Text/Photos by Hilary Kilpatric
“I am proud of my artistic abilities. It makes me happy to work here with my brothers, and I love creating things out of wood,” explained Salvador of the artisan group Recycled Roots.
Recycled Roots is a small wood workshop in the western highlands run by three brothers who use tropical wood and coffee root to create a variety of pieces, including puzzles, animal napkin rings, jewelry boxes, coasters and spoons.
The tropical wood comes from sustainable wood farms on the coast of Guatemala; the coffee root comes from various coffee farms around the country
The group is one of the first to work with coffee root. Since coffee farms are abundant in Guatemala, the brothers of Recycled Roots saw a unique opportunity. Coffee plants are productive for eight years and then must be replaced. Generally, the coffee farms burned the roots of the old plants as they replaced them with new plants. However, the brothers of Recycled Roots decided to try using these roots as a new medium for crafts and now have an admirable line of coffee root products.
“It is our way of recycling. Once the plant no longer produces coffee, we can use the wood to create products such as spoons, jewelry boxes and coasters,” Diego said. Each root is unique, so the brothers work with each piece and decide what to carve based on its size and shape.
Diego, the oldest of the trio, runs the workshop. He learned to work with wood by working at various workshops from the time he was 17. When he was 22 he taught his brother Gaspar the trade and they opened their own workshop. A few years later their younger brother Salvador joined them.
Now 36, married and the father of two children, Diego supports his family through the Recycled Roots workshop. Gaspar is 30 and Salvador, 22; both are single.
The Recycled Roots workshop was flooded during hurricane Stan seven years ago. Although this was devastating, the brothers built a new workshop so they could continue their craft. This time their workshop is on the second level “to ensure that it never floods again,” Diego explained.
Diego loves creating designs out of wood and the process of carving them. “The more complicated the design, the more I like it. I love a challenge,” he said.
When asked about his hopes for the future, Diego dreams, “In the future I would like to expand our workshop and have unique designs that no else can do. I also want to help my family to have a better life and be able to send my children to school.”
Gaspar learned to work with wood after he finished middle school and has made a living from the craft ever since. When asked why he enjoys his work, he said, “I am happy with my talent, and I keep learning every day.”
Salvador, the youngest, is a fast learner. He remembers his first piece was a cabinet that did not come out very well. However, through practice he has grown to be a great addition to the team.
“One day I want to be a designer for wooden products. The more I work with the wood, the more ideas I get,” Salvador said.
The wood products made by Recycled Roots can be found in La Antigua Guatemala at Casa de los Gigantes, 7a calle oriente #18, across the street from the San Francisco Church.