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Hello, I’m so glad you popped in for a visit. This is a special post for me. It’s the start of something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. Here in South Africa, you’ll find street artists and vendors on every corner, selling all kinds of things on the side of the road. Anything from handbags and recycled bird feeders to seed pod faces and wooden stools. It makes shopping really interesting 😀 Some people get a little irritated, but I love talking to them. It fascinates me how ingenious they are. These guys are the masters of the “art of repurposing,” and making something from with very little. I’m hoping to do a regular spot on the blog that celebrates these amazing people and the crafts they make.
Isn’t it just beautiful and you would never guess that it was made on the side of the road.
Say hi to Benjamin Mvula; a 39-year-old father of two. Back in 2006, when the Malawian president, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, an economist, mobilized his armed forces in operation Dongosolo (a Chichewa word meaning ‘order’) Benjamin’s world fell apart. He was no longer allowed to trade on the side of the road, so at the age of 27, he moved to South Africa with nothing but the clothes on his back, dreams of a better future and a few of his tools.
From L to R – Rosie, Shepherd and Benjamin
He struggled initially and returned to Malawi for a short spell before coming back early in 2008. He’s been here ever since. As the primary breadwinner, Benjamin sends money back home every month to support his wife, two kids, and extended family. Sadly he can only afford to visit them once a year. Benjamin together with his fellow street artists and vendors, sell their handmade furniture and other goods at a busy intersection, just up the road from us.
He is one of many street artists who flock to the cities to make a living. They account for roughly 7% of our gross domestic product (GDP) in South Africa and generate approximately 22% of total employment.
From L- R – Julius, Rosie, Shepherd, Benjamin and Mathews
It’s not an easy life. The weather can cause havoc and they’re often harassed by police and other businesses in the area, who view them as unfair competition. And then there’s xenophobia, which rears its ugly head every few months.
Storage is also a problem and in Benjamin’s case, both the raw materials and finished goods are left on the side of the road and simply covered with a tarp to try and protect them from theft and the weather.
But, with all that, he always has a smile on his face and takes tremendous pride in his work. I bought a wooden stool from him a few months back and loved it. Its a really solid, heavy piece. When I approached him to make me another one using lighter wood, it took about three weeks before it was ready. He wanted to make very sure he found the right piece of wood and that it had dried out properly. He also kindly offered to show me how he makes them so I could share the tutorial with you.
Not only does Benjamin make beautiful furniture, but he and his fellow traders and artists supplement their income by cutting down trees in the area. Which means there’s a large stockpile of raw material to work with.
To make a stool you’ll need a dried, thick, barkless wooden stump similar to this one.
Don’t you just love the knots and character in that stump? It would make an awesome tree stump planter. The stump needs time to dry out properly – usually a month or two, depending on the weather. You’ll also need:
Benjamin uses a chain saw and grinder to cut and smooth his wooden stumps for the stools, but a hand saw and a belt sander will work too.
Level and sand the wooden stump to the desired thickness. Cut the 2×2 or 2×4 into three equal lengths depending on how high you want your stool to be. Slice each leg at the top and bottom at 45-degree angles and glue and screw each one onto a square block of wood.
Flip the wooden stump over and place the legs on the bottom of the stool. The square blocks of wood should form a triangle where they meet, as shown in the piccy below.
According to Benjamin, that triangle helps ensure that the legs are correctly spaced and reduces the wobble factor. And he knows his stuff. Maybe I should tattoo a triangle under my flabby arms……mmmmmm 😀 Once you’re happy with the placement, glue and screw them in place. When screwing the legs onto the wooden stump you’ll need at least three screws in each block to make it stable.
I loved the glue bottle Benjamin used. So clever. He took an empty plastic soda bottle, filled it with glue and put a screw in the lid. Nothing gets wasted.
Flip the wooden stool over and check if it’s level.
If it’s a little wonky, and this one definitely wasn’t 😉 just take a little off the “longer” leg/s with a hand saw, making sure to keep that 45-degree angle. I asked Benjamin where he learned to make the tree stump stools.
Raw and untreated, I think the wooden stools are beautiful. I love seeing the natural wood grain. It always tells such an amazing story.
As time goes by a few more cracks may appear, but that just adds to the beauty.
Even the rustic legs add charm and character.
The wooden stool is perfect as a side table or you can use it as a footstool.
But, I had other plans for this baby and gave her a totally unique, one of a kind, gorgeous llama makeover 😉
Oh and if you’re looking for something similar, we’ve got you covered Disclosure: Clicking on the links below, means we may receive a commission from Amazon. But don’t worry it won’t come out of your pocket, and it helps us make more amazing crafts to share with you 😉
And if you do see street artists creating a masterpiece on the side of the road, why not take a few minutes and get to know them. They deserve our support far more than those mega stores who make billions every year.
Until next time, I hope you have a truly beautiful, love filled week. Keep smiling and never stop caring about others.