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A Heart Attack Inspired This Goan to Craft Exquisite Christmas Cribs From Driftwood

A heart attack pushed Goa's Xavier Fernandes to pursue his passion for crafting amazing Christmas cribs from driftwood found at the beach.

A Heart Attack Inspired This Goan to Craft Exquisite Christmas Cribs From Driftwood

Straying away from the regular gifts like the sugar-loaded sweets and fancy cakes that are a part of Christmas tradition, Goa’s Saturnino Rodrigues zeroed in on a unique solution. 

The answer? Cribs made out of driftwood to lighten up his loved ones. But what left him so fascinated was the uniqueness of the wood used to carve these cribs.

“Driftwood is mature wood that is found floating in the sea. The wood makes these gifts last as it does not get rotten and become a memorable gift for others,” the 60-year-old, who bought three Christmas cribs from their maker, Xavier Fernandes, tells The Better India.

“With people becoming health conscious, it is not a very favourable choice to offer sweets and cakes that cost thousands. I believe that cribs could become the best gifts that we could give to somebody,” he adds.

Saturnino opines that Xavier is well-known in the region for his cribs. “His artworks are so fascinating. From selectively choosing driftwood in terms of its shape and quality to conceptualising the final artistic product is intriguing,” he adds.

Xavier decorates the cribs with miniatures of Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, and the villagers.
Xavier decorates the cribs with miniatures of Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, and the villagers.

We sat down with Xavier to learn how he crafts the most exquisite Christmas cribs.

‘Now, I knew I needed to stop’

After completing his schooling in commerce, Xavier wanted to pursue higher studies but he was forced to drop out of college because of family’s financial crises. Before venturing into craftworks, he worked abroad for about 25 years in several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and Oman.

Starting with a menial job in courier service, he upgraded himself to an administrative role in an oilfield company in Oman. But the work, Xavier says, was too taxing.

About six years back in 2017, the 54-year-old had a cardiac arrest.

“I was living on my own. My friends had to rush me to the hospital. I did not want to work in a foreign country anymore. I wanted to go back to India, to my family. Also, the oilfield company does not permit people with cardiovascular issues to work. So, anyway, I moved back to Goa,” he says.

Coming back to his family, he took his time to resort to a healthy, stress-free lifestyle.

The wood makes these gifts last as it does not get rotten and become a memorable gift for others.
The wood makes these gifts last as it does not get rotten and become a memorable gift for others.

“Post the heart attack, my blood pressure kept shooting up now and then. Now, I knew I needed to stop. So, I decided to take an early retirement,” he adds.

Amid all this, Xavier would frequently visit the beach to find solace. And here’s where he found his life’s purpose.

Reuniting with his long lost craft at the beach

It was a rainy day in September 2018 when Xavier stumbled upon a log that had drifted from the seashore. “I picked it up and kept analysing it for some time. This is when I remembered how I used to carve craft items from wood in my childhood just like my father,” he shares.

“My father was very artistic. He was a government servant but he used to find some time to make craft items. I used to watch him making artwork using coconut shells and wood,” he recalls.

Xavier has managed to sell his artworks in Mumbai and to Canada and the United Kingdom.
Xavier has managed to sell his artworks in Mumbai and to Canada and the United Kingdom.

That day, Xavier brought the log of wood home. As Christmas was around the corner, he tried to carve cribs out of the wood. Last year, he ventured into commercialising these cribs and managed to sell 80 units.

Explaining the process of carving cribs from driftwood, he says, “Since January, I start collecting driftwood. As I get all kinds of wood from the sea, I selectively choose driftwood as per their weight. This kind of wood is very mature and lasts for years.”

“After taking them home, I dip them in clean water, peel their skin, and then keep them in the sunlight to dry. Around October, I start carving crafts from wood. Later, I varnish and polish the wood to give it a glossy look and protect it from scratches,” he adds.

After the final product is ready, Xavier decorates the cribs with miniatures of Jesus Christ, Mother Mary, and the wise men. Apart from the cribs, he also makes art pieces like wells, wall clocks, miniature bullock carts, and racks with pottery from driftwood.

Xavier also makes art pieces like wells, wall clocks, and miniature bullock carts from driftwood.
Xavier also makes art pieces like wells, wall clocks, and miniature bullock carts from driftwood.

Xavier says that it takes him up to three days to make a crib. “I try not to have a similar look for all my cribs. It anyway depends on the driftwood also. It is very intrinsic work and requires a lot of patience, technique, and skill. It is not easy to carve artistic works from a log of wood. It may look easy to make, but it requires a lot of detailing,” he adds.

With the help of his family and neighbours, Xavier has managed to sell his cribs in Mumbai and to Canada and the United Kingdom.

Even though today Xavier dedicates up to 12 hours a day to crafting handmade cribs, he is fascinated by this long-lost passion. “In my previous jobs, I used to work for about eight hours a day. But the desk job was very stressful. Today, I do not get exhausted even if it is about collecting wood by walking for as far as five kilometres,” he says.

“It gives me immense satisfaction and happiness when I see the final product. I am able to pursue my childhood passion and earn an income out of it at this age – what can be more amazing than that?” he asks.

Edited by Padmashree Pande. All photos: Xavier Fernandes, Saturnino Rodrigues.

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