La Carpintería Mx
When we speak of trades that are executed on a daily basis in Mexico, it isn’t common to stop to think how old a certain occupation is or how the person learned to do it. One might be surprised to know that before the arrival of the Spaniards, the majority of trades that remain today had already been developed with great skill.
Such is the case of carpentry, one of the trades Brother Bernardino de Sahagún describes in his Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España (General History of things in the New Spain), one of the stories that best rescue mexica philosophy and theology, as well as various aspects of everyday life. In it, Sahagún says of carpenters:
“The carpenter’s trade is to do the following: cut with an ax, split the beams and make them into pieces and saw, cut the branches from the trees and cut any wood with wedges. The good carpenter usually measures and adjusts wood at a certain level, and carves it with the scrub brush to make it go in a straight line, and brush, match up and pave, and fit some boards with others, and place the beams to complement the walls; in the end, to be skilled in his task.”1
During the colony, legislators had a hard time trying to give the workshops a civil body and establish the norms of payment for the different types of apprentices, as well as the kind of contract that the master would establish with the artisan and the latter with the supplier. Given the urgent need to build new houses for the conquistadors, the carpenter’s union was one of the first to receive its bylaws.2
Thus, carpentry has been a practice in Mexican territory for more than five hundred years; therefore one would expect a contemporary carpenter to gather both traditional techniques regarding the treatment of wood and innovative visions regarding design and the use of new technologies.
An example of this is La Carpintería Mx, a workshop led by Ricardo Rodríguez. Son of a carpenter, Ricardo didn’t think of doing the same for a living, despite the fact that he had a natural closeness to it. He studied Industrial Design at the UNAM and for a period of time, he worked in digital media and production. One fine day, he had the need to “dress” his house and did not find any furniture to his liking, either because the material wasn’t good enough, or because he didn’t like the design. That’s when he decided to make his own in his father’s workshop.
He made them with materials and techniques commonly used by the guild, adding to them, the knowledge he acquired in university and the most common forms of production used in the city. As he finished them, he took photos and posted them on a website. Without realizing it, he was beginning to design the image of his future workshop. Little by little, his acquaintances asked him to make furniture for them, and that’s when Ricardo started to spend more of the little free time he had doing carpentry. As he got into the trade, he found a constantly stimulating activity (he’d find out where to get the best wood, how to combine new techniques with the ones he already knew his father used, how to establish the latter in a design project); he left his old job and opened La Carpintería Mx.
Although still young, La Carpintería Mx has established certain goals. On one hand, it knows how important it is to create a bridge between the languages of design and the producers to create collaborative processes instead of subordinating ones; and on the other, it considers reassessing handcrafted processes to improve the quality of the products in a globalized world.
Also, starting from the basis that any object encompasses a code of values wihin its conception, production and distribution, La Carpintería Mx reiterates the following points: the use of quality raw materials, the object’s function and the value of the work. The meeting of these three points is what determines the aesthetic form of the furniture pieces.
The first two main ideas are very hackneyed topics in the design world, which is why we’ll focus on the third value: the work. La Carpintería Mx researches whatever is relative to the processes of just one material with the purpose of acquiring the domain of said job (to exhaust its possibilities of manipulation). The way to achieve this is by training “long term” carpenters, improving the work conditions, sensitizing the clients on the value of the handcrafted pieces and learning from the trade’s historical know how to apply it to contemporary techniques.
As for their future plans, La Carpintería Mx seeks to raise awareness regarding the furniture’s care and functional pieces whose materials are made of good quality and are durable. This goes along with a movement that tries to build an identity based on well crafted handmade products because labor is a powerful resource in Mexico that must not be restricted to the limits of folklore.
Timelapse by Javier Romero & Rafael Coutou