I first came to know a wood sculpture artist, Cristóbal Marroquín, shortly after opening Galería Namu in 1998. He looked like a typical struggling artist but he spoke like a scholar. His origins are from Guatemala and to anyone who knows the sad history of that war torn, beleaguered country, you will understand that those who could get out – due to political persecution – did. This applied especially to the intelligentsia as they were too vocal and too informed to live safely in a country where any opinion apart from the party line was crushed – and that often included the person whose opinion was being expressed.
One of the early stories Cristóbal confided in me was about his name. He believes his life is a self-fulfilling prophecy of his name: Cristóbal is the Spanish name of a tropical hardwood belonging to the rosewood family and now almost extinct, and marroquín is an artisan who works in leather. Earlier, Cristóbal had worked in both wood and leather, but his enduring love today is that of working in recycled/reclaimed wood.
There was a time early on where Cristóbal would create unique works of art from fine hardwoods, but for a decade or so now, the Marroquín family can no longer be, even tangentially, connected to sculpturing the wood of trees so over-farmed and exploited. The family has now embarked on a whole new ethos in their quest to earn a living from their great knowledge, talent and love for working wood. Instead, they opted to go around the countryside looking for old fence posts; In Costa Rica plenty of farmers would use hardwoods to make fences as their durability in a wet, tropical climate was greatly appreciated. Another great source for discarded wood is the supporting columns used in the ubiquitous sugar cane mills (trapiches) here in Costa Rica, as well as other abandoned architectural wooden beams and columns and the wood stumps that remain after a tree has been felled.
I must make mention here of the fact that Don Cristóbal’s entire family, his wife and two sons, are integrated into the production of beautiful sculptured wood pieces. Whereas he himself is a carver and true wood sculptor, his workshop now is no longer about shaping his material into birds, beasts or busts, but rather it is dedicated to allowing the pieces of wood to dictate the final outcome of the form of the final piece. Because the wood is wrought by hand, as opposed to being machine-turned – by which method the majority of wood pieces in Costa Rica are made – it is more organic as it relates to the artisan, and produces a piece whose eventual shape is entirely dictated by the wood itself.
Furthermore, a machined piece of wood creates much more waste, while the work of the Marroquín family comprises the collection of the scraps from the hand carving process for use in other smaller objects. Thus, you will find in Galeria Namu small little ‘bowls’ alongside large, majestic vessels. Some of the Marroquín family’s bowls have crazy fluted edges and holes in various parts where knots have been. Although this does not necessarily make them ‘practical’ for use, it results in their having a shape filled with rhythm and beauty, making them truly an art piece formed by the hand of nature. Other works are in fact totally useable for salad or fruit bowls or simply as elegant centerpieces.
Two things need to be stated: one is that the wood used by the Marroquín family has generally been cut at least over 70 years ago, and secondly the method for enhancing the beauty of the wood is to bring the piece to a warm luster by rubbing with a non-toxic citrus oil.
The lure and seduction of tropical hardwoods unfortunately still continues illegally despite regulations. Therefore I consider it our great good fortune to be able to offer the magic of such woods without any guilt. Click here to view the lovely examples of Marroquín carved wood sculptures. Help us to continue to support, with your purchase, the great service to us all performed by this dedicated family. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share with any of the social buttons below.