The ancient town of Ahwiaa in Ghana is a community of people who have worked with clay and wood for ages. The ‘Chief Carver’ was born and bred here. He learned to carve at the feet of his father and worked with him till he was discovered by one of Ghana’s renowned artists, Professor Ablade Glover.
Nana Frimpong Boadu is his real name but everybody in the ancient village knows him as ‘Chief Carver.’ He is the Head of the Carvers of the Asantehe, the King of the Asantes. It was not difficult tracing him to his crafts shop which also doubles as his workshop.
Sitting close to his brother on a stool, obviously his own handiwork, Nana Frimpong answered our questions without hesitation.
“I worked with Dr. Glover for years after leaving my father at the Cultural Center.“ He told us in answer to a question. “He was the one who helped me polish my skills. I was rather sad when the time came for me to leave his home at the University. Well, looking back, it was also a moment of pride because that was the true beginning of my career as a carver. ‘BH 4 Asafo’ was where I set up and was my address for a number of years,” he concluded with pride.
When I attempted to ask a question, he quickly added; “Incidentally it was at ‘BH4’ that I first came into contact with a lady who changed the course of my life.”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Well, call her ‘Novica,’ because she’s the one who brought NOVICA into my career.”
“Nana you sound pretty enamored of NOVICA…” He didn’t wait for me to finish. “Working with NOVICA has been a wonderful experience. Almost all my life’s wishes have been fulfilled: Education for my children, a place to put my old bones, a bit of property to leave behind for my children and grandchildren, I could go on.”
“ Nana, please go on,” I urged him.
“NOVICA transported me into modernity. First they bought from me in Kumasi, then I started bringing them products to stock at their Osu shop. The next step was when they went ‘hi-tech,’ selling on the internet. I was there when the transition occurred!”
“That’s a remarkable account” I put in.
He continued. “Look NOVICA has also put my name on the map. I’m now known all over the world. My artistry has been featured on BBC’s The World program, as well as in periodicals including Business Week, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Washington Post.”
“Remarkable,” I said.
He came in quickly, “Yes, am very enamored of NOVICA and there’s also the icing on the cake if you care to know. “
“We do,” I said expectantly.
Nana started, “At some point in our relationship, I mean NOVICA and I, I received a letter inviting me to go to the Czech Republic. When I got to Accra I was told I had been selected to attend a festival to demonstrate to a group of delegates how art pieces are carved from chunks of wood. Apparently, there was a controversy. Many thought things like our traditional stool were wood pieces joined together.”
Was Chief Carver not offended that he was being asked to prove his abilities? I asked. “No, I felt rather like going out there to educate ignorant people. I was happy.”
What was the trip to the Czech Republic like? “It was a beautiful experience. The flight was quite enjoyable and a pleasant welcome awaited me. I was met at the airport by a tourist guide. We drove for about two hours to get to my hotel, making about five stops for refreshments!” he paused. “When we got to the hotel, Ms. Armenia was at the reception to receive me. “How did it feel”? I interrupted. I was elated. I felt like Royalty.
”The following day, I was taken to face a crowd of about five hundred people! In front of a stool, they already had a piece of wood. It turned out to be one of the hardest types of wood I’d ever encountered.”
“Were you discouraged?”
“No, I felt challenged, I was determined to accomplish the mission, although I knew my tools were not up to the task.”
“Were you told you would be provided with wood?” Well, I was asked to take only my tools so I assumed there was wood but not that hardwood.”
“What happened? Did you complain about the wood? Did you think of giving up?“
“I guess, those thoughts must have flashed through my mind, but I knew the stakes were very high. Armenia’s reputation was on the line. She had sponsored the trip, knowing my capabilities. My own reputation, as well as the credibility of African crafts, were also at stake. I had to face the challenge.”
“What would have happened if you had given up?”
“The main objective was to clear their doubts. I would have rather confirmed their notions about our crafts. That was not going to happen, not from the Chief Carver.” He laughed
Alright, so tell us about the actual carving.” I prompted.
“Well, I set to work carving a stool. I worked for over two hours watching tool after tool break until all were broken on account of the hardness of the wood.”
“Oh,” I said sadly.
He came in quickly, “No, the objective was achieved. I managed to show them a half-made stool,” he laughed. “I beamed with pride as Ms. Armenia held up the half-carved stool and the whole hall was filled with applause for me.”
We were all silent for a moment trying to picture the triumphant scene.
Nana spoke first, “Aside from my being appointed the Great King’s Chief Carver in 1992, I traveled to the Czech Republic and what I was able to do before that crowd is about the most remarkable experience in my career and I’m eternally grateful to NOVICA for the opportunity.”
NOVICA is proud to showcase Chief Carver, Nana Frimpong’s remarkable works of art and to share his collection with the world.