A visual artist and craftsman from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Rafael Casco attended the National School of Fine Arts in Honduras and studied psychology at the National Autonomous University of Honduras. As a studio painter, Rafael works in a Latin American surrealistic style. However, his identity and practice as an artist has always spanned traditional craft and fine arts painting. He learned the traditional art of Honduran wood relief carving and painting through observing and studying other artists in his home country. For many generations, woodcarving has been a specialized tradition in Honduras, especially around the town of Valle de Angeles, near Rafael’s hometown of Tegucigalpa. The carvings, often including furniture pieces, are known for deep relief depictions of street scenes, flowers, historical images, and animals. Artists make tables, trunks, mirror frames, and plaques of all sizes. The wood is from the native cedar tree. Some objects take a week to complete.
“In the US, this style of carved and painted wood is identified as part of Latin American culture and can especially be seen in restaurant furniture and at ethnic festivals,” Rafael says. “It is important to have these symbols, and that craft artists living in the US and living in Tennessee carry on this tradition.” Rafael’s preservation work goes beyond his art. Between 2011 and 2012, he conducted fieldwork for the Tennessee Arts Commission’s documentation project Latino Folk Arts and Traditions in East Tennessee.
Casco’s apprentice, Hector Figueroa, comes from a family of wood carvers and he hopes to preserve the tradition both within his family and the larger community. “I want to share the tradition and pass it on,” he says. “The carvings are important symbols and objects for Honduran people and all Latin American people, living in the US and in Tennessee.”