In an exclusive interview for eitb.com in Boise, Maite and Izar explain how Ahizpak was born, how happy they feel to be a part of Boise's Basque community and what their hopes for the future are.
Maite and Izar have been art-loving, art-educated sisters since they were little girls, always encouraged by their family. However, they would have never created Ahizpak had it not been for their move to Boise, capital of Idaho, and home to one of the largest and most active Basque communities outside the Basque Country.
Maite and Izar Iribarren Gorrindo, two American artists of Basque heritage, are the faces behind Ahizpak Designs, a firm that designs and sells jewelry, decor and other arts centered around Basque culture and symbolism.
Founded in 2005, the sisters get the inspiration for their designs and products from traditional Basque themes, but they give them a twist. "We take the idea and make it more contemporary, things that we would wear. You know it is Basque but it is different, a little bit more modern," Maite says.
And although traditional Basque symbols are limited, the sisters continue cultivating their creativity and designing new products and new ways of understanding the Basque culture in a more modern way. "We try to come up with new things every year," Izar adds.
Maite does interior design, pottery and jewelry, and Izar, the younger sister, paints and does graphic design.
Although they grew up surrounded by Basques in their father's Basque restaurant in Nevada, it was not until they moved to Boise, eight years ago, that they really got to experience the Basque culture.
"When we moved to Boise, we jumped into everything. At first, we were very excited about it," Maite says.
For them, Boise was like being reborn as Basques. We have learnt so much in eight years here, Maite recounts. Now, they are frequent players of the pala league in Boise's championship, dance with the Oinkari Basque dancers, are devoted followers of the Basque American folk music band Amuma Says No, and habitually collaborate on events in the Basque Center Euzkaldunak.
Furthermore, some of the logos of the Basque organizations such as the Oinkari Basque dancers or the Cenarrusa Center for Basque Studies have been designed by Izar. "The spirit was there, but Ahizpak would have never been without moving to Boise," Maite says.
With roots in the Navarran towns of Isaba and Donestebe, the sisters have traveled to the Basque Country a few times in the last 5 years, and are planning to come back this April. For them, the Basque Country changes every time they visit.
"The more we know about it, the more we know about the culture, the more we appreciate it. Every time we know more about the language, or the dancing, the food, we have a different outlook," Izar explains.
Both of them feel Basque and American, but they think it is necessary to find a balance between the two. "I think it depends on the situation too, Maite states, when we are here we do feel Basque, but you go there and you feel so gringo."
"I am proud of both," Izar says. "When I am here I am proud to say that I am of Basque heritage. When I am there, the fact that you are so respectful of the culture shows that you are proud of being American, and proud of being Basque," Izar adds.
If they had to choose only one of their designs, Izar chooses a triple symbol sterling silver pendant with three different kinds of lauburus. "It is a long pendant, modern, it represents us but the images are old, probably the oldest symbols that we found, balance between the old and new," Izar says.
For Maite, one of their works of art that best picks up the essence of Ahizpak is one of Izar's first paintings featuring some Oinkari Basque dancers and accordion player, Jimmy Jausoro, a beloved person in Boise that devoted all his life to the Basque community. "It is a part of the history of who we are and why we do what we do," Maite explains.
Maite and Izar have other jobs outside of Ahizpak, and do not make a living out of it, although they would love to. They usually sell their products at Basque festivals, art fairs, or via their website, but they would also like to take their designs to the Basque Country.
"We would love to, but we do not know how," Maite confesses.