STUART — Thread-by-thread, Antonieta Roblero sewed together pieces of fabric to form the figure of a doll.
“It’s a handmade product, in which we invest a lot of time. You make it with love and care,” Roblero said in Spanish. “It doesn’t come from a factory.”
The doll Roblero worked on is one of several projects she and almost a dozen other women have crafted together as part of the Arte Para Mujeres program at House of Hope’s Golden Gate Center in Stuart.
House of Hope, a Martin County nonprofit, started the program for Spanish-speaking women to learn and create art together.
Women take the class at no cost and learn from a teacher in-person, and one who connects remotely from Colombia.
Fe Vall de Ruten, the program coordinator said she wanted to create an accessible program in Spanish for women to learn.
“The difficulty for us, always has been the language,” Vall de Ruten said. “They could want to learn things, but who’s going to teach them? And they don’t feel comfortable because they have this barrier.”
While she took it upon herself to guide the women in class, she reached out to an instructor in Colombia, Luz María Robledo, to teach the women sculpting, sewing and poetry over Zoom.
On top of teaching technique and skills in Spanish, Vall De Ruten also aims to help women in the class learn to express themselves through art.
The women are immigrants from Guatemala and Puerto Rico.
“It gives them more confidence and spirit in their experiences and makes them feel valued as people,” Vall De Ruten said in Spanish.
The women learn how to create art such as dolls, masks and paintings.
Learning these skills shows the students they are capable of more than they think.
Doris Gonzalez, 66, of Port Salerno, worked on a doll during the class and said sewing all the limbs together required lots of time and skill.
Gonzalez, who’s from Puerto Rico, said she never thought she would’ve been able to do these types of projects before taking the class.
“The experience has been enriching and I’ve learned things I never thought I could do,” Gonzalez said. “This is a way to motivate people, women to gain the skills they don’t know they have.”
Women in the class said being together gives them a space to share their ideas and find support with each other.
“Sometimes we don’t know our art,” Roblero said. “But if we don’t practice it, we’ll never know what we can do.”
Roblero, 48, of the Golden Gate neighborhood in Stuart, said she discovered the program because of a friend and was curious to see what she could learn.
She said the two hours she carves from chores and work at home are invaluable because she communicates with women like herself in the pursuit of art.
“You have so much to do at home, but when you have a little bit of time to be here with other women you know, you have fun, you talk, you relax, you converse,” Roblero said. “It’s very interesting and beautiful because at home you dedicate yourself to cleaning after all your kids, but here you come to take your mind off things and be with friends.”
Yolinda Samayoa, 42, of Golden Gate, said the classes help her form a routine to practice the lessons being taught in the program.
“You’re drawn to the class,” Samayoa said in Spanish. “It’s something we enjoy and you continue coming to not lose the habit and to make other things that attract you.”
The class can be a bridge between generations, Vall de Ruten said.
The teacher lamented that many of the women taking the class often have trouble sharing stories about their culture and experiences with their children and grandchildren.
“They can’t communicate with teachers and they can’t communicate with kids because (children) learn English really fast and don’t want to speak Spanish,” Vall de Ruten said. “They want to help their kids do homework, but they don’t know how because they don’t speak the language.”
These barriers make women who have immigrated to the United States feel left behind, said Vall de Ruten, and stops them from sharing stories about their culture and past.
“They don’t read to kids in Spanish. Grandma doesn’t tell stories in Spanish,” Vall de Ruten said in Spanish. “They lose those things and that’s very important for a person to feel important, that their child values their culture.”
That’s why women in the class also practiced writing and sharing some of their favorite recipes from their countries.
And women can share the stories of their past in many ways.
Roblero said the art brings back memories of where she grew up in Guatemala.
For one of her projects, she painted Tajumulco and Tacana, two volcanoes on the Guatemalan-Mexican border towering over her hometown.
The art reminds her of what she learned in school in Guatemala, she said, but she never had the resources to accomplish the projects.
“I remember when I was in my country Guatemala, when you studied in elementary school the teachers showed a lot of handcrafted things,” Roblero said.
But people lose what once was after immigrating, she said.
“Over there, there’s a lot of arts and craft makers,” Roblero said. “And when we’re here we don’t practice it.”
Though she remembers creating art as a child in school, it was never to the level she learned at the Golden Gate center.
“I feel content and very proud that we all have art, we all have talent. We’d never know how to develop it without someone showing us the way,” Roblero said.
After weeks of intense work, the women showcased their art at an Art For All exhibit Dec. 15 for their families and friends.
The spectators gazed at the dolls suspended in the air and paintings hung on the walls.
The women showcased masks and cats they created as well. And alongside the art were the recipes the women wrote down.
“It was amazing, I didn’t realize the amount of art pieces that they have,” Vall de Ruten said. “Every time they finished something I just put it somewhere trying to find more space … I was impressed.”
Mauricio La Plante is a breaking news reporter for TCPalm focusing on Martin County. Follow him on Twitter @mslaplantenews or email him at [email protected]