Hugo França: The Story of the Tree

Hugo França: The Story of the Tree


Chara Bench, Pequi wood, 2007
Photo/Tuca Reines.

By Evelise Grunow
R 20th Century Gallery
New York, New York

During a time when the scarcity of natural resources and the reuse of materials are ever-more-pertinent concerns in the worlds of art and design, the work of the Brazilian designer-maker Hugo França reminds us that magnificent sculptural and utilitarian objects can be fashioned from cast-offs. For the past 15 years, França whose educational background was in industrial engineering, has been creating monumental furniture and sculptural pieces from the remnants of the gigantic hardwood tree called Pequi that he harvests from the fields and forests of south Bahia in Brazil. This visually eloquent catalog of an exhibition of more than 20 works by França, at R 20th Century Gallery, presents the finished pieces-mostly tables and benches and other objects that call to mind the furniture of George Nakashima and the sculpture of Brancusi, Noguchi and Henry Moore-and documents the laborious process by which França works with a team on the site where he finds the wood, marking and cutting the huge trunks, branches or roots to reduce them in size for transport to his studio.

Evelise Grunow's informative text (in English and Portuguese) tells of França's discovery of the south Bahia area-the Brazilian Discovery Coast-and his attraction to the subsistence living of the Pataxós Indians, especially their handmade wood objects which retain the original features of the wood. This became the essence of his design philosophy, one that would embody his reverence for the tree. "In the face of an unlimited range of formal possibilities," she writes, "Hugo focused his design on the principle of 'minimum intervention.' His way of creating is to only slightly trim and segment the timber in order to find the volume, design and visual properties to give the tree a new function and, indeed, a new life."