On January 3, 2017, Alcoa Corporation announced that it intends to permanently close the Suralco alumina refinery and bauxite mines in Suriname (South America).
Alcoa, an american giant in the field has been present in Suriname since 1916. In 1950, 25% of all world bauxite production was Surinamese.
The reddish ground around Paramaribo outskirts is bauxite dust. Bauxite is mined from the earth and used in making the aluminium needed for cars, planes, agricultural or military equipment, industrial and household items.
Enter Donald Richard Liot Backer, industrial designer and a captain of industry. My grandfather.
He designed, crafted and built furniture, much of it aluminium based, starting in the late 1930s. Desks, chairs, tables, for private use or for institutions (schools, hospitals) and much of it exported to countries in the region.
Incidentally, he was congratulated by Queen Juliana and her company upon her visit to the colony for his workmanship and entrepreneurial spirit.
Here are a few photos of the Backer factory towards the end of his life, shots salvaged from a family treasure trove. There is also a photo with him in the shop front with a few finished pieces in Paramaribo, Suriname.
A fine engineer and innovator known for having built his own machines for use in the factory, Opa* is also remembered for having purposely maintained the factory –open long beyond its years– to keep collaborators and craftsmen employed.
Today would have been his birthday.