Carving Out A Living In Spitzkoppe

11 Apr 2017 15:40pm
By Paulus Shiku

SPITZKOPPE, 11 APR (NAMPA) – Some have the talent, but fear the big leap of venturing into an environment that does not provide a stable job, even if they love what they do.
But this was not the case for 47-year-old Werner Naobeb, a woodcarver from the sparsely populated village of Spitzkoppe near Usakos in the Erongo Region.
An estimated 400 people live here.
Although the going has been slow, Naobeb is determined to capitalise on his skills and bring in 'good' money for his wife and two children.
Using a panga, knife and a chisel he fashioned out of metal, he can carve almost any animal out of wood.
His art primarily centres on animals, especially wild game, carved from Acacia wood.
Naobeb left school at primary level and has been making crafts since 1979, when he was nine years old. In 1999, his focus shifted specifically to carving animals.
During belated Independence celebrations at Spitzkoppe on 01 April, he had one of his finest specimens on display – a wood carving of Namibia’s coat of arms.
Perfectly crafted and painted, it sells for between N.dollars 3 000 and N.dollars 4 000.
He has already sold three similar pieces: one to Henties Bay Mayor Herman Honeb, one to the Erongo Governor's office and another to the Swapo regional office in Swakopmund.
Born in Otjimbingwe, the artist told Nampa he is working his way out of poverty by marketing his art work and establishing a better client base.
Currently, his clients are mostly tourists who come to his house. Sometimes, he stands at the side of the gravel road to Henties Bay which passes through the village.
He at times takes home N.dollars 1 000, and if it has been a good month, N.dollars 3 000.
“I just want to get a tender to work on at least five crafts for, let us say, a Government office or even for individual business people. There I can make more money,” he told Nampa.
Like other artists, Naobeb is sometimes forced to sell his products for much less than he knows it is worth as it is either that, or losing a customer.
“People have a way of exploiting us, they refuse to buy products for good prices because then they can make a bigger profit when they resell it in town.”
Naobeb said he sometimes lets a product which is worth N.dollars 100 go for a mere N.dollars 50. One such product has been resold for N.dollars 200.
“I work hard in the hot sun every day to make crafts. Sometimes I walk many kilometres to collect wood and carry it back home on my shoulders.”
Creating the pieces is of course also not easy. A scar on his left hand which Naobeb got while working is evidence of that.
“Because I am not educated, I use my talent to survive. I do not want hunger to force me [to] steal,” he said.
Moses Gariseb, a friend who accompanied him to the Independence celebrations has started helping him to market his products.
Gariseb said he noticed the potential in his friend and decided to assist him, among others by occasionally transporting Naobeb’s wood in his car.
As Naobeb does not own a mobile phone, he uses Gariseb’s to keep in contact with clients.
“We want to put up a beautiful stall along the road and display his products there, I am sure that way more people will see and buy it,” said Gariseb.
He also plans to make it his business to knock on the doors of different institutions and show them what his friend can do.
Gariseb said if anyone is interested in helping, they would appreciate paint and equipment such as a chainsaw to cut the wood with.
Asked how Naobeb can further benefit from his talents, Director of the National Art Gallery of Namibia, Hercules Viljoen advised that he participate in the Bank Windhoek art competition.
Submissions can be done at the Community Skills Development Centre (Cosdec) in various towns.
The competition gives artists a chance to win cash and to have their products promoted.
Viljoen also said there are shops all around the country that sell handicrafts which he could approach.
“The NAGN also offers exhibition opportunities. We are always looking for local talent,” he said.
Chief Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, Johanna Absalom said he could also look into availing his art to the ‘Art Inside’ project, explaining that local art is bought through the project for display in Government buildings.