When we visited Colombia last month we stayed at a friend’s finca (country home) in a small town called Tinjacá. It is a three-hour car ride from the capital, Bogotá. There we entered a small shop owned by the man you see in the photo. It has been in his family since 1912 and he’s the third generation that works carving tagua.
He led us into his studio and here's a bit of what he taught us - It takes a tagua palm about seven years to produce it's first fruit or pod (slightly bigger than a basketball).
Inside the fruit there are about 25-30 bark-like covered nuts. They are dried out for two years before they are ready to be carved.
The shop owner was kind enough to crack a nut open and show us how he works. The first thing he did was to peel and polish the nut. In a matter of minutes we could see what he was making.
He left part of the bark on one small area as a decorative element and he was kind enough to give to me for free as a souvenir. He wouldn't accept any money. Melt.
The talent and patience of the people that work with tagua is boundless. Look at these little cups and saucers. The key to the right of the picture will give you an idea of the size of these miniatures. Amazing! He also showed us nativity sets, chess sets, bracelets, earrings, and many tiny figurines.
A big point that the shop owner made with us is that nothing goes to waste. If you'll notice in the first two photos there is a lot of material left over as the carving is being done. Guess what they use if for? To make paper! They also use the dark-colored bark to create mosaics that I'm sorry to say I didn't photograph.
As if this wasn't enough, he also showed us a small showroom of recyclable products he sells. There were baskets weaved out of newsprint, handbags crocheted out of shopping bags, a few things made with cardboard rolls and paper lamps.
I would've loved to have a camcorder with me on the day that I visited this shop. He was such a nice man and although it's obvious he's told his story thousands of times he didn't sound rehearsed. He seems very proud of what he does.
I'd love to host a show like Dirty Jobs except I'd be interviewing artisans such as this man and learn about handmade artifacts made throughout the world. Stories like these need to be out there. It would also be nice to ask tons of questions without appearing nosy!
BIG apologies for the poor quality of all the photos except the last two - this was the day my camera died and I had to use my iPhone. So sad.
An interesting article about tagua here.