Jose Zanine Caldas

A biography

A self-taught artist, designer and architect, Jose Zanine Caldas (1919-2001) was born on the southern coast of Bahia in Brazil. At age twenty, he opened an architectural scale model workshop in Rio de Janeiro where he worked with modernist pioneers such as Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer.

In 1948, he and two business partners started the company Móveis Artisticos Z. Their elegantly simple, organically-shaped pieces in plywood were produced at a price point that made them accessible to the emerging market of collectors with an eye toward a modern style.

In the early 1950s, Zanine left the company and returned to his home state of Bahia. Heavily inspired by the local craftsmen there who carved boats and furniture from felled trees, Zanine began experimenting with chiseling and carving large, sculptural works, which became the focus of his later career. He also set himself apart with his pavilion-type architectural constructions in richly-colored hewn logs. Zanine was a devoted steward of the forest and proponent of environmental protection. He wrote extensively about his connection to the forest and tried, whenever possible, to either use already felled trees or to plant a tree for each one he used.

Zanine’s work has been exhibited in the Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and throughout his native Brazil. In 2015, it was included in Moderno: Design for Living in Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela 1940-1978, a traveling exhibition organized by the Americas Society.