Participant Portfolios / Andean Highlands

Juan César Bonilla González

Tagua craftsman, Tinjacá

Juan César Bonilla has mastered various techniques to carve the tagua seed, also referred to as “vegetable ivory.” The tagua seed comes from a palm which is native to the lowlands, but the carving tradition has been practiced in the highlands for more than 100 years. Juan César’s family has been carving tagua for generations. In his workshop, he carves miniature objects from spinning tops to delicate jars, and his wife often decorates the finished pieces. In addition, Juan César leads workshops on strategies for preserving traditional crafts and for recycling discarded craft materials.

"I am the third generation of this craft. I transform my father’s work and explore the utility of tagua."

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Juan César Bonilla González
Juan César Bonilla González

Juan César Bonilla González carves the tagua seed while speaking to visitors about his work.
Photo by Walter Larrimore, Smithsonian Institution