ON a breezy April day in Atenas, an hour northwest ofSan José, Orlando Carranza, 37, welcomed me to his studiowith a modest smile. Wearing a black Quicksilver T-shirtand comfortable Bermudas, the award-winning sculptorand set designer appeared supremely casual – somewhatsurprising for an adept, internationally renowned artist.Carranza’s religious and secular work can be found inhis native country of Costa Rica, as well as in Belize,Canada and Mexico, where the artist studied and trained for11 years. All of his unique sculptures have a distinctive,lively, human touch.“I create each piece separately,” the artist explainedenthusiastically, “giving it an exclusive and natural character.I do not produce high quantities, but work with all my heart.”IT all began when Carranza was in kindergarten, in hisnative town of Atenas; his talent was uncovered immediatelythrough sketching, painting, and modeling withPlasticine – yet his mother was not amused by her son’screative activities.“At first, my mother did not like to see me playing withclay because I made a mess in the house,” he recalled.From kindergarten to grade six, Carranza took firstplace every year for sculpture and painting.In 1981, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sportsdeclared the 13-year-old “Joven Escultor Costarricense”(Young Costa Rican Sculptor), enabling him to study onscholarship in Mexico. His master was doyen FranciscoZúñiga, one of the most important Latin American sculptorsof the 20th century. Born in 1912 in San José, CostaRica, Zúñiga moved to Mexico in 1936, where he lived,worked and taught until his death in 1998.After his apprenticeship with Zúñiga, Carranzareceived a second scholarship to enroll in sculptural art atthe Autonomous University of Mexico, where he attendedclasses in anatomy, design and tailoring, and trained as agoldsmith, among other skills.“The art of embroidery,” he said, “I learned from theMexican nuns.”During a six-month course in Florence, Italy, the artiststudied gilding and other traditional techniques to createand restore in all classical styles.TWO Mexican actresses, Silvia Pinal and VerónicaCastro, impressed by Carranza’s work, financed his careeras a set designer. To enable himself to study sculpture in themorning and set-design in the afternoon, he earned his livingas a dishwasher.“I still did not give up learning,” said the highly motivatedartist, whose sets have been featured in popular CostaRican and Mexican television series, theater productionsand music shows by famous singers Eros Ramazotti,Enrique Iglesias and Ricky Martin, among others.In Mexico, 28 of Carranza’s monumental sculptures areexhibited across the country in parks, gardens and publicplaces. Here in Costa Rica, his religious icons decoratechurches in Liberia, capital of the northwestern province ofSan José, the Caribbean port city of Limón, and San José.Atenas hosts one of his early works, a radiant white Virgende las Rosas (Virgin of the Roses), which greets residentsand visitors alike from the top of a hill.DURING the 1990s, Carranza took part in internationalsculpting competitions and received numerous prizesand awards. His artwork is available in wood, bronze,cement, granite and marble. Clients can order from anextended palette of objects and styles, including columns,replicas of antique furniture, lavish fountains or art-nouveaumirror frames. Photos and magazine pictures serve asworking patterns.One of Carranza’s future projects will be the creation oftwo graceful, larger-than-life, bronze female dancers toadorn the entrance of the National Theater in San José. Twobiographies about Carranza in Spanish – one from CostaRica, the other from Mexico – are being published and willbe available soon.When asked how he feels about his work, Carranza’sanswer is spontaneous.“My craft is my life, my soul,” he said. “I always havemore ideas than I do time to see them through.”For more information, visit Carranza at Galería de ArteSan Miguel, in Atenas, 200 meters west of the yellow lighton the main road to Orotina, on the left, or call 446-8729.