If you visit Bamboo Brieri, you will discover how bamboo can beautify your house and enhance your garden. You will also be amazed by what can be created with these woody, tree-like tropical grasses.
The owner of Bamboo Brieri Workshop and Garden, on the banks of the Río Blanco near the Caribbean-slope town of Guápiles, is Brian Erickson, a tall, bearded, unassuming woodworker and cabinet maker from the U.S. state of Wisconsin, and an internationally known expert on the propagation and uses of bamboo.
Erickson and his wife, highly acclaimed artist Patricia Erickson (see sidebar), started their odyssey to Central America in 1987. Inspired by David Farrelly’s “The Book of Bamboo” and Patricia’s desire to work with Nicaraguan war victims, the couple joined an experimental bamboo construction project in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Later, Erickson traveled to Costa Rica to study bamboo weaving, basket and furniture making with the Taiwanese Bamboo Technical Mission in the Caribbean port of Moín.
Subsequently, he worked with the National Bamboo Project of Costa Rica (FUNBAMBU) for eight years. During that time, exhibitions of his bamboo sculptures and furniture included those at the Contemporary Art and DesignMuseum (1995), the National Theater (1998) and the Echandi Gallery (1999). He also presented papers on his work with bamboo at international conferences in China, Colombia and Costa Rica.
Since constructing the Muebles Brieri Workshop in 2000 (out of bamboo, of course!), Erickson has been too busy building and designing custom-made furniture and maintaining his bamboo garden to do much sculpturing.
“The line between the two tends to blur,” he remarks. “In a way, I’m a fiber artist, because bamboo is made up of fiber bundles concentrated under its exterior skin. I find myself working with a material very much like wood, but with an enhanced flexibility and strength, which gives it an almost muscular appearance.”
These characteristics can be seen in Erickson’s furniture designs, which are sculptures in themselves. He works with three assistants from the local community, whom he trained personally.
“I design and build a prototype, often incorporating basic ideas given to me by my customers,” Erickson says.
His furniture is an eclectic, inspired and sometimes wild collection of chairs, rockers, sofas, benches, tables, lamps and screens.
They display the practicality, comfort and flexibility of what can be done with bamboo, and can be seen in many private homes, hotels and restaurants throughout the country.
At present, Erickson is building a cabinet for San José’s Tin-Jo restaurant, to add to its collection of flame chairs and a table in the restaurant’s Bali Room. He is also delighted to have the opportunity to design and build furniture for the Pacuare Lodge, on the banks of the Caribbean slope’s PacuareRiver, including king-style Balinese canopy beds, matching furnishings and lattice window coverings.
Visitors to the workshop have the opportunity to learn about the innovative ways of working with bamboo. The giant canes are received freshly cut and green, ready to be sawed into strips, and are then treated and dried for three months.
“We use only guadua, a bamboo native to the Americas grown at Los Diamantes, a government farm near Guápiles,” Erickson says. “Bamboo is not a certified forest product and there’s no control over harvesting.
However, with the problems of deforestation, this species harvested after three years is a viable alternative.”
Costa Rica has only 350 hectares of bamboo; Erickson’s garden, planted and tended by him, comprises one and a half hectares. It’s a shady, bewitching, verdant green sanctuary often visited by great green macaws. Bamboo groves on two levels meander down to the Río Blanco, with its pure mountain waters tumbling over a rocky bed.
Here you will find a total of 35 species, including rice bamboo from China, temple bamboo from Bali and brandisii from Thailand, as well as bamboos from India, Colombia and Brazil. Exotic palm species, native trees such as the campano and vainillo, the curious mule’s-foot fern and the strange monster Dracontium gigas all flourish in this living sculpture garden.
Propagation of bamboos by various means is a project close to Erickson’s heart. He collects seeds from all over the world, selects the best clones and is happy to sell the young plants.
Adding to his already busy life, Erickson is thrilled about teaching an elective three-month course at nearby EARTHUniversity.
“I will cover as many aspects as I can on the use of bamboo and its propagation,” he says. “It’s the first time I’ve taught in an academic structure, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Bamboo Brieri offers two-hour guided tours of the workshop and garden in English or Spanish. The group rate is $50. A full-day visit to the workshop and garden is available for $20 per person (lunch not included), with a minimum group size of 10 and a maximum of 20. This interactive experience commences with a tour of the garden and workshop; the rest of the day is spent in the shop testing your imagination and skill with bamboo, as you make whatever you can in the time allowed.
For more information, or to enquire about ordering custom-made furniture, call 710-1958 or e-mail [email protected]. Bamboo Brieri is off the highway to Limón (seven kilometers before Guápiles, coming from San José), on the Río Blanco road, 400 meters south of the Río Blanco bridge.