Handcrafted items on exhibit in Ruth Davis Design Gallery, UW-Madison School of Human Ecology, Center for Design and Material Culture, 1300 Linden Drive, were created by traditional artisans in Ecuador, Kenya, Mexico and India. The exhibit, “Wisconsin Without Borders: A Global Initiative,” highlights the products that are made as part of the 4W Initiative — Women & Wellbeing in Wisconsin & the World.

“In 2014, a group of UW-Madison scholars, students, campus leaders, and philanthropists came together to discuss the inequities facing women both regionally and on a global scale. They discussed the negative influences of poverty, violence, racial injustice, educational barriers, and inadequate access to family planning and health care across the life span,” according to a press release about the exhibit.

“The discussion culminated in recognizing the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles as a critical issue that compromises the ability of social institutions to make positive change and fully serve the greater community. The 4W Initiative was born to find the answers.”

Led by the School of Human Ecology (SoHE), the Global Health Institute and the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, many UW-Madison disciplines are involved in the campus-wide effort to address these complex issues. Those issues include increasing access to health care, working to end human trafficking, supporting micro-enterprise efforts, working to empower women farmers, fostering equality in relationship and financial skills and more.

Economic empowerment is the focus of SoHE in their Wellbeing through Design and Microenterprise Project. A collaboration of artisans from underdeveloped communities in La Calera, Ecuador; Lunga Lunga, Kenya; Jalisco, Mexico; Oaxaca, Mexico; and Gujarat, India, and UW-Madison students lead to benefits for both. The artisans gain a global marketplace and receive fair prices for their products which provides them with much needed resources for their families and communities. The students strengthen their expertise and gain a global perspective of their chosen careers.

A non-profit student organization, Wisconsin Without Borders Marketplace, organizes the sales of the artisan’s artwork through a permanent retail outlet at Robin’s Nest Badger Market on the second floor of SoHE’s Nancy Nicholas Hall, 1300 Linden Drive, and with product sales on campus and in local venues.

Tatted lace items are made by artisans in Presa de Barajas in Jalisco, Mexico. A team of faculty members conducted workshops to assist the lace-makers apply their traditional tatted lace techniques to creating a range of decorative accessories.

Brightly patterned baskets and totes are among the handicrafts from artisans in Kenya. The baskets are crocheted and the totes are woven.

Products from India are from master artisans who have deep knowledge and understanding of the complexities of weaving, dyeing, textile printing, and embroidery. UW-Madison students collaborate with the master artisans via smartphones and WhatsApp to provide fresh ideas and interpretations to traditional techniques, colorways and motifs.

“The UW-Madison design team has diligently worked to develop cohesive color palettes and material selections allowing the products from one culture to easily complement and coordinate with those made by other microenterprise artisans on a global scale,” the press release said.

— Robyn Norton


Robyn Norton is a features assistant for the Wisconsin State Journal.