Every morning before work, Diego Mendoza sips on a cup of hot coffee with his wife and sends his children off to school before he heads up to his workshop to start his day. As he reaches the top of the stairs, he can see millions of wood particles dancing in the air as the warm light of the sunrise fills his modest workshop.
Diego is a woodworker, and in this space he creates sculptures from a variety of local organic wood, such as the roots of a coffee tree. He’s fascinated by his work and feels blessed to have found a craft he finds both admirable and inspiring.
A nearby box is full of scrap papers with sketches and ideas he has drafted and scribbled. “I want to create new designs so I can be different,” he says as he switches gears and starts working with his woodcutter.
Being different as an artist can be challenging in the small town of Santiago, located in the Guatemalan highlands, since selling at the local market is highly competitive. “I want to make original pieces, but many times they are copied by other artisans,” says Diego. “So selling to the local tourists becomes a challenge.”
Despite the local competition, Diego encourages others to be creative. He currently employs his two younger brothers, teaching them the skills they need to succeed as woodworkers.
“I want them to learn from me, but create their own designs so they can one day open their own shops,” he says.
Making creativity pay off
Diego works long days, but enjoys doing so because he knows each piece he sells helps him provide for his family. “It’s tough on my family when my sales are low. My son’s birthday just passed, but we couldn’t afford to celebrate it,” he admits. “My family is why I work every day . . . so they can have a better life.”
Diego hopes to grow his small business so that he can build something his family can be proud of. He’s not sure which of his children will work alongside him one day, but he’s excited for what the future may bring. “My dream is to work hard to give my children a life of dignity,” he says. “I want them to some day be better than I am in every way.”
Creating an inspired community
As time passes, Diego makes sure to cultivate not only his own creativity, but that of other artisans as well. “Creativity is very important to me,” he says. “I would never want to take away someone’s creative inspiration.”
Helping aspiring artisans in his community find their own voices has helped Diego find his. Much like the coffee trees from which this talented woodworker makes his art, creativity must be grown and nurtured — not only within an individual, but within a community as well.