Joan Winter preserves her Indigenous roots through craft business

Joan Winter displaying her Indigenous craft items during an event at the Umana Yana earlier in 2022 (Photo credit/Kapohn)

By Alva Solomon

It is a business that she had always wanted to create, and after many years of promoting her Indigenous roots and making many sacrifices, Joan Winter has prevailed against the odds and has managed to open her own craft shop at St Ignatius Village, on the outskirts of Lethem in the Rupununi.

The business, which also has its own Facebook page, has a variety of Indigenous craft, including earrings, fans, necklaces, hand-woven bags, slippers, and other craft items used in preparing foods, such as baskets, matapees and bowls. Winter has also expanded her line to include leather craft, to augment the business.

This mother of six hails from Aishalton, a remote village in the Deep South Rupununi, but moved to Lethem in search of better job opportunities; and while she managed to find herself a job, she also decided to continue making craft items utilising a skill she developed while growing up in Aishalton.

Several craft items which are available at Joan Winter’s craft shop

Winter’s move to the more populated border community was with a mission, her daughter Sherry noted, and according to the young lady, her mother’s aim was to one day open her own shop.

According to Winter, she would spend many nights honing her skills by creating various items, mainly her earrings, which require a load of patience. During the daytime, she would complete her motherly tasks and, at the same time, oversee her shop, which has grown in recent months. Officially, her business has been in existence for some 3 to 5 years, but Winter has been making and selling her craft for years.

Her shop attracts customers from as far as Georgetown, and they buy her craft items in bulk for resale. Some persons would place orders before travelling to the area to uplift same. On other occasions, Winter would ship the items to the city via bus or aircraft, and it was noted that many tourists have been courting her craft shop.

While the shop attracts customers throughout the year, Winter’s business usually sees more customers when the Rupununi is hosting major events, such as the annual Rodeo held at Lethem.

Businesswoman Joan Winter at her craft shop at St Ignatius village in the Rupununi

During the month of September, which is designated Indigenous Heritage Month, the business would also see a spike in sales.

When asked how she learned to make the craft items, Winter noted that she learned from her forefathers the basic skills in making the craft items. But while she managed to grasp those basic skills, she discovered YouTube videos in which the creators provided valuable advice on how to further develop one’s craft-making skills.

As regards her early days in Aishalton, Winter spent most of her time on the family’s farm, and during those days, she lost her husband, who died when a mining pit caved in on him at the Marudi Mountains mining site in the Deep South Rupununi. At the time she was a mother of four, and she decided to permanently move to Lethem in search of greener pastures. She continued making her craft items while she raised her children.

Joan Winter’s craft shop at St Ignatius Village, outside Lethem

Winter is continuing to expand her business, and things have been on the brighter side this year. One of her better moments occurred in February, when she was invited to showcase her items at the Energy Expo Exhibition at the Umana Yana in the city.

As regards her future, Winter noted that she would continue to explore her Wapichan roots through craft, and at the same time preserve her culture using her handcrafting skills.