Concepción Poou Coy Tharin
2023 Heritage Award Winner
Concepción Poou Coy Tharin is a master weaver in the traditional indigenous Guatemalan style known as pikb’l. Ms. Tharin grew up in Samac Cobán, a village in the Alta Verapaz region, in the central highlands of Guatemala, speaking only the indigenous Q’eqchi’ language. The youngest of eleven children, her mother taught her to weave when she was eight years old. She soon became an accomplished pikb’l waever. a white-on-white weaving genre on a backstrap loom. This specific loom is made of sticks, ropes, and a strap which attaches to the weaver’s waist. The weaver can take their loom anywhere, starting and stopping projects on demand. Backstrap looms also allow the weaver to add textured designs into the fabric as its woven, as in the case of the pikb’l style that Concepción practices. At time, pikb’l designs can be so intricate and delicate that it takes a month to weave one blouse. In her youth, Concepción made and sold textiles on her backstrap loom in order to raise enough money to go to a school in a nearby town. She is a co-founder and inaugural president of the Ixbalamake Cooperative, a women’s weaving co-op in her village. In 2004, she sold a garment to a Peace Corps volunteer, Jonathan Tharin. They fell in love and were married in 2006 and then he and Concepción moved to Florida.
Now living in Tarpon Springs, Florida, she demonstrates and teaches classes in this traditional Mayan technique. She has demonstrated, lectured, exhibited, or had residencies at numerous institutions across Florida and the United States, including the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, New College of Florida, Polk State College, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, the James Museum in St. Petersburg, the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library at the University of South Florida, and the Weedon Island Cultural and Natural History Center. In 2013, she was awarded the Emerging Artist scholarship by the Florida CraftArt Festival in St. Petersburg. In 2021, she was the subject of a story in UK based textiles magazine Selvedge. She has been teaching faculty at the Dunedin Fine Arts Center in Dunedin, Florida since 2015, where she teaches pikb’l and backstrap weaving classes. Pikb’l is a highly intricate and technical art form, and Mrs. Tharin is one of the few remaining practitioners in the artform but is also considered one of the great weavers in this tradition, both in Florida and the world. Her dedication to mastering, teaching, and continuing is unparalleled.