The natural beauty of wood and stone is brought through in this stunningly handcrafted tray from Fair Trade Egypt. Shesham wood is a durable hard wood in rich shades of reddish-brown. The small alabaster dish (from Hassan Alabaster Group in Luxor) completes the look for a uniquelydesigned, presentation-ready serving tray.
It all began in the late 1980s when a French priest and woodworking artist named Battos visited Egypt as part of a missionary expedition. On his journey, he met a young man named Emad Gamal, and taught him the art of woodcarving. The priest’s goal was to teach men in their mid-to-late teens a skill in a distinctive craft that would guarantee them a steady income as they grew to men. Battos’ students took part in an intensive three-year vocational training process, after which they were expected to pass their learnings along to the next generation of craftspeople.
Emad has since become the manager of the Hegaza Wooden Craft Project. He says, “I love the whole process of working on this craft, from picking suitable trees, drying them and preparing them – …It’s a passion before being a profession, and I hope that one day when I have children, they’d love it too.”
Artisans of Hegaza Wooden Craft Project use only simple tools—band saws and chisels—to carve their beautiful products. Once the carving is complete, Emad’s aunt (Om Baker) sands and polishes the wood. Although woodworking is traditionally done by men, Emad felt it was important that his aunt also learn this skill so that she can support herself.
The success of the workshop has extended increased stability and prosperity through the entire village of Hegaza, but recent political conflict in Egypt has presented Hegaza Wooden Craft Project with many challenges and they are struggling to maintain the success they once had.
Selling only about 10% of their production capacity, the Hegaza workshop relies on marketing and export organization Fair Trade Egypt and Ten Thousand Villages to support its business during these difficult times. With tourism at an all-time low and local craft exhibitions at a standstill, export gives these artisans the best chance to sell their handcrafted items.
Ten Thousand Villages helps small, independently operated workshops, such as Hegaza Wooden Craft Project, design products that are marketable to a larger consumer base. And artisan groups such as Fair Trade Egypt ensure that the quality is suitable for export trade. The Wood and Alabaster Tray is an example of Fair Trade Egypt’s coordination of two workshops—wood and alabaster—to create a more in triguing finished product.
Natural materials, such as shesham and alabaster, are embraced in August’s new item collection called Roots. The first sign of autumn’s chill becomes a time for nesting—collecting all nature has to offer us—and building a winter-ready home.
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**To maintain shesham’s natural luster, apply lemon oil or food-safe wood polish occasionally.