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Transform wood into impressive sculptures

Juan Crespo de León is a sculptor and visual arts teacher from Corozal, who transforms wood into impressive sculptures that can be appreciated even by people with visual disabilities, since their dimensions allow discovery through the sense of touch.

Its theme focuses on aspects of the human anatomy, African descent and motherhoodamong other inspirations that drive him to rescue a disused material to create beautiful pieces that are born from a talent cultivated in his childhood, through experiences facilitated by his mother.

“My mother was a seamstress and teacher and, I remember playing with fabrics, which is something that has happened to many colleagues who ended up in this profession, whose mothers or fathers worked in manual trades, such as upholsterers,” he recalled. the son of María de León Albino and Francisco Crespo.

Another of his references is Chiqui Moreno, an artist from Corozal who, without intending to, aroused the curiosity of his fellow citizen who “arrived at the school where I was in sixth grade and decided to make a Betances clay model.”

Sculpture made by Juan Crespo De León. (Xavier Garcia)

“I remember that it impacted me because I came home to look for potholes and mud and I started to imitate what he (Moreno) did. My mother was always very close, validating that experimentation, she knew that she could develop it and knew how to dose that part that we all need to explore,” said the 47-year-old artist.

One of his great satisfactions is having visited again some of the schools where he was trained, between the Palos Blancos, Cuchillas and Padilla neighborhoods.

“We are stepping on that ground where I developed and I can see my students who want to learn and have talent. Over time, one begins to understand that the profession of teaching is specific for moments in which a life can be marked and defined,” added the graduate of the School of Plastic Arts.

Their pieces are made of wood, including mahogany, yagrumo, white capá, guayacán, oak and cedar, whose dimensions range between 3 to 10 feet high.

“Wood captivated me a lot because it is the possibility of transforming something that, many times, is thrown away, is rescued because they chop it up and the destination is the landfill or a ravine. How to do that alchemy of taking that material that was considered waste, to a result of this level. It is a challenge that I really enjoy,” she admitted.

Sculpture made by Juan Crespo De León.
Sculpture made by Juan Crespo De León. (Xavier Garcia)

“Wood in my work becomes a favorite material, since, within sculpture, it represents one of the most demanding processes. Even stone, which, to some, may seem more difficult due to its hardness, but wood has fibers that you have to know where to cut and you can cut the stone in any direction,” he explained.

Likewise, he highlighted that “the theme of achieving human anatomy to a point where the viewer is captivated, helps me make a connection with what I am also interested in expressing.”

“Getting it to that level of mastery is a technical process involving a lot of patience. These works require a lot of time to bring them to that level and those who know the process, when they see it and appreciate it, know what is behind it; For example, if it is made of a single piece, it is not assembled, to achieve the dimension on that scale,” he said.

Meanwhile, his work allows the viewer to enjoy the beauty of the wood in all its splendor, since the finish leaves the surface exposed without the need to paint it.

One of his most acclaimed works is ‘Mother Gesta’, which embodies a pregnant woman with thorns running through her belly. The sculpture measures approximately 9 ½ feet tall, in a single piece made of mahogany.

“What I try to explain through the work is somewhat thorny, like the belly of sculpture. This character is like a deity. He deals with the issue of African descent from a little-studied reality and about the mothers who, in their desperation during the time of slavery, had to abort their children,” he revealed about his work carried out in 2017.

“That in some way explains why this piece with all that symbolism of a protected womb, in the face of a hostile reality that was slavery. “I was always struck by the history of slavery about these women who failed to become mothers because, precisely, in another way of expressing love, they protected their children from an unbearable reality and aborted them,” she noted.

Sculpture made by Juan Crespo De León.
Sculpture made by Juan Crespo De León. (Xavier Garcia)

The piece was exhibited at the Arsenal Museum in La Puntilla during the first national sculpture exhibition.

A group of people with visual disabilities arrived there and had the opportunity to explore and get to know the work through touch. However, the artist plans to expand his work to incorporate a swarm of bees.

“The piece that is attached to the head of the work is made of almond tree and is separated because it is designed to, in the future, incorporate a swarm of Africanized bees, which is the prevailing population in the ecosystem of our archipelago. Through the nasal route it has a duct inside the almond capsule, because it is hollow and has the exact size to attach a nucleus,” he explained.

“I am more of a teacher than a sculptor, if we are to take it by time dedicated to the craft. The mission with teaching in the fine arts is not to develop artists who rise to prominence on the artistic scene, but rather to train these children in the same way they learn basic subjects,” he concluded.

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