Cajetería Ajpop in Guatemala
Jesús Manuel García and the art of the box
Text/Photos by Hilary Kilpatric
“My favorite part of my work is shaping the pinewood into boxes. I love the feeling of starting out with a simple piece of wood and finishing with a finely crafted box,” explains Jesús Manuel García, leader of the artisan group Cajetería Ajpop.
García was born in a small village in the department of Totonicapán and moved to its capital when he married 30 years ago. “Box making is the work of the men in my wife’s family. I married into the family and represent the fourth generation of the family to do this type of work. When we got married her family taught me how to make the boxes and I decided to dedicate myself to improving the craft and making it more attractive and respected as a form of craftsmanship,” García said.
He learned how to make and paint the boxes from his father-in-law through hours of practice. Originally the boxes were used by people to store documents and, during marriage, for the wife to bring her things from her house to her husband’s house.
Today, thanks to García’s innovations, they are used to store everything from medicine to earrings, to desserts, to clothing and more. Now an expert in the craft, he is teaching his children how to carry on the tradition and become the fifth generation in the Aj Pop family to master this craft.
Today García lives in Totonicapán with is wife Pasquela Aj Pop and two children, Gerson, 24, and Sonia, 23. One of the things that he is most proud of is that he is able to support his family, including providing his children the financial means to receive a college education, through his work as a craftsman.
García himself carries out every step of the process of creating these finely crafted boxes. First he goes into the forests of Totonicapán to collect the pinewood. Then he cleans the pieces and finds the best ones to use for his boxes. Next he cuts the wood into very thin pieces using his machete. From these thin pieces he selects the ones that he is able to bend and forms them into boxes. He uses the other pieces to create a line of wooden toys for children. Once he has the box, he envisions a design, paints it, and brings the box to life.
As he looks to the future, García has a dream: “My dream is to be invited to show my work in another country, so that more people can get to know my craft.”
Products made by Jesús Manuel García can be found in La Antigua Guatemala at Casa de los Gigantes, 7a calle oriente #18, across the street from the San Francisco Church.