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In addition to being a talented wood and metal handcraft man, he is a cook, painter, photographer and interior designer. Meet Yonatan Tesfai, who can do so much with his hands. Picking up a passion which he turned to a lifetime career from his grandfather’s wood work-shop, Yonatan does magic with wood and metal designs. Although the process of finishing one product takes a tremendous amount of time and energy, this artist dedicates all the passion in the world to come up with wood and metal craft that would just leave a person captivated. Here is Yonatan Tesfai.

  • When did you find out that you wanted to be an artist?

I grew up working in my grandfather’s metal and wood work-shop. He was one of the most famous craftsmen in town. That is why I grew up learning and upgrading my skills of wood and metal works in that shop. However, I don’t think that is the only reason I became an artist. My mother used to do handicraft works which I think influenced me to draw and be artistic when I was a child. We still have her designs hanging in the walls of our house. So I have always been interested in artistic works and have been working in the field as long as I can remember. I used to paint and do sculptures that won competitions in my school. That is how I got into art.

  • So, wood and metal crafting, it is something that very few people work on….

Well, yes, especially in our country. In fact, it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy for one work to be completed since the woods go through various stages. We use trees that are dry and have fallen and we have to follow many procedures to make sure our products come out in the desired design and quality.

Also for the metal works, we mostly use our hands. The only machine we use is a simple and small metal twister that we use to get a shape. Not many people work in this field probably because of lack of materials and it’s time consuming. Also, I don’t think it is financially satisfying considering the time and energy one puts in it. Personally, I don’t work for the financial benefits; I simply love to do it.

  • Do you think the Eritrean wood and metal crafts are competitive at an international level?

Yes. Even though not many people work in this field the people who do undeniably do a great job. The Eritrean artists have the potential and skills to produce artistic products. Not only in crafting but in various other artistic departments as well.

  • Have you taken any courses that might help you be more skilled in the field?

No I haven’t. I tried to take some courses in an art school but I didn’t continue. I always learn a new thing with every new thing I come up with. Also, I am always open to opinions and advice from friends and family. Which I think is a big art college for me. I also work to teach and share my experiences with my colleagues at work. Some of them are young and interested in crafting. So I try to teach them and I also get to learn from their fresh ideas.

  • Have you presented your work to the public?

I have had three exhibitions so far, which I’m proud to say went well. I had my first exhibition with my brother, Robel Tesfai, who is an artist. We weren’t really sure our products were going to be bought, but fortunately we sold out during the first three days and that was motivating. I am thinking about having one soon.

  • You are also a famous interior designer?

It is something I picked up along the way. Anyone can do great things if one wants to beautify something. Of course there are rules, but I personally think that it doesn’t always mean we have to follow them. A rule limits your ability to create. That is why I try to follow my gut and freely work on my interior designs. A house is not attractive at all if it doesn’t have anything exciting to look at inside. That is why I try to mix colors and use different frames to do an interior design. I have worked on more than five restaurants and cafés in Asmara.

  • Anything you want to say at last?

Thank you for giving me the chance. Also, I think people should discover their passion and do something with it. It gives you great pleasure to do something you enjoy doing. I also want to remind everyone that people should be cautious about the copyright law. It is sad to see people copy and sell your designs. Being an artist isn’t about money; it’s about creativity. That is why there are people I know who are talented and skilled enough to keep their works inside their houses. They aren’t motivated to showcase their products because of that reason.

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