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Tagua nuts grow on several kinds of Tagua Palm trees in Central and South American rain forests.
Another name for Tagua Nuts is "Vegetable Ivory" because the inside of the nut looks and feels like ivory. Tagua has been used since Victorian days for such items as buttons, jewelry, and chess pieces and is used today by carvers, turners and scrimshaw artists as well as pyrographers.
These nuts are a renewable resource, harvested by hand without harm to the tree. They are being used more and more as a substitute for ivory. Each tagua palm can produce as much "ivory" each year as a female elephant does in her lifetime. Harvesting tagua is provides local populations with a sustainable economic base while protecting the rain forest.
The nuts grow in small clusters which are in turn part of a large cluster of nuts called a "cabeza" (Spanish for "head"). They have a dark outer covering. When the nuts are first picked, the inside is soft, almost a gel, and can be eaten with a spoon. Gradually the nuts harden to a color and texture similar to ivory, and can be carved or otherwise shaped like ivory. They are extremely durable. Many will darken slightly in time to an "old ivory" shade.
I buy my Tagua nuts already sliced, because they are very difficult to slice neatly.
I carve my original designs into them with a woodburning pen. They are harder to burn than wood but I can create very fine textures and crisp incised lines on tagua. The transparent colors I use are well suited to tagua nuts and create a glowing effect in the final art work.
- Rita Ferrara
11610 Gail Street, Wheaton, MD 20902-2454
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