Monday, July 11, 2011

The Olive wood factory - Bethlehem, Palestine

On a recent visit to Bethlehem, Palestine I visited 'The Olive Wood factory' it is a typical tourist trade, where they manufacture figures from Olive Wood by hand. Over the past years due to the ever increasing risks associated with travel to the West Bank, the trade has suffered. At the moment they are experiencing a difficulty for continuing this woodcraft business.

"Most tourists come to visit Bethlehem with guides and these guides takes tourists to special shops where they give them big commission of their sales, they sell high prices but still tourist believe their guide.
We prefer to sell directly to the tourists and with little profit." - Jiries, Olive Wood factory

 Although similar products are sold in Israel, often at a higher price; margins are always pushed. The following photographs display some of what happens in the workshop. The staff were very friendly and extremely helpful, there is a certain feeling of tranquility in the air and an incredible smell of fresh wood turned.

Raw materials are stored outside, it seldom rains although if it did it wouldn't effect the material. 

A cutting machine to carefully shape smaller pieces. Typically a worker would spend several hours on this machine before swapping to a different station.

The workshop is fairly sizable and housed within the same building as the shop. Once completed the goods are simply carried next door. 

A larger machine which allows the craftsman to remove rough edges and provides a smooth finish. 

Another station where varnish and stain is applied.

Storage for blanks ready for finishing

This worker is hand finishing the product. He will typically complete around 20 of these figures a day. Each item is completely individual, as the raw material dictates with knots and burrs. A high speed drill bit carves away the wood.
"To carve a statue example Mary with the baby Jesus size 20cms plain work minimum is eight hours of work.

They use this piece as a model and to carve more using a copy machine which helps us to rough the shape of the carving so it takes an hour to finish two pieces and this is just rough work, later they work on the details with the flexible shaft; an hour each piece the later comes the sanding." 

I am told that working with the material is a joy, and that each piece is lovingly created. This is obvious in feeling and inspecting the final product.

It is often hard to stop working on one piece as he seeks perfection in every item made.

Larger pieces are also fashioned. This is typically reflected in the final sales price. The products for sale in Palestine are around 30% cheaper than Israel.

"The other pieces you have seen with all the details this takes long time, prices never enough for the long hours of work " - Jiries

A small, modest piece completed with a natural oil applied. Sells for around $17.

1 comment:

Carl O'Keeffe said...

Nice work David, liking the series

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