A Contemporary Cuban Silvermisth

Silver work by Rosana Vargas

HAVANA TIMES — The creator of an original brand of products, Roxana Vargas is making her mark as a precious metal craftswoman, taking the market by storm with beautiful silver pieces made in Cuba.

HT: Where does your gift come from?

Roxana Vargas: I am self-taught. I studied civil engineering at university. Silversmithing came into my life when I met a teacher from the San Alejandro Arts Academy. With him, I learned the basics that allowed me to get going in this art.

HT: Has this trade led you down a particular path in life?

RV: The craft found me. I didn’t know why at the time. In fact, I recall that, as a child, I would go to arts and crafts class and I was terrible at it. I never thought I’d end up doing a craft for a living, I was always more of a sciences person. I ended up falling in love with hammers and tools in general, I particularly enjoy giving shape to things. It’s an immense pleasure doing it. I’ve been a precious metal craftswoman for 14 years now.

HT: What metals do you commonly use?

RV: I almost always work with silver.

Handing a key to Roque Benavides en Peru.

HT: How would you define the work you’ve chosen to do?

RV: In my case, it’s been the effort to set a fashion, and fashions are governed by trends, so we try to adapt to these trends in our designs, our way of making the products. Of course, I have also been interested in the more artistic side of silversmithing. I’ve done the occasional sculpture, which is now part of Peru’s Silversmithing Association. But it’s been a question of trying to set a fashion, something the public will choose to buy, for the most part.

HT: Tell us about En busca del sol (“In Search of the Sun”).

RV: We’ve been working in this project for more than 4 years. It’s my passion right now. I am very much enthused by the idea it’s working, bringing young people together, changing the lives of people. It’s a community project, but it has also become a commercial one, because we’ve opened our doors to the young, prepared them, taught them, made them part of our production team by immersing them in the work. This is training for them and makes them feel accomplished, making them good craftspeople.

There’s the case of my sister, the oldest student in terms of age in the project. Then, her husband joined the project, and so the project becomes a family project as well. We also make a point of creating new talents for the trade, as there aren’t many schools that teach it in Cuba, with the exception of a small department at the San Alejandro Visual Arts Academy.

So, En busca del sol is a small school, that’s how I see it. Many of these young people not only stay to continue working with us, there are also others that take a risk and decide to go it alone, and that’s positive. I believe this project is going to grow, and that excites me.

HT: How can we get to know ROX products?

RV: Those interested can come see us. The thing right now is that we’re looking for a place. We’ve been looking for a place that will allow us to expand for four years, since we started the project. I should mention my husband and I are the ones who finance this project, it doesn’t have government support. We finance it entirely ourselves, and it’s been growing little by little.

We open our doors to the public every three months and then decide how many people we can take on. The idea is for these people to stay working with ROX, that is to say, we still don’t have the resources to open a school and offer lessons, to set up a space where classes can be offered.

We do this in the same place we work in, in our workshop, and it restricts us some, we would like to be able to do much more. We have support from the Cuban Cultural Assets Fund, but we’re still looking for resources. You can visit us at www.rox950.com

HT: Tell us about your participation in one of the most important events of the trade.

RV: The Peru Silversmithing Association is an institution that gathers Spanish-speaking precious metal craftspeople every two years. It’s a very important gathering based on the idea of setting trends and, on that basis, have each craftsperson produce their work. I’ve had the pleasure of taking part in this with my own pieces on three occasions. I’ve donated my pieces in all three occasions.

I participated last year with my husband, with designs of ours from two different collections which were a very important part of our work in 2015, Open Doors and Trio, from our silver and wine collection.

I think more Cuban craftspeople should take part in the event, because the lectures offered there by internationally-renowned experts, who use techniques we didn’t even know existed, are very rewarding. They invite you, you send them a design proposal, the one you will participate with, and, if you’re selected, you have to cover your own expenses to take part in the 7-day event.

HT: How does Cuban silversmithing look from the perspective of an event of that magnitude?

RV: I’ve been the only Cuban participant for 2 years straight and that makes me feel rather sad. I know there are very good silversmiths on the island, that there’s plenty of talent and impressive, quality pieces. Yanier Benitez is a craftsman who has participated there, offering workshops, and that’s how I found out about it.

HT: Tell us about your experiences at the Habanos cigar festival.

RV: Habanos was the peak of the year, which had already been eventful and intense, and, thanks to it, we closed the month of January with a golden brush, not only because of the award we received and the reception our work enjoyed, but also because of the opportunity to present our collection for the first time, exhibit the Puro Acento and the male accessories collections, Ablerto, dedicated to my father. It’s something quite sentimental that will always be with me. Many doors in terms of including our products in collections opened for us and we managed to obtain an award for our stand.

Having had the opportunity to take part in the Habanos festival was like receiving a silver award. We participated this year with the help of small sponsors and had the pleasure of giving some of our pieces to some of the world’s most renowned representatives of the trade. This honor has been very important for us.

HT: What other interesting projects are you working on as part of Rox 950?

RV: There are other collections we’ve been producing, including Lo bello lo llevo dentro (“I Wear My Beauty Within”), inspired by a song by Pablo Milanes. The Caguayo Design Biennale in Mexico has also invited us to take part in their event, though I’m not sure what it’s all about. I do know they’re invited many artists and that the event is in May. We will be there with our collection.

6 thoughts on “A Contemporary Cuban Silvermisth

  • I’d like to take some courses in silversmithing…just because i enjoy…I’m sort of a beginner …have made a very few pieces …for me it is therapy…and push myself to try to be a perfectionist…can you help…????

  • My Cuban grandmother and I shared a studio years ago, she was an amazing builder,landscaper and peace activist who chose to become a silversmith in her sixties and taught me. I will come find you when I return, our family is in la Habana y en Oriente. Cuban design is the most beautiful and unique because we are inventive. Have you been shown en La Fabrica? it is a good venue for extranjeros to see current work.

  • Hello, I am interested in purchasing the jewelry. I emailed you at [email protected].

  • Change the posts, it’s easy to make them smaller. Rings are easy to downsize too.

    No clue where to sell them otherwise.

    Good luck.

  • I was in Havana in October and went to visit ROX studio with my tour group who has a relationship with Rosana. I purchased two pair of earrings and one ring with a pearl. I can not wear the earrings as my ear opening is small and the posts on the earrings are too large for me. The ring is beautiful but too large for me.
    I want to sell them but the only avenue I know of is Craig’s list and I really don’t want to use that.
    Any ideas from you? Yvonne [email protected]

  • I’ve always been surprised at the lack of fine jewellery artists in Cuba. Cubans love jewellery, but most would rather wear 10 pieces of crappy fake gold plated junk than one stellar classic piece designed and manufactured using real raw material. It’s a crazy style.

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