Diego Canil - Wood sculptures and masks
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"I've tried to repay don José Ignacio's favor and I've taught six people how to carve. Each of them has taught their children and now there are a lot of wood carvers here."
"I was born November 2, 1960. My parents had ten children – five boys and five girls. My family had few economic resources; my father has always been a farmer and still is.
"Where I grew up, everyone spoke only Quiche. In school, the teacher explained things in Spanish but as soon as classes were over, we spoke Quiche. That's why I find it hard to speak in Spanish even today.
"I went to school until I was ten. At that age we considered a boy was old enough to begin to work, so my father took me out of school to help him work in the fields. We needed to help with the family economy and my parents couldn't afford to let us keep on studying.
"At school I learned to read and write and I learned to sign my name, which is very important. When I was 15, I was tired of working in the fields, so I got a job as a helper in a 'chicken bus.' Then, at 18, I got my driver's license and was promoted to bus driver and earned 90.00 quetzals a month.
"In 1981 when I was 21, the civil war problems that affected Guatemala for 36 years got worse. You couldn't work because of all the problems on the highways. My father advised me to stop driving a bus because it was too dangerous and I could get killed.
"So then I began selling wooden masks. My dad suggested I get a stand at the market, so I went to the nearest town and applied for a six by six-foot stand. My parents gave me the money to start my mask stand.
"Once I had the permit, I went to the forest to look for wood to build my stand and be able to display the masks. After I paid for the permits, I had enough left from the money my parents gave me to buy 25 masks. I'd buy them for 0.75 Q apiece and sell them for one quetzal. That was all I had. I didn't have any more money.
"My first day with the market stand I sold almost all my masks and made 30.00 quetzals. That was a really good day because I realized I could make 30 quetzals in a single day. As a driver, I made 90.00 Q but it took me a month. So I worked Thursdays and Sundays, which are market days, and the rest of the time I helped my father in the fields.
"About that time I met don José Ignacio. He carved the masks and he taught me how to carve. But the masks I was able to make were really rustic. I didn't know how to give them a nice finish like I do today. Little by little, I was able to improve the quality of my masks and I'd sell them in the market. I no longer had to buy masks to sell.
"Now the tough thing was to learn to paint the masks because, once I carved them, I had to paint them. I had a hard time selling the first masks that I painted because I didn't know how to paint.
"Little by little – just like with carving – I learned to paint. I remember that that first mask I was able to make very well was of a person. I sold it for 5.00 Q, which was a lot of money for me because at that time I sold my other masks for 1.00 Q.
"I began making masks in 1980 and I've been making images of saints since 2000. I started crafting saints because people would bring us photos and asked if we could carve them in wood, and that's how we got started.
"I've tried to repay don José Ignacio's favor and I've taught six people how to carve. Each of them has taught their children and now there are a lot of wood carvers here.
"When I was 17, I met the woman who is now my wife but, because we were underage, we couldn't get married. It was against the law. As soon as we were 18, we went to the city and got married properly.
"Just like my father, I have ten children and I've worked very hard to give them all the education I wasn't able to get. First I put them through school, then I taught them wood carving. Two of my adult sons have their own shops where they sell their own carvings.
"A French gentleman was my first client. He bought my masks for 1.25 Q and sold them in France. I earned more with him because I usually sold my masks for 1.00. Back then I didn't know much and I'd deliver my masks tied up in a net. I didn't pack them or protect them the way I've learned to deliver my work. He asked us for saints and for all the saints he ordered, he'd give us pictures so we could copy them.
"I like dances very much. I was the organizer for the town dance twice, in 2005 and in 2007. But my passion for dance is so great that my French client told me to organize a group to go and dance in France. When I got all the people together, there were 30 of us, including the musicians who played the marimba.
"He got the help to pay fares and lodging for all of us who were going to dance. That was in 1988. We spent two months in France and we danced in a number of towns and cities. They gave us 20 franks a day for meals, but we saved the money to be able to take something back home to Guatemala. To earn a little more, we sold marimba music cassettes and we also sold masks."
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