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Carving a Life : After Long Struggle, Deaf Tustin Man Doing What He Does Best: Intricate Handwork

November 25, 1989|JOSEPH N. BELL | Joseph N. Bell is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

You notice the eyes first, then the hands. The eyes are wonderfully expressive; they have to be. They provide Julian Posada his only means of communication with people who don't know sign language.

The hands communicate too. Julian's firm, strong, calloused grip speaks of a life spent working with hands--rough work that tore and scarred and once took a finger. But when you see that work, you know those eyes reflect creativity, and the rough-hewn hands are capable of the finest and gentlest and most delicate artistry.

It took a leap of imagination for Steve Shedd and Tom Silk to see this--or even suspect it. Shedd and Silk are partners who own and operate Steven-Thomas Antiques on Dyer Road in Santa Ana. Four years ago, they advertised for a warehouseman. Julian Posada answered that ad. Or rather Julian and his family did. Julian had been commuting from Tustin to a job in Los Angeles. Because he can't drive, that meant spending the week with a friend in Los Angeles and taking a bus to Tustin for weekends. The Posada family wanted a better life for him.

So when a friend pointed out the Steven-Thomas ad, Julian, his wife, Ana Rosa, and their daughter, Rosalind, came to interview for the job. Ana Rosa, like Julian, has neither speech nor hearing. Rosalind--a dark-haired, willowy, animated teen-ager who is a freshman at Tustin High School--is their voice, their opening to a speaking world.

"She was 10 when they came in that first time," Shedd recalls. "A very self-possessed young woman. She was dickering with us on behalf of her father, and I never knew how much of it was getting back to him."

It was clear from the beginning that Julian was not a candidate for the warehouse job. He was too old, for starters, but he was also too skilled. He brought with him some pictures of furniture he had designed and built. The pictures gave no real clue to his woodcarving skills, but they intrigued the partners.

"The pictures," Shedd says, "gave him a whole new dimension, but Tom and I were fascinated from the beginning with the fact that he was deaf, and we got emotionally involved. That isn't always wise, but with Julian, it turned out that we got a lot out of it too."

That likelihood became clear the first day Julian was on the job. "We needed to duplicate a leg for a cabinet," Shedd says, "and the pictures Julian showed us didn't indicate he knew woodcarving. But I asked him to do it anyway, and the finished job was so perfect I couldn't tell the original legs from Julian's carving."

Since that first test, Julian has carved his own place in the Steven-Thomas operation. As the partners explained, antique furniture is sometimes damaged in shipment from its source to the Santa Ana store. Delicately carved pieces are broken or missing. So it became Julian's job to replicate those missing or damaged pieces so perfectly that the repair work could never be seen. And that he has done with consummate skill.

He proudly showed some of the jobs he has completed and the projects on which he is now working--mostly fine, intricate carving that he does with hand tools. Then he sat at a table outside his workshop with Ana Rosa, Rosalind and a friend named Luis Londono, who lives with the family, and talked about the route he has traveled from Colombia to Orange County.

He talked with his hands and Rosalind translated. Ana Rosa and Luis--reading the sign language--would frequently interrupt, and there would be a spirited--and silent--argument among the three about the facts while Rosalind patiently tried to get a consensus to report.

The basic biographical facts are undisputed. Julian and Ana Rosa, both deaf from birth, grew up in Bogota, Colombia. Julian was one of six children whose father struggled constantly to feed and clothe them on a carpenter's wage. Julian began working with wood when he was 7, and by the time he reached adulthood, Julian had his own woodcarving and cabinetmaking shop. He was mostly self-taught, working from books he learned to read during two years of study at a school for the deaf in Bogota. He met Ana Rosa at a party and was almost 40 when they were married in 1970.

He and his wife migrated to Florida three years later. Colombians could not afford Julian's fine work and he hoped to find customers for his skills in wealthy America. But it didn't work that way. He was unable to demonstrate his skills in Miami--mostly because he couldn't communicate--and spent six months as a dishwasher before he and Ana Rosa moved to Fresno to join a cousin. Again, Julian couldn't find satisfactory work, so the couple moved to Houston, where he found a job as a carpenter. But the wages were low and the birth of Rosalind made Julian want to seek a better life.

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