One of the most interesting and inspiring persons I met in Panamá is Chalo. Being both, an artist and naturalist, he provided me an insight into his beautiful woodcraft work and shared his life views with me. Sitting on his airy porch in Boquete with this amazing view of the Volcán Baru, talking, he often spoke right from my soul.
Volunteering at Arte Hostal in Boquete, one day I was told to accompany the owner’s father to collect some stones. I already met this guy before, while he was maintaining one of his wooden sculptures in the central park. So today’s task is about collecting stones?! But why not, let´s go!
By motorcycle we leave Boquete and enter the mountains, where the famous „bajareque“, the moist fog of Boquete, already awaits us. In this volcanic region there is a lot to find. Not only does Chalo stop to show me some hidden stones, containing pieces of crystals, he also guides me to huge rocks with paintings almost taken by nature, the ancestors left long time ago. At our destination, the area of the hot springs near Caldera, the volcanic activities have released a huge amount of stones, clay and soil. After the rain, hurricane Otto had brought, the ground is soft now, churned and is dazzling in all shades from grey, brown, red, yellow, purple and emerald green. Seemingly at random, Chalo picks up stones, making a new discovery each time. One stone, structured in different layers of red and white, a fossilized piece of wood or mineral clay which he uses to color his art with in the most natural and pristine way.
Learning to carve wood
The following days I am given the opportunity to help Chalo with an art project. Working only with recycled wood, this time he carves some trunks in a private garden and thus changes pieces of wood into art, giving life back to them. What is this trunk going to be, I am asking his son. The answer „la papa“ confuses me. The shape Chalo has already given the trunk, does not look like a potato. Neither can I imagine that he would create a self portrait. However it takes me a couple of minutes to discover another meaning of the Spanish word „papa“ – Chalo is sculpturing the Pope!
A photographer from Boquete, Deborah, made a great video about Chalo’s work, which by the way won in the Boquete Video Festival 2017. Find it here! And she also provided me the most beautiful photos.
Being a modest nature guy he is calling his work primitive, childish or even farmer’s style, „estilo de campo“ – which it is not! At the same time he knows his values and is following his creativity in a way others would call chaotic. I would describe it like this: Act the way your soul is telling you. Like-minded, I spent a lot of time with Chalo, which may not be surprising… He taught me how to work with wood and handle the different tools. In our breaks we had animated discussions about nature, love and life.
How will a tree fall, if you chop it? How will you measure the direction? How to remove the machete, sticking in the wood? Is it good for the environment to reforest pine trees instead of local plants? What is more important, love or friendship? Would you give a stranger money for food if he asks you for it?
With questions like these he opened my mind, showed me how often I am still thinking inside the box, although considering myself being unprejudiced.
A true artists home
I happened to visit his house, to translate his craft classes to some visitors. At first glance you can see, it is built by a free spirit.
‚I wanted the house to be it like this, even architects told me I would have to build this or another way. I asked them why, but the only answer I got was: because everybody does.‘ But Chalo is not everybody. Neither did he want a square ground plan nor a door pointing to the street. He insisted on building the kitchen upstairs, where he lives and works, for the wooden floor could catch fire. The result is an unusual building with a lookout area offering an open space and an inspiring view down to the valley and the Volcán Barú. Every part is filled with his work, beautiful samples of woodcraft, which he calls the most ugly ones, collected within years.
My personal gift
Eager to learn and experience, like a child, one night Chalo helped me to make a machete cover. Some days before he had told me it would be possible to make using PVC pipes. No sooner said than done, I bought a machete and pipes, which made us experiment for hours, not caring for setbacks, until he was satisfied with the result.
Chalo is modest, thankful, appreciating, spiritual, creative and full of life experience. But what impressed me most is that he always stays true to himself – no matter what others might think of him.
We did not make our farewells, knowing we are kindred spirits.