The Nahualá Table

The Nahualá Table (photo: César Tián)

The Nahualá Table (photo: César Tián)

Written by Tony Pasinski

While textiles form one part of Guatemalan Style, another major
element is furniture. And there the Nahualá table is probably king.
No home in Guatemala is complete without one.

How it got its name is a mystery since in the town of Nahualá, it’s known as a mesa de cocina. The distinctive features are carved front legs, carved skirt or faldón and a sometimes seemingly endless number of carved-front drawers, some of which are stacked on top of one another. The legs are a combination of a Chippendale ball-and-claw foot and someone’s idea of the legs of the Hapsburg eagle or the legs of a lion. Whatever they are, they are referred to as patas de león.

The carved skirt that supports the drawer guides has two standard elements: the sun and four-petal flowers. The rest of the space is filled with whatever elements from the animal kingdom the artist feels like adding. Drawer patterns are usually just flowers.

In its oldest form the table top has square holes through which pass four square pegs carved into the top of the legs; drawers have dove-tail joints and hand-made wooden nails. In its more recent form, everything is joined with steel nails from the hardware store.

There was a time when either table makers or table owners tried to “out do” one another in decorating the unit. Many pieces are almost covered with shiny brass tacks.

Good Nahualá tables can command a pretty steep price these days. But just remember, if it’s an old one, you can’t export it. Under the law it forms part of the nation’s patrimonio cultural.

This Revue article was first printed in February 1999

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