Nineteen-ninety-five was the year when Beatrice Dávila de Santo Domingo and Poli Mallarino, two art-loving philanthropist friends from Bogotá, Colombia, looked beyond the drug cartel-related violence wreaking havoc in their country and realized that something else was amiss: Colombia’s tradition of fine craftsmanship was dying. As Santo Domingo explains in a book celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the crafts school the pair would soon create, the friends wondered: “What had become of the needle worker who knew how to embroider table linens? Where were the master saddlers and carpenters who transformed a trunk or table into a work of art? And where were the gold and silversmiths who plied these precious metals with expertise and mastery?” Just like the rest of the world, Colombia had been placing more value on its youth becoming doctors, lawyers and managers than on the time-honoured, labor-intensive trades in which the human hand transforms simple raw materials into beautiful one-of-a-kind objects. Seeking to stem this trend while offering Colombians skills that would enable them to earn a livelihood, the pair set to work. And so it was that in January 1996 the Escuela de Artes y Oficios Santo Domingo welcomed its first sixteen students and five teachers (three master artisans in wood, two in silver) in a newly restored building in the heart of Bogotà’s historic district.
THE ESCUELA DE ARTES Y OFICIOS SANTO DOMINGO GROUNDS. PHOTOGRAPH BY PATRICIA CASTELLANOS.
Twenty years later, it’s clear a new generation of highly skilled Colombian artisans has been formed thanks to the Escuela de Artes y Oficios. A simple look at the dozens of elegant works in silver, leather, wood and textile from the school offered from 5 to 9 December at a pop-up boutique at Sotheby’s New York is evidence enough. From the intermingling silver undulations hand-hammered by Alexandra Agudelo to create her exquisite Maguey vase to the minute stem- and padded satin-stiches Yelena Pájaro applied to linen placemats and napkins and the silky ball-like vessel Pedro Arboleda meticulously hollowed out of native hardwood, it is plain that the school is fulfilling Santo Domingo and Mallarino’s goals of preserving Colombia’s artisanal heritage and empowering its people. Now busy with 50 full-time master artisan teachers, some 500 students enrolled in one of five different trade courses (of whom 90 graduate yearly) and a total of three adjacent buildings connected by the patios and solares that are typical of Bogotá’s Colonial-style architecture, the school has also grown beyond its founders’ wildest dreams.
AN ESCUELA DE ARTES Y OFICIOS SANTO DOMINGO ARTISAN AT WORK. PHOTOGRAPH BY PATRICIA CASTELLANOS.
Beyond the attractiveness of its offerings, it is no wonder the Escuela de Artes y Oficios, a private nonprofit organisation, has proven a draw. As executive director Laura Meija Flórez explains, the school subsidizes eighty per cent of the cost of tuition for the overwhelming majority of its students, bringing the cost of what is effectively a career-training course to “about $1,000 for a two and a half year course.” With proceeds from the pop-up boutique at Sotheby’s, Meija Flórez aims to stretch the school’s well-established generosity and create, she says, “a scholarship fund for people who cannot even pay the twenty percent.” Enthusiastically, she adds: “It’s very important to show that Colombia is a place for high-quality products - this how our students and teachers can reach the world.”
LAUNCH SLIDESHOW TO PREVIEW ITEMS FROM THE EXHIBITION
WORKS FROM THE ESCUELA DE ARTES Y OFICIOUS SANTO DOMINGO WILL BE EXHIBITED AND AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT SOTHEBY’S NEW YORK FROM 5-9 DECEMBER. ENQUIRIES: +1 212 606 7375