José Zanine Caldas

Preserving the Spirit

Certain works of furniture make a statement beyond artistry and function. The work of José Zanine Caldas conveys not only the artist’s own unique vision in its deeply spiritual presence, but speaks volumes about the place and culture from which it came. His designs express to our responsibility to preserve the beauty in the natural world that surrounds us. When you view Zanine Caldas’ work first hand, it is as if you are transported through his works to the culture he holds dear and endeavors to honor and preserve.

Zanine Caldas’ furniture and architecture seeks to reflect the magical beauty of the Brazilian landscape. Born in the Bahia region of Brazil, Zanine Caldas later returned to his native home to dedicate himself full time to his works of design. Trees were the single most important theme in his œuvre, and the thoughtful, careful selection of the natural motifs utilized by the artist were central to his life and epitomized in this work. Whenever possible, Zanine Caldas preferred to use felled trees, making a further commitment to the conservation of the forests he revered. By coming back to Bahia in the 1950s, he was able to fully immerse himself in the place and culture that so fundamentally guided his artistic principles.

Although never formally trained as an architect, he was a renowned modelmaker for many different architects. While most architects of his generation studied extensively, Zanine Caldas developed his own style through doing and making. His architecture is referenced in his furniture designs through an extraordinary and seductive simplicity. Works by Zanine Caldas have been exhibited extensively throughout Brazil and internationally, including the Musée Arts Dècoratifs in Paris.

Highly sculptural and deeply spiritual, this table is a testament to Zanine Caldas’ adoration of natural fissures, nuances and organic qualities inherent in the wood itself. The table presented here is comprised of Vinhático (Plathymenia reticulate), a rot-resistant South American legume tree used often in structural modalities and traditionally for canoes. Zanine Caldas employed numerous canoe carvers in his workshops, in both an architectural and furniture capacity, utilizing their skills and experience with the wood to inform his furniture designs. The wood’s ability to fend off natural destructive forces adds to its longevity as a design form, and compliments the designer’s efforts to preserve a Brazilian identity.

This table epitomizes Zanine Caldas’ unique design aesthetic as it celebrates the tree’s natural contrasting qualities by exposing large complex knot structures, natural fissures and sap grain perimeters. By leaving the wood in its natural state, we see the tree and venerate its beauty. His use of a pure Brazilian vernacular in the construction and aesthetic of his design gives triumph to his persistent and applauded efforts to restore the forests that surrounded him his whole life. In its realization, this table represents the pure unity of function, aesthetics and ideology.