If eating dinner in Plaza Santo Domingo one
day you happen to see a barefoot and tattooed
man wearing white clothes, sporting Rastafarian
dreadlocks, goatee beard and numerous bead necklaces,
you have probably run into Jesus Enrique Medina,
better known as Quique (pronounced kick-ay).
Although it might be hard to believe, Quique
has had dealings with people as diverse as Shakira,
Chelsea Clinton, Colombian actress Juanita Acosta
and Irish harpist Shelly Cox. He is renown for
his hand-made artifacts, and has provided stunning
pieces to customers all over Colombia.
Quique is the President of the Plaza Santo Domingo
Artesanias Guild. He has his own workshops in
Turbaco and Getsemani where he employs several
craftsmen. I recently made the trip out to Turbaco
with some teacher friends of mine to see his men
in action. After taking us on a long walk in the
surrounding countryside, where he simultaneously
collected seeds entertained us with local Indian
legends and herbal remedies, we returned to his
Quique works with gold, silver, bronze, copper,
emeralds, crystals, seeds, leather, bone, fossils,
bamboo and other materials. Every piece is unique,
whether it be a seed belt, silver bangle, emerald
necklace or a bead wrap. He can make things
to order from a simple sketch or instruction,
and can do detailed filigree work. His workshop
has just some stools and benches, a hydraulic
press, a polishing wheel, hand drills and a
crude blowtorch device fashioned out of a container
of gasoline connected to a foot-pump. On this
occasion, my friend Richard had asked him if
he could make an copy of his bracelet, an acid-etched
bronze piece originally brought from Scotland,
to give to his Colombian girlfriend.
Quique made a charcoal rubbing of the original.
Then he enlarged the rubbing on a photocopier
about 15%, and got one of his boys to cut out
the unicorn, oak tree and sun and moon motifs
from solid gold. After rolling a piece of silver
between two big wringers, flattening it into
a bracelet sized piece, he used the templates
as patterns for the the gold unicrorn sun and
moon motifs. He then soldered the motifs to
the bracelet, polished it all and presented
Richard with a hand made solid silver and gold
memento. Richard was so impressed he immediately
ordered another for himself, this one incorporating
an emerald, so he and his girlfriend could have
a matching pair.
Quique showed me his official ID card from the
US State Department, which led to his story
about Chelsea Clinton. When Chelsea had visited
Cartagena with her father in September 2000,
he had been invited by the local government
to display his wares in the Plaza San Pedro.
"I was getting a bit bored standing there all
day" he explained, "without a table and not
allowed to move from my designated spot with
all those secret agents looking at me suspiciously".
then along came Bill Clinton and Chelsea. Quique
caused some ructions among those same agents
when he gave Bill a firm and very rigorous handshake.
Then he shook Chelsea's hand. Seizing the opportunity,
still gripping her right hand with his own,
he slid an engraved coconut shell bracelet from
his own right wrist onto hers, much to the chagrin
of secret service agents who were hovering nearby.
"How much?" she asked. Through an interpreter
he said it was a gift. She smiled and accepted
it, and pointed out 30 other items which an
aide noted down. Later in the day a group of
men from the State Department arrived and bought
up 30 items!
Another story he told was about a long piece
of silver rod he was toying around with. He
twisted it and shaped it into an amulet, thinking
if no-one bought the expensive solid silver
item, he could always re-work it into smaller
pieces. A Colombian bought it from him, saying
it was for a special friend. He was startled
to see his amulet on TV a few months later...
being worn by Shakira in the Pepsi comercial!
Quique has no pretensions to fame, explaining
that all men are equal, and even though his
regular customers include President Pastrana's
daughter Laura, he charges everyone the same
price, which is cost of the silver plus a modest
percentage for labour.
All this is a far cry from the day he was thrown
in jail for being an "illegal vendor". When
Plaza Santo Domingo started attracting tourists
in large numbers, and tables and chairs appeared
in what was previously a public square, some
of the restaurant owners resented the presence
of the "hippies", and organised his arrest.
Quique mounted his own defence and through negotiation
with the local Mayor's Office, set up a license
system that limits the numbers of sellers and
tables and chairs in the Plaza. Now he is President
of the Artesanias Guild, and battles to keep
usurpers with bogus permits out of the Plaza.
He is often called upon to settle minor disputes
between the vendors, and works actively to expel
vendors who cheat tourists.
currently employs three workers, two of them
formerly troubled youths who he accepted into
his home to teach them the ancient craft of
goldsmithing. He travels all around Colombia
to service his growing clientele and get the
best prices on silver, emeralds and trade his
wares with other artesanias from as far away
as Argentina. Quique Medina is the man to see
if you want a fossilized shark tooth from Costa
Rica or ostrich bone beads. He can easily be
found simply by asking the other vendors in
the Plaza Santo Domingo, and is easy to spot:
he's the guy who hasn't worn shoes or had a
haircut since 1990.
Glen David Short is a freelance writer
based in Cartagena. His new adventure travelogue,
`An Odd Odyssey: California to Colombia
by bus and boat' has just been published
by Trafford Publishing.
B A C K -
and Photos Copyright 2005 Glen David Short