The Coconut Leaves Weaver / 14ymedio Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Misael Gonzalez, weaver in the streets of Havana. (14ymedio)
Misael Gonzalez, weaver in the streets of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 11 August 2016 – For Misael Gonzales, Old Havana is the gallery that for years has refused to display his figures made from natural materials. All the passersby on Teniente Rey Street between Oficios and Mercaderes, will see there his grasshoppers made from coconut leaves and some Japanese-inspired constructions of braided green fibers.

The artist tells 14ymedio that initially he made clay and ceramic structures but with that raw material it became very complicated to get permission to market his work. Nature saved him from those difficulties and, although his business of figures made from natural leaves has not been without setbacks, little by little he has made his business thrive.

“I was fined several times,” says the artist, “but now I have authorization from the Office of the City Historian to develop my craft works here,” he said, while his fingers agilely braided the wings of an inspiring insect.

At 44, this Artemisa artist based in San Miguel del Padron has turned to crafts looking to support himself. When he lived in his native province he came to the capital every week with the pieces he had made “selling them for prices between 1 and 5 CUCs,” which still hold.

“I have been experimenting for seven years,” explains Misael, and describes some of the “spectacular” works that have never sold that he treasures at home. “I feel comfortable making these pieces out of natural materials and, in addition, I don’t get into trouble with the law,” he stresses.

Every afternoon the artist positions himself near Los Frailes Inn in the old city center to sell his sympathetic figures, most of which he creates before the eyes of the buyers. Other pieces are on display for “when someone is interested” and he then makes them on request in front of his customers.

Onlookers surround him and Misael displays his skills with leaves between his fingers. Sometimes a child approaches and is ecstatic with the animals that emerge with each fold. Misael gives him a grasshopper that seems about to take flight. He knows that many of these little ones’ families don’t have the money to pay him.

“Being an artist is being born again,” he says with the same wisdom that, one day, led him to create wonders with materials that others discard.