank all the interesting people that have come to us and still visits the shop whenever they come back to Antigua. We have made lots of friends from all over the world by sharing the interest of the Maya Culture.

 

CASA DE ARTES as of November 2014:

 


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