"My name is Ralph J. Ashong, and I am a professional sculptor and designer. I believe in the maxim: 'Creativity is the essence of art,' hence my steady ongoing tradition of creative contribution to the development and promotion of Ghana's rich culture.
<br><br>"I was born a creative person, I have a love and passion for art. At school I loved creating beautiful collages and jewelry items. Eventually I understood the economic potential behind arts and crafts when I realized the deep sense of fulfillment I first felt when I could earn from it. I learned I could provide my basic needs by doing what I created out of love and passion. The jewelry products I made then were made out of wood I carved out myself, leather and glass beads.
<br><br>"My interest rose higher when I passed to enroll in the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology where I graduated after six years with an Honors Bachelor of Arts degree in Sculpture, First Class. In the same year I won the Mobil Award for the best student sculptor. I am a Masters graduate in African Art from the same university.
<br><br>"I joined the crafts production department of the National Cultural Center in Kumasi, Ashanti Region in 1983 and rose to the position of its head. I resigned from that position in 1987 and worked at various craft companies and institutions working in various positions for another seven years until I founded my very own workshop with my late wife in 1994.
<br><br>"I have since been designing and crafting for both retail and wholesale. I love the process of designing and crafting. It is a great feeling to craft something out of almost nothing, it feels like giving life to an object. A plank of wood, for example, takes on a form or meaning once carved into a dreamed up design.
<br><br>"As a pioneer in the contemporary handicraft sector I have a strong tradition of product design and adaptation through the process of recycling wood and metal (iron, brass, and aluminum) and glass scraps, giving them added value. Much of the reclaimed wood I use would has been used as fuel wood with its attendant degrading impact on the environment.
<br><br>"I also work as a Product Design Consultant, collaborating with local craft men and women. I have so far helped close to thirty wood carvers, brass smiths, and glass workers living in the countryside by re-directing their creative skills towards more innovative, environmentally and socially friendly production methods and materials to craft products that meet contemporary tastes and needs.
<br><br>"Through my work as an artist, I was able to build a wood bridge for my community in 1994. In 2003, I built a water reservoir behind my home from which members of my community to this day continue to fetch water. I have also provided a strong metal ramp over an open drain. This enables free and easy movement for both vehicles (including tipper and cargo trucks) and pedestrians.
<br><br>"My favorite thing about the art of carving is the ability to add value to a piece of raw material which could have been used as firewood. Nature, the environment, crafting traditions and existing products as well as human needs inspire me to create. I have also drawn a lot of inspiration from Yoruba, Dagon, Ashanti, Fanti, Bamileke, Baluba, Bakongo African tribes craft traditions.
<br><br>"I have a great interest in cultures in general and crafting traditions in particular: their promotion, sustenance and development. Job creation and economic empowerment have contributed to help me master the crafts that I am engaged in. Over the years designing and crafting in general has evolved beyond ?making art for art sake'. We are more conscious of environmental issues and one must always consider how materials used in making a piece of jewelry or furniture will impact the environment.
<br><br>"The greatest challenge I face is how to craft products with zero negative impact on environment. However I have taken steps to overcome this challenge by adopting the use of off cuts and scrap material from other artisans. Minimalism and eco-design are my current philosophy in art.
<br><br>"In 2006 I lost my wife and business partner after nearly five years battle with ovarian cancer. I also lost focus, morale and enthusiasm. With the support of my two daughters, family and friends, the church and encouragement from the Bible, I managed to bounce back. I am taking steps to revamp my business. I remarried in 2008 and now a couple of friends, also widowers, confided in me that they wish they could also remarry. I thank God for my life.
<br><br>"I currently have two assistants who help me with the jewelry-making, although I do most of the carving of the wood pendants myself. My second daughter who is an art student in KNUST (Department of Integrated Rural Art and Industry) also helps me with painting and finishing when she is on holidays.
<br><br>"Friends describe me as creative, responsible and resourceful. I am also known to be a big dreamer and it is my wish to translate my numerous ideas into wonderful products.
<br><br>"I hope to set up a Design Consultancy through which I can continue to provide assistance to students and artisans. I would also like to build exclusive gallery where I can promote my work. My dream is to design more environmentally friendly products as my contribution to save our planet."
In the Andes, the Land of the Four Corners, mountains are sacred. So is culture. The Nazca lines, the Wari glyphs, the Quipu knots and the complex multi-colored textiles of the Incas are all recorded and live on the work of contemporary Peruvian artisans.