Carrying on the craft of wood carving
text & photo by Hilary Kilpatric
“I learned my craft from watching my dad. I think I have it in my blood,” Ramos Rodrigo of Tallando Tradiciones said when asked about how he started his career as an artisan. Out of seven children in his family, he is the only of his brothers and sisters to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a wood carver.
Tallando Tradiciones is an artisan group that was born out of a family tradition. Rodrigo began painting the figures that his father carved at the age of 6, and he learned to carve them himself when he turned 12. Rodrigo’s father learned the same craft as a child from his father, and Rodrigo is proud to carry on the family tradition.
Rodrigo still remembers the first piece that he created. “It was a nativity scene and I still have it. I keep it in order to remember how far I have come as an artisan,” he explained.
The group works with various types of wood found locally, but cedar is Rodrigo’s favorite. Tallando Tradiciones carves traditional nativity scenes of various shapes and sizes. Rodrigo enjoys the fact that he can paint the traditional dress of his people on his figures, helping to keep this tradition alive.
It takes three to four days to make each piece. After finding a good piece of wood, the artisans have to let it dry thoroughly. Then they carve the figure and sand it once. Next they add a sealer and sand it again to ensure that the figure has a smooth surface. Finally they paint it, bringing the figure to life.
“My favorite part of my craft is painting the figures and giving them their unique character,” Rodrigo said. “Carving is the most challenging part for me, but I enjoy the challenge of trying to do it better every time.”
Rodrigo is married (no children yet.) He and his wife have made Tallando Tradiciones a family business and she helps him paint the figures.
Rodrigo dreams of one day starting his own store in his community in the Highlands of Guatemala and making enough money to build a house for his family.
Rodrigo is lucky because he was able to get an education and actually holds a degree as an accountant. However, he prefers to spend his time doing his craft. “I am proud that I am able to do something that is valuable for my community and culture, and I love what I do,” he said.