Tomas Braverman: Sparkling Spanish Revival
Tomas Braverman’s path in woodworking has been shaped by mentors and serendipitous events. In the early 1960s, when he was living in a garage in Los Angeles and the room he used as his shop was barely 10 x 10, Braverman met Nicolas Vera, a Mayan-Mexican cabinetmaker who had no place to live. Tomas gave Nicolas a place to sleep in the rafters, and Nicolas began teaching Tomas how to build furniture in the Mexican Colonial style. The first table the two made together sold immediately–when the actor Larry Hagman happened to see Braverman’s hand-carved sign and drove down the driveway. Hagman and his wife would go on to buy dozens of pieces from Braverman over the next 30 years, and Braverman and his Mexican mentor would work together for more than a decade, sharing the profits from the pieces they made. Some tables Braverman made on his own had already sold to Rock Hudson, and his client list soon filled up with prominent Hollywood figures.
Braverman fed his passion for traditional Hispanic furniture by traveling to see it in person. He made many trips to Mexico, where he would photograph woodwork of all kinds–gates, doors, fences, furniture–and bring the ideas back to his Los Angeles shop to build new pieces derived from the old ones. In the late 1960s he began traveling to Spain as well, and on one trip to Seville he met a masterful traditional carver, Antonio Rodriguez Garcia, and wound up staying to study with him for two months. Braverman’s business was booming, enabling him to return year after year to spend another month or two under Rodriguez’s tutelage.
In the mid-1990s Braverman and his wife, Kiyo–who applies the antique finishes to all his pieces–moved from Los Angeles to Hawaii, and Braverman handed on his shop and his business to his longtime assistant, Ed Koda, whom Braverman describes as a brilliant craftsman.
Braverman, 75, still builds the occasional piece of furniture (like his spectacular vargueno on the Back Cover of issue 253), but spends much of his shop time building ukuleles, utilizing Hawaii’s treasured timber, koa. He’s also a woodworking mentor himself these days, passing on his woodworking skills to his son, Tony, and to his friend Clement Esaki.
In this audio slideshow Braverman describes his inspirations and approach to woodworking and presents outstanding pieces from across his long, prolific career.