Finesse Comes Out of the Foundry

June 11, 2004

THE Rodríguez family metal workshopin La Ribera de Belén, northwest of SanJosé, buzzes with all the activity of afoundry. In fact, the welding, soldering, lifting,pounding and clangingcan become quite deafening attimes.But off in a corner, youmight spot Randall Rodríguez,a member of the fourth generationof his family to work here,taking a break from more traditionaltasks to fashion an intricatepiece of metalwork.“We all want to be artists,”said Rodríguez, explainingthat he is simply harkeningback to the ways of blacksmithsof old.“IN my great-grandfather’s time, theyhad a tradition of creating lamps and streetlanterns, or decorative metalwork foroxcarts,” explains Rodríguez, who, at age31, has been working at the foundry in somecapacity for the past 20 years.Rodríguez has mixed that family experiencewith his passion for art – amazingly,formal training as an artisan has not beenpart of the equation – and turned it into thecreation of elaborate, decorative ironwork.A Rodríguez work might be a stylish, bututilitarian, piece of furniture. Or it could be acomplete garden filled with iron plants andanimals that he created for oneCariari resident (the gardenitself is part of the iron sculpturetoo).But if flourishes come outof the foundry, so has somefrustration.RODRÍGUEZ explainsthat worldwide demand,much of it from Japan, hasincreased the price of iron inCosta Rica about 200% sinceDecember.Now, he even stops thecar whenever he sees a pieceof usable scrap iron along theside of the road. A 15-by-15 centimetersheet of metal can be molded and formedinto a small figure of a tree, complete withintricately designed leaves and an elaboratecomplex of roots to serve as a stand.“All you need are source of heat, hammerand metal-cutting scissors,” Rodríguezsaid.THAT miniature tree sits on the dining roomtable in the home of satisfied customerMarguerite Moore.“Randall tailors his work to individualneeds and situation,” enthuses Moore, whohas a houseful of Rodríguez-created works.She and her husband Robert had contactedhim with some furniture-designideas, and the rest, as they say, is history.A piece such as the tree might take lessthan a day to fashion.“When I get creative, I can work prettyrapidly,” Rodríguez said.NEIGHBOR Robert McColl, also aproud owner of several Rodríguez originals,said that the works go way beyond functionality.The ubiquitous security bars found inmost Costa Rican homes are one example.“Even they can be decorative,” McCollsaid, describing the flourishes and curly cues that Rodríguez is apt to add, turningthe mundane bars into grilles. McColl callsit an Andalusian style that echoes the art ofsouthern Spain.Rodríguez’ works are scattered aroundhomes in the Central Valley, and a few haveeven found their way to North America andEurope.PLANNED trips to the United States tomeet colleagues of the Artist Blacksmiths’Association of North America, an organizationof which Rodríguez is an affiliate member,have not yet materialized.“The added contact would be a greatboost,” he said. Rodríguez estimates thatthere are about 4,000 blacksmith-artisans inthe world, but, that he knows of, only fiveare in Costa Rica.Rodríguez said he has received nothingbut support from his family for his chosenalternative career path.“THE most important thing is that I feelpride in my work,” he said.“I’m a father who feels pride in my children,”Rodríguez adds. “And I know I’mgetting that from my family too.”For more info, contact RandallRodríguez at 443-2746.

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