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Portraits Of Artists


Portraits Of Artists


portrait2Carpentry is an ancient craft which dates back to many centuries. FUNKE ADETUTU discovers that the business of handcrafted furniture are rare pieces which are their creators personified

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, Kazeem Mustapha is at work at his Igbosere workshop. The makeshift stall is made of brownish mot-eaten wooden pillars which shriek under the weight of the iron roof on top. Mustapha is just putting finishing touches to a hand crafted wooden stool. He has been on it for four days. “It requires a great deal of attention and creativity,” he says while he puts it in the sun to dry.

Mustapha has a collection of handcrafted sofas, chairs, chaises and footstools together with a fully bespoke service. Each piece of furniture is constructed entirely through his bare hands, with the use of chisel, saw, file using traditional materials and methods.

Most modern handcrafted upholstered furniture which reflects the classic lines and traditions of the early Benin upholsterers from whom Mustapha learnt his trade. Today, Mustapha’s pieces come with the influences of the best in contemporary design.

Through skilled craftsmen the pieces are covered in a breathtaking array of fabrics which makes it possible for clients to choose from the range of antiqued leathers, Ostrich hides, the new range of linens and an exquisite collection of hand woven local needle points.

In Benin, there is a fairly large group of artisan who produce handmade, customised furniture made from responsibly harvested sustainable material. Paul Ehijiator, a craftsman who owns a workshop in Benin where an apprentice is working on a wooden bed. The bed has well proportioned, classic lines and the distinctive reverse-tapered legs give it a contemporary Asian look. The bed has a sturdy platform and does not require a box spring. Flowery images are crafted on both sides. Ehijiator hopes to sell it for N30, 000.

He is still very much into training those who are interested in handcraft furniture. Ehijiator, produces high quality furniture for the living room, dining room, bedroom, and home office. These are furniture made from green, natural cherry, maple, oak or walnut woods.

What makes handcrafted furniture so appealing? It is the fact that it is custom designed to fit a clients requirements,” says Ehijiator.  It is about the pride in craftsmanship that ensures a quality finish. Although it may be fine to invest in mass produced furniture for a chain restaurant, it will not be appropriate in a Five Star Hotel, lodge or guesthouse. As such it is essential to spend a bit more to ensure that the furniture will reflect your signature style and create the ambience you want.”

In a city like Benin, there are so many cultural diversities that have become unified to perform a vibrant state. Benin could be described as a kaleidoscope of diversity and beauty that has merged to form a city to be proud of with a strong heritage and proud traditions. With Benin furniture makers, clients can enjoy the beauty of African furniture with the functionality of the European regions as there is a fusion of ancient and modern. Anyone who is in need of solid African furniture that is made of wood, in other to add extra character to his home, then the Benin furniture makers are the best option.

This hub of local craftsmen has been providing African furniture to the local and international market for many years. They focus on providing versatile and contemporary designed African furniture for the hospitality industry, for private and commercial purposes. In Benin, all the African furniture are made of solid wood furniture from African hardwoods such as Teak, Saligna, Rosewood, Mahogany and Kiaat.

Based on over a quarter centuries experience in the furniture industry, their crafts involve the creation of high quality beautiful African furniture. The African furniture available from them is the result of a fusion of the unique ethnic cultures of the African continent with the inspiration drawn from the simplicity of the Europe. The African furniture that is available in Benin includes a variety of products from exotic frames for mirrors top boardroom and dining tables at well as sideboards and beds to name but a few. It is also possible to get leather dining rooms chairs, ottomans and leather couches to ensure a constant African furniture theme throughout.

A drive around town at the heat of the festive period reveals great creativity unleash by furniture makers whose products served the purpose of gift baskets, flower vase, adoring household furniture among others. It is delightful to watch them work. The by-product of their very busy and swift hands are near perfection except for the finishing which those crazy about imported furniture give as reason not to patronize these home made products. In most hotels, the glamorous flower vase, the beautiful cane chair among other furniture that adore the reception and other relaxation areas are often supplied by these gifted hands. But ironically, less goes in appreciation of their creativity.

With their outstanding creative ingenuity, it is no surprise that these often neglected gifted people, make furniture that so-called dealers of imported ones buy and repackage as Italian made. “Yes now, it is like buying from ‘bend-down’ and selling high at boutique shops” Omude Aigbe, a furniture maker at Mende Maryland, interjects. “One madam will pretend she is drive across, but will stop at spotting good furniture. She will buy and order for more which she will resale at higher prices in her furniture shop in Victoria Island.” He sadly adds. This brings to mind how much these creative people have being cheated by those who look-down on their handwork.

Eight out of every 10 local furniture makers trace their connection to the wood to family, inheritance or interest. Sadly Ade Oyemade, a secondary school drop-out, belongs to the class of youths that were pushed into early carpentry apprenticeship due to lack of sponsorship.

But the creativity he acquired from his master a few years back in Benin City is sustaining his family today. His only regret is that furniture makers put in more energy in their work, but receive less in appreciation from people that prefer imported products. The poor patronage, according to him, is among the reasons he left Benin upon finishing his three years apprenticeship.

Now in Lagos and better exposed, his thinks given the recent government ban on the importation of furniture into the country that patronage of indigenous products will soar because of the near abject poverty which most furniture makers are experiencing despite their creativity.

“My son will not takeover from me. He must go to university because the work is no longer lucrative and government ban is rather yielding negative result with many so-called furniture companies that pretend to assemble or make their products here. They all import.”

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