The Chair Weaver

Acapulco chairs

Ask residents of Colonia del Valle in suburban Monterrey, Mexico who Eleuterio Flores is, and most will probably shrug. Ask if they’ve driven by the chair weaver on the corner of Suchiate and Amazonas, and you’ll get a much better response. “He’s been there for years, I know that,” one local replied when asked.

Eleuterio Flores' waresA  sister-in-law suggested the chair weaver for “The Other Side of the Peso.” I mentioned the idea to another sister-in-law, who immediately recounted having once hired the man to repair some chairs. “He does nice work, and he’s been around a long time.” Like hundreds of others who drive by Flores, I’d seen the colorful chairs and the man many times but had never stopped.

Cold-calling strangers to see if you can ask them a lot of personal questions for a blog in English intended for American readers gets mixed results. Flores, focused on working a long strand of wicker in and out of something that looks like an upside-down goblet drum, replies that he doesn’t have time, he has to work. I suggest we talk while he works. “Okay,” he says with a shrug as he pulls another strand from a circular bunch and dips it in a plastic bucket with water.

Chair weaver at workBehind us is a wrought-iron fence, perhaps four feet tall, and beyond that a large home. An older man enjoying a cigarette has appeared and slowly edged closer, obviously listening to the conversation. I smile and offer a friendly buenos días, concerned that he could be Flores’ boss and might not like what he’s seeing. I explain what we’re doing and, testing the waters, ask if he’s the home owner. “Oh no, I just work here,” he replies, looking pleased to have been mistaken as the owner. “He’s very talented,” the man says of Flores who appears to loosen up a little.  

Eleuterio Flores RockerIt’s not surprising to learn that chair weaver grew up in Querétaro, a state known for producing traditional Mexican crafts, particularly clothing, furniture and woven baskets. He learned the art in school and took to it. The local job market, though, was tough, with plenty of competing artisans and low wages. After three years, Flores packed up and headed north to Monterrey. Determined to be his own boss, he set up on Suchiate under a shade tree and went to work. Twenty-nine years have gone by.

I ask if he makes the woven hats spread over his wares and hanging on the trunk of the shade tree. “I only weave chairs,” Flores says. A quick look at his merchandise shows that “only” is a modest quantifier. There are two styles of dining room chairs and a child’s rocker ($650 pesos / $49 dollars), all with wicker seats and backs woven in different styles. The rocking chair sits atop a woven footstool ($200 pesos / $15 dollars). The brightly-colored “Acapulco chairs,” the ones that catch the attention of passersby, are made of long, woven plastic strips wrapped around a metal frame.

Rainbow Acapulco chairI ask the price of the drum-like chairs Flores is working on. “They aren’t for sale. They’re repairs.” I mentioned the sister-in-law who praised his repair work. He nods. “I get a lot of work through referrals.”

I’ve learned that Flores’ business has supported a family of seven kids, all grown now. “Did any become chair weavers like their dad?” 

“Only one. The others are like everybody else these days; they all want to work with computers,” the chair-weaver says, wetting another wicker strand and threading it into the drum chair.

****

Successful businessman that he is, Flores produced a card and a request. “Let your readers know I’m here Monday through Saturday.  I repair all types of wicker and rattan, and I make house calls. My phone number, right there on the card, is 8110-5333.” He comes with solid references.

 

Comments

  1. That was a great article, Leslie, thanks. I could just picture Flores (is that masculine for flora, flower?) under the tree, working away with his practiced hands. In my mind’s eye I kept seeing a similar sight in Alamos, Roberto, a wizened old man, who has been polishing the boots of vaqueros and businessmen alike for many years, under the same Manzanita tree in the alameda. He speaks good English and always remembers my name. Viva Mexico!

    • Leslie Patiño says:

      Thanks, Patricia, for your comment. It fascinates me how the Eleuterios and Robertos of the world can carry on for so many years!

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