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Juan Florencio Walter ("Dodo")[42]


Juan Florencio Walter "Dodo" (G. Nije-Statius van Eps)

Born in 1889, Dodo was the son of a black cabinet maker who had a small furniture store in the heart of old Otrobanda. Dodo learned his craft from one of the de Windt brothers, a Dutch family who were themselves sons of a well respected furniture maker. Such cross-racial collaboration was not uncommon among Willemstad's furniture makers and other artisans who lived and worked in Otrobanda's vibrant old commercial district. Before opening his own store on Ijzerstraat in Otrobanda Dodo went to sea, traveling extensively to different Caribbean islands, where he learned English, and working as a ship's carpenter.

Like many of Curaçao's twentieth century cabinet makers, Dodo was especially gifted in copying furniture from existing models, often producing a piece that was

indistinguishable from the original. With assistance from an apprentice, he could turn out a new cabinet in a month. In later years, he worked primarily in restoration, responding to the changing character of the trade. His name was well known among antique lovers and his expertise was often sought out.

Like many of the island's humble black craftsmen, Dodo did not have an easy life, laboring in a modest, cramped workshop in town and often waiting months or longer to be paid for his work. By the time he retired in 1980 at the age of 91 he had seen Otrobanda fall from a dynamic hub for proud, independent black artisans such as himself to a decaying center of crime, drugs and destitution. He died in 1988, at the age of 99, just as serious efforts began to revitalize and renovate the area. No doubt he would have appreciated seeing the same meticulous restoration and attention to detail he was so well known for applied to the magnificent old buildings of his beloved Otrobanda.

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