Toying with simplicity

Tomás Bernal Cruz Mexico, Woodcarving



Santa Fe New Mexican

Art, Adversity

While many toymakers are eager to produce noisy, whizbang playthings powered by the latest technology, Tomás Bernal Cruz looks to nature for the raw materials he will transform into imaginative toys. With a craftsman’s talent inspired by age-old Zapotecan techniques, Bernal Cruz bends reeds and carves wood to form trucks, locomotives, airplanes and vehicles that could well compete with New Mexico lowriders for creative construction. His animals and other creatures are designed to commemorate holidays and saints’ days. Throughout his work he prefers retaining natural colors, sometimes adding moving parts. He uses techniques that “few people in his community use anymore,” notes his profile in IFAM Stories online. His joinery, achieved by tying cotton threads around intersecting wooden pieces, has become a hallmark of his work. Growing up in the small town of San Jacinto Amilpas in Oaxaca, Cruz learned from his grandfather how to work with reeds that grew along rivers. The elder craftsman made the reeds into baskets and other practical objects. But his grandson had a creative vision transcending everyday applications. With the support of his family, he let his imagination take off. Today, the 29-year-old with the playful smile of a toymaker successfully elevates the natural and practical into a world of whimsy. Patti LaSalle-Hopkins is a writer and editor in Santa Fe.