When you look at a tree, what do you see?

Do you see an acacia spreading out its branches to provide shade for the desert and food for the giraffes?

Do you see strong limbs extended as cool resting places for leopards, or a perching place for storks?

Do you see healing in the leaves and barks of medicinal trees? Do you see firewood, warmth, and food? Do you see building supplies, houses, and kiosks? Do you see eating utensils, toothpicks, pencils, and paper? When you look at a branch or log, what shapes can you imagine? Can you imagine turning it into a circle, a bowl, a vase? What about a giraffe or a lion? Can you imagine visualizing a shape inside of a rectangular block of wood and making it appear by chipping away, little by little, until gradually the final form emerges?

Wamunyu wood carvers cooperative in Machakos region, Kenya was founded in 1918 by the Late Mr. Mutisya Munge. He was greatly inspired by the artistic skills of the Makonde people in woodcarving, and worked to spread their knowledge and craft to his sons and neighbors. Out of these efforts the Wamunyu cooperative was formed, and has become an art form and way of life for about 2000 carvers who are members of the coop.

The artists start with a block of wood. The initial raw carving can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, depending on the size and intricacy of the design. The piece is then refined with smaller knives and sand paper to smooth the edges and add detail. After this, leather dyes are used on ebony to preserve the blackness of the wood, the mahogany wood is stained to enhance its luster, and then the pieces are coated with wax to give them patina and shine.

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