Woodworking artisan Astrid Beatriz started carving portraits in wood as a way to remember a beloved family member. “I was missing my Abuelita and decided to do a carving of her,” says Beatriz, who originally hails from El Salvador. “And in the carving of her I found that I could still touch and rub her cheeks as I used to as a kid. … And I realized that was my thing, was to make carvings of our ancestors to honor them. And give those that are still alive the opportunity to to talk about them, share them and let them live in another way.”
And keeping family close is what drives her art and life. Her 8-year-old daughter, Luciana helps her with her work and also goes with her to markets where she sells her pieces. As does her husband, Brent Furstner. Furstner, who is a luthier or guitar builder, was the one who first suggested Beatriz try doing pastel drawings on wood scraps from his studio, which is also in their Concordia home. And then he gave her a scroll saw. “In my culture, women don’t use power tools, we’re not supposed to be even touching that stuff!” she says.
But she had so much fun cutting out the pieces that she upgraded to a high-quality scroll saw after selling some of her work. Beatriz has carved portraits of famous women including Ruth Bader Ginsburg (pictured below) and Frida Kahlo, plus birds, cats and dogs. She brings warmth and vibrancy to a hard, inert medium. Her most personal pieces are from the “Indios de Mi Sueños” (Indians of My Dreams) series — strong, fierce images of Indigenous warriors.
“The Indians of My Dreams are because I came here to Oregon and I didn’t see people like myself,” says Beatriz, who also has two adult children from a previous marriage. “So I needed to surround myself with my dreams and faces that look like me because I am not finding them anywhere else. That’s how we got involved in the BIPOC markets and the Indigenous markets. Out of an intentional path to try to find people like ourselves.”
When she’s not in her home studio, Beatriz works as a legal assistant and paralegal instructor, meaning she often works in phases. And she never works on just one piece from beginning to end — or alone.
“We’re a family of artisans. Every piece we do, we share in it,” says Beatriz. The process to make the wood carvings is intricate. She draws the design on the wood, and cuts out each piece — like a puzzle. Then she shapes each piece with her wood-carving knives. Luciana often helps with sanding, chatting with Beatriz as they work. Beatriz then stains each piece and fits the pieces back together. “My husband does the framing and gluing for me, which is my least favorite part,” she says.
Luciana has been going to markets with her parents since she was 3. “We are surrounded by makers and artists. And I am extremely thankful about it. My daughter has been exposed to so many artists and what they make,” says Beatriz. “Now she makes her own stuff! She has made two ukuleles.”
Beatriz also does custom portrait commissions, often working with pine because it’s affordable and replenishable. She always asks clients about the person she’ll be immortalizing in wood. And then she repeats those words over and over as she is carving the piece — like a meditation mantra. “The wood is like every tree that is around us that absorbs from its environment. So I believe the more you talk about them, the more you touch the pieces, the more it’s in your home and feels the love … the more the piece itself becomes imbued with it.”