Seeds of Imagination. German Aguirre Reinterprets Nature Through Storytelling In Design

by Laura Goldstein

Like a surgeon performing the most delicate of operations, he precisely places each seed with long tweezers into intricate patterns on furniture tabletops whose designs recall swirling Tibetan Mandalas. A Brazilian amethyst morphs into an ageless geological sculpture; a rotating conical pendulum of burnt wood and gold leaf is transformed into a mechanical embodiment of a Japanese dry sand Zen Garden. In the hands of sculptor and furniture maker German Aguirre ( pronounced Herman in Spanish,) his pieces are as contemplative as they are functional.

“As a child growing up in Lima, Peru, my mother’s and grandmother’s antique store was an endless playground of lampshades and pieces of things to build with. I’ve always been mechanically minded,” laughs German from his studio, German Aguirre Design Atelier in West Vancouver. “But it was my gap year as a guide in the Amazon that changed my whole world. I admired the artists of Peru and their use of stones, wood, engravings and natural elements,” he explains. “I want to tell a story through my pieces but with a modern interpretation.”

Before eventually putting down roots in West Vancouver,  Aguirre trained in visual arts and  design at the University of New South Wales  Sydney, Australia and in product design at The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. The intrepid world traveller moved to New York after graduation. There he worked on collaborative projects including Hugo Boss fragrances, Bose SoundWear and a 3D printer concept at Aruliden NYC. When he and his Canadian wife, Dr. Kelly Barnett decided to re-locate to Tuscan, Arizona for her work in 2015,  Aguirre became mesmerized by the natural landscape, gemstones and minerals native to the area. “I wanted to tell a story on a more mentally conscious level that was really meaningful to me,” he explains about making the transition from product design to sculpture and furniture. 

His Seed Line Collection of tables, ingenious Lazy Susans and wall-mount art are created with native seeds to Peru; huayruros, quionoa, chia, shihuahuaco seeds, black beans and shells. They are inlaid in colourful and meticulously patterned layers of eco-friendly, water resistant resin. “I love working with reclaimed ash and charred wood although birch plywood is usually what I use to build the tables,” he explains. Having drawn out his patterns by hand first, Aguirre then projects them onto the tabletops then begins the arduous process of placing thousands of seeds, one at a time to form the intricate patterns.

It’s truly a labour of love for Aguirre who recently completed a custom Lazy Susan for an 80-inch dining table for American singer/ songwriter, Kelly Levesque (she has collaborated with David Foster, Sting and John Legend,) and her husband, Canadian, Fraser Walters, a former member of The Tenors, for their getaway home in Kauai. “In this piece I’m symbolizing how the power of their music can shape mountains like the majestic Napali Coast along Kauai’s North Shore. Together they create this world around them through their passion, love, talent and creativity to ensure a safe and nurturing space for their family of five. This I represented by a five-petal flower which is the shape Venus, the Earth and the Sun create with their orbits,” Aguirre explains. Embedding huayruros, quinoa, black sesame and black beluga lentils into the design, the tabletop shimmers with colours derived from  malachite, turquoise, carnelian, rose quartz and azurite semi precious minerals and crystals. He is currently working on a 12-foot dining table top inlaid with seeds for a family in Whistler that will convey their love of the mountains, skiing and ancestral history.

Aguirre’s sculptures embody both the geological past and the contemporary present. His seemingly endless curiosity and insatiable thirst for spiritual connections with nature, led to his creation of Ahora. Reminiscent of a Japanese Zen sand garden, it is a conical sculpture suspended in a steel frame and finished in gold leaf. An electric motor rotates the hands through the sand, analogous to the passing of time. And, with his passion to reinterpret gemstones in new and exciting ways, Aguirre’s mineral sculptures, like the egg-like Gaia’s Womb in which a stunning citrine geode metaphorically symbolizes the gestation of life, appears to defy gravity within it’s wooden frame. He also created a one-of-a-kind commission for actress and Oscar winner, Goldie Hawn. “She wanted a heart-shaped faceted crystal mounted on a pedestal for  her partner of forty years, actor, Kurt Russell for Valentine’s Day one year,” says Aguirre. 

“It’s been Kelly’s and my dream to eventually open our own wellness retreat in the future emphasizing healing through the creative arts and I will design it,” Aguirre affirms. My wife, who just gave birth to our second child, specializes in internal and integrated medicine. In the past, we’ve done two workshops together – one on Bowen Island and the other at Loon Lake Retreat in Maple Ridge,” Aguirre explains. “I conduct a forest walk gathering natural seeds, branches, stones etc., that we use to design simple sculptures and Kelly creates curated experiences devoted to well-being such as the relationship between diet, nutrition and emotional health. Family and the interconnectedness of the human condition with nature mean everything to me.”