In an open-air studio near the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, Carlos Cortes works in the hot sun fashioning a tree out of cement. He is a third-generation sculptor and maker of faux-bois garden furniture. The term "faux bois" ("false wood" in French) is used to connote any technique that reproduces the texture or look of wood; for example, some artists paint deceptively real-looking wood grain onto walls or furniture. Carlos's craft entails creating objects that bear the grain and "bark" of wood. In the twenties and thirties, Carlos's father and great-uncle made concrete faux-bois garden furniture as well as faux-bois sculptures that were commissioned by the city of San Antonio. To this day, the trellis-like bridge they made in 1925 spans the headwaters of the San Antonio River. Carlos finds inspiration in the collection of their artwork, as well as in nature. He studies all aspects of the trees around him, and tries to realistically reproduce the details in his work, even the bends and twists of the branches.
First, Carlos builds a form out of wire. Then, he attaches a metal lath to the wire form and spreads a mixture of concrete sand and Portland cement onto the form with a brush. When that layer of concrete is dry, he adds another layer of cement, this one being very smooth and creamy. Before this final layer dries, Carlos sets to work on the detailing. Using tools he has fashioned himself, as well as an array of knives, forks, brushes, and trowels, he creates the organic-looking textures of a tree -- its bark, knots, and wormholes. When this layer is dry, Carlos begins adding the layers of color. He prefers to add color at this stage rather than mix it into the wet concrete because it’s much less uniform this way, like nature. When he is done, the result is a planter that looks like a tree trunk from an ancient forest.