Woodworking maestro of Panama sizes some things a little differently

David Dell

By David Dell

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Chance is a wonderful thing; it led to meeting the woodworking maestro of Panama.

Today, after a fruitless search for a framing shop in Concepcion, a small but bustling community between Volcan and David, my wife, Lydia, and I were returning home. Just three kilometers short of Volcan, we passed the Arte Cruz woodworking shop.

I have passed this place possibly a hundred times before but never thought to stop and go in. “Perhaps he does picture framing,” my wife suggested. Sure enough, the affable Arte did just that, and for the very reasonable price of $20 promised to frame our five French, Parisian prints.

Born in Boquete

The 58-year-old Panamanian, who was born in the neighbouring town of Boquete, is a master of wood, certainly, but also a master of paint, glass, marble sculpture, you name it.

I couldn’t help asking why he had left his birthplace of Boquete for the tranquility of Volcan. “Does it really rain more in Boquete?” “Yes,” he replied, “it does.”

Arte Cruz started his training in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and then spent four years learning the ancient skills of sculpting marble in the Italian town of Carrara.

Making door takes 15 days

He invited me into his workshop where his newest protégé, Rodrigo, was working on a large and intricate carving of a door. Rodrigo is a former Colombian taxidermist (there’s a story there I am sure). He told me the finished door would cost about $800. My audible gulp immediately brought the rejoinder that the price was reasonable because work on the door would take about 15 days to complete.

Next to Rodrigo was one of Arte Cruz’s works in progress. A life size nude bust of a considerably well-endowed woman. Pamela Anderson should be so lucky. But I did notice that said lady’s left breast was a definite 44 double D (don’t ask how I know about such matters) and the right breast wasn’t.

I rather timidly pointed out the discrepancy in the mammary measurement to Arte and he walked over and, as he lovingly massaged the larger of the two appendages, he pointed out that in real life, breasts are not always exactly the same.

Artistic license

On returning to his main workshop, this point was borne out in the design of a figurine-come-side-table. This statue was based on the melding of two pregnant women with well-rounded rears, large abdomens and three differing sized breasts.

Arte Cruz is a man who clearly loves his work. His aging father joined Arte today. The pride that the elder Cruz had for his multi-talented son was obvious.

Arte showed me how easily and quickly wooden sculpting could be done. He polished up a piece of wood and within minutes had carved out the URL for YourPanama.com. I tried to photograph this but the amazingly speedy Arte was just a blur.

We discussed one of his other talents, the sculpting of marble. After four years’ training in the best school in Italy, the only thing Arte lacks is the highly expensive raw material. He did however give me another gift for my wife. He plugged in a Dremel drill and beautifully etched into a drinking glass my wife’s name “Lydia.” The finished glass earned me many Brownie points.

The talent in the Art Cruz gallery extends even to his close family. He has taught his daughter in law, Diana Rosa Morales, to paint. Diana’s work is reminiscent of the bright coloured marine life paintings so popular in Hawaii.

Arte Cruz is like so many Panamanians I have met. They have more than a love of life; they have a zest for it. Arte shows it in every chisel cut he makes on wood and with every loving stroke of his paintbrush.

You can visit Arte Cruz’s gallery on the web if you click here

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