Gastboards break the rules
In these times when harmony feels like a dream in the face of division and doubt, Roberto Gastelumendi’s rule-breaking woodworking technique defies the response of his materials - and the doubts of other woodworkers - to join against all odds. His technique combines a high-contrast mix of grain, domestic and exotic species, patterns and shapes. And his pieces offer unique storylines - narratives that are best related first-hand and accompanied by his homemade Peruvian lentils or the chill of an Oakland evening after windsurfing in the Bay.
One of these stories is Roberto's commitment to a world where unity is the antidote to oppression (with a deferential nod to activist Fred Hampton). His philosophy is based on the premise that there is a richness and resilience in difference, and his furniture making is a testament to this. After unexpected flooding in a former workshop, Roberto was pleased to find that his innovative joinery not only withstood the expansion and contraction indicative of wood meeting water - exactly what most woodworkers dismissed as the impossibility of his work - but the pressure and movement seemed to create an even stronger, interlocking bond.
Inspiration and realization
Gastboards’ products range from fine-art sculpture—including a piece referencing the prehistoric Peruvian Chavin peoples’ stone lances, furniture, and installations, as well as two lines of kitchen accessories—the gallery-worthy kitchen art, and a simplified “product line” to attend to aesthetic affordability, including cutting boards, pepper mills, knife blocks, and bread paddles. Roberto is constantly innovating and drawn to collaboration to expand the range of Gastboards products to include - paddles in Hawaii, sunglasses with laminate made from his joinery in Basque Country, surfboard fins in southern California, chess boards, and wood-turned accessories.
His pieces are inspired by the angle of an animal’s leg, a fanciful cluster of hobbit houses, sensual curves, the lines of classic painters (many fans refer to Klimt’s echo in his work), the lilt of a land or seascape, or dreams, as is the case with the grasshopper table.
Wenge to purple heart to maple: a migration story
Roberto was born in Comas, a community in the arid cerros surrounding Lima, the world’s second driest capital, settled in the 1970s with limited infrastructure by rapid rural-urban migration. His mother’s family was one of migrant lineage and a mix of European and indigenous histories (think purple heart, Peruvian walnut), and his father, that of enslaved Africans displaced to another continent (the wenge, ebony, and zebra wood he uses). Retracing his own path to the United States (white oak, maple, cherry), and the Bay Area 25 years ago, Roberto characterizes his migration as one of an economic refugee. It was never his choice to leave his country—but rather the result of pressures from his family, his vision, soon to be realized, with the wish to return and set up shop in his home hills.
As a woodworker, Roberto is self-taught—through diligence and awareness, trial and error, and a constant willingness dive in—just like his communication style: right through the middle of the hard places. He made his way from construction assistant, cleaning up and shuttling materials as an 18-year-old, to self-employed contractor, to a furniture-maker artist, and finish carpenter working in the extraordinary homes of the monied elite in the Bay Area. Always dreaming big, he rose through the ranks while also supporting his family back home.
Roberto can be found whistling salsa classics or singing the soul-punching poetics of Rubin Blades, and moving gracefully in a deep reverence around his eight-foot tall bandsaw. But the idyllic overtones of the life Roberto has crafted, backed by the East Bay hills and the sunsets over the water, has its share of rough edges. It’s a struggle: keeping shop space in a gentrifying and expensive area, shipping his equipment home in a cargo container in a rush when a landlord sold the shop with little notice, and the timeless puzzle of balancing client leads and marketing with his own skills in creation and production. Roberto believes in leaving a place better than when he arrived - and our lives will be better for the legacy of his art.
For more information visit www.gastboards.com.