Teen Supports Indigenous Communities, One Painting at a Time

What high-school senior Charlie Gavin remembers most about visiting Guatemala are the colors–deep greens against the blue of the sky, vibrant orange juxtaposed with yellows and pinks.

That richness is part of what he says he wants to communicate with his painting, titled “Markets,” where the sky burns a sunset orange against a backdrop of tall greenery, woven baskets filled with merchandise in the foreground. “I feel like that’s one of the paintings that I’ve done that really reflects how vibrant and unique a lot of these places are,” he says in a conversation over Zoom. 

Charlie’s desire to paint scenes from Latin America is personal. Adopted from Guatemala and raised in the U.S., he says that making art inspired by artists like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Maya artist Mario Gonzalez, has been a way for him to build a stronger connection to his birth country. Visits to Guatemala and a year living in Costa Rica in primary school exposed him to Central American cultures, styles, and landscapes, which inform and inspire his work. “I started to use those styles to remember where I had been and what I had seen…the source was a lot of self-reflection. It’s a way to connect, almost, to Latin America, because I was born in Guatemala.” 

A close-up of another of Charlie's intricate work on his self-built backstrap loom. Untitled.

But Charlie’s artistic interests and distinctive style extend beyond painting–he is an accomplished sculptor, bringing Mayan and Latin American influences into his work, and more recently, has branched into textiles. Last summer he built his own backstrap loom–”it was actually really easy to make,” he says–and has created several different pieces using colors and designs from the region where he was born. “People in Guatemala have been doing [backstrap weaving] for thousands of years, and it’s something that is intrinsically Mayan and Guatemalan. It was something I wanted to put a lot of effort and time into.” And it shows: his woven “Lion and Horse Runner” is intricate and exacting, colors carefully chosen and woven faithfully into a detailed design emblematic of traditional Mayan textiles. 

The fundraiser Charlie organized for Mil Milagros in March became a platform to share his art, especially his paintings. He told us that he wanted a way to pay homage to the Central American styles and colors in his work, and fundraising for Mil Milagros was a way for him to give back. But for Charlie, giving back isn’t just about raising money–it’s also about giving Indigenous peoples and cultures the attention and recognition they deserve. 

Was fundraising for Mil Milagros also a way to ensure that people from different cultural backgrounds are represented, as much as giving back? “Definitely,” says Charlie. He told us about visiting the Art of the Americas section at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and expecting to see Latin American art and artists. Instead, what he found was Paul Revere and a robust Early American art collection. “The representation is not really there,” he told us. “And also I feel like Guatemala, even within Latin American art, is not as well represented as others…because Guatemala has such a high Indigenous population. Indigenous arts are not as well respected.” 

What would he like to see in the MFA? “I would like to see more contemporary works,” Charlie says. “There is so much [Indigenous artists] have been able to do, but there are so few places they can share.” Charlie’s vision is certainly one that the wider Milagros community shares and works to advocate for–one where Indigenous Guatemalan cultures and communities can live with dignity, and enjoy an important space on the world stage. 

Currently a high school senior, Charlie continues to refine his technique and explore different mediums. He told us he’s been experimenting in self-portraits, and that he hopes to combine art with his interest in international relations at the college level. You can view more of Charlie’s artwork here. We could not be more excited to see what he does next! 

Interested in supporting Indigenous artisans? Keep an eye out for announcements about our holiday handicraft sales. Want to set up your own fundraiser for Mil Milagros this holiday season? Visit our “Fundraise” page for resources and instructions, or make a contribution to our #believeinher campaign to support Indigenous communities, and help our leaders reach a whole new region in rural Sololá with life-changing Early Childhood Development, Health, and Education programs in 2024.