San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Granada Furniture Artisan Restores, Replicates Past

Francisco Rodríguez is probably the most famous unknown artisan in Granada. For years, his artwork – and that of his father, grandfather and great grandfather – has decorated every antique store in Granada, many of the fancier colonial homes and hotels in the city, and in private mansions as far away as Europe and the United States.

Now, at the age of 37 and struggling to make ends meet, Rodríguez is finally looking for a little recognition for his work. And he should; his handmade antique-replica furniture, made with the same time-consuming colonial techniques passed down from his ancestors, is among the finest found anywhere.

The precision detail carvings and finish to his tables make them almost too nice to eat on, and his ornate, high-backed benches too fancy for sitting. Each piece he makes is the culmination of a century of combined knowledge and technique, plus a passion for his trade not commonly found among craftsman.

It’s not uncommon to find Rodríguez carrying a small photo album with pictures of all the furniture he has made, like a proud father carrying photos of newborn children.

“There is already a piece of me in many homes in town, but the owners don’t know me,” he said. “Perhaps my greatest regret is not having had the ability to buy a personalized stamp for all my furniture, like a painter signing his paintings. My furniture is out there, and I recognize it when I see it, but other people don’t know it’s me.”

Educated and quick with a joke, Rodríguez compares himself to the mysterious author of the legendary Spanish poem El Cid. “We are both anonymous,” he says.

But anonymity has its limitations. Instead of selling his famous furniture in a store with his name over the door, Rodríguez mostly sells directly to the handful of antique dealers who are just as happy to keep their master craftsman’s identity a secret.

Without money to start his own store, or even to advertise his products, Rodríguez has recently taken to dragging some of his furniture on weekends to a dusty street corner near the entrance of Granada, hoping to sell something to passing cars. During a recent Saturday outing, he was only on the sidewalk for a couple of hours before the police came and told him to leave because he was obstructing traffic.

Still, Rodríguez says with a smile, his furniture was widely noticed even during the short amount of time he spent on the side of the road.

“I just sat there reading my book, but cars would drive by and women would say out the car window, ‘wow, how beautiful’,” he said proudly.

Asked if he thinks the female admirers were referring to him or his furniture, he answered with a laugh, “who knows, but I ended up giving out my phone number about a hundred times.”

Passionate Work

Rodríguez estimates that there are five artisan furniture makers in Granada. But he claims he is the only one who maintains the traditional techniques of making the furniture with wooden pegs and the same carpenter’s tools used by his grandfather. He also uses old wood that he recycles out of dilapidated old colonial homes to make his furniture as close to an authentic antique as possible.

“Many people view making furniture as a way to get paid, but I don’t view this as just a job,” he said. “I take great satisfaction in my work. I view it as part of myself.Making furniture is a way of making yourself immortal, because a part of me goes into every piece I make. And who knows how long it will last after I’m gone.”

Rodríguez said he first started out as a mechanic in the military after being drafted into the service in the late 1980s. After the war, he went to work for his uncle making wooden doors, but, he says, “it didn’t fill my appetite.”

Not until several years later did Rodríguez fall in love with furniture making, when a local antique dealer asked him to restore some old pieces for resale.

“The pieces came to me falling apart, and I restored them into beautiful antiques using the old techniques that is required to restore the furniture properly,” he said. “Those old antiques were like books that taught me the trade of furniture making.”

Rodríguez says the traditional craft of furniture making in Granada is the art of replicating.

Dating back a century ago, it was a status symbol among the wealthiest Granadinos to have ornate furniture made in Italy and other countries in Europe. Since not everyone could afford the trip to Europe to furnish their spacious homes, local artisans, like Rodríguez’s grandfather, got commissioned to make replicas from photographs.

That tradition continues today, and Rodríguez prides himself on being able to turn a client’s photograph, sketching or even vague description, into a brilliant piece of furniture that usually ends up exceeding the client’s expectations.

“I make each piece of furniture as if I were making it for myself,” the craftsman says. When it comes to replicating, Rodríguez is hard to match.

To contact Rodríguez, call 865-0366 or 552-5330.

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