Back in 1991, a young artist found herself working as an archeological illustrator on a dig near Lot’s Cave in an area known as Ghour al Safi, in southern Jordan.
The locals had already established a sort of women’s group, but they lacked formal arts training. When they sought out assistance in marketing some of their handicrafts, she jumped in to help with design and promotion. It was a natural match: the start of a relationship that continues today.
Painter Jean Bradbury initially conducted classes in drawing and painting. She stressed the environmental aspects of every project, with particular emphasis on natural dye-making. Subject matter draws primarily from the extraordinary local setting and the women’s own lives.
Simple cotton fabrics colored with traditional dyes are crafted into wall hangings, handbags and placemats. Others may be painted and embroidered, then pieced into quilts.
Product designs are developed by individual crafters and often show scenes from village life. Resultant income covers production costs and supplements their farming-based subsistence.
A class instructing how to paint self-portraits eventually morphs into a production line, with some assuming designer roles, cutting up the paintings and reassembling the pieces into the oversized and strangely wonderful market bags.
“The results are bold! And we love them,” their website declares, “Each one is unique and from our hearts.”
The vibrantly colored bags are fully lined with hand-dyed cotton, stained with dyes made from pomegranate rinds, tea, rust-hued mud from Petra or yellow mud collected near Wadi Mujib where it flows into the Dead Sea.
The women add iron from the local hospital to darken or “sadden” the natural dyes: it reacts with the tannin in tea and pomegranate to create a variety of warm grays and greens.
Their gorgeously unique bags are sold through their Women’s Society store, at occasional arts and crafts exhibits, and in a new gift shop at The Lowest Museum of Earth.
Looking for a day trip off the beaten path? Take a run south to Safi to tour both the museum and the village, it’s about 90 minutes from central Amman, and less than 30 from the Dead Sea resorts.
An exhibit of the self-portraits is planned for late September at the Mövenpick Resort & Spa Dead Sea. Contact them directly for details at +962 535 61111 or via email [email protected]
Alternatively, contact Green Prophet and we can put you in touch with the Safi women.
All images by Jean Bradbury