Raidel Molina, a 21-year-old with just a hint of facial hair, gently files down a broken piece of an antique table that's about five times his age. Next, he explains, he will glue a piece of wood to the spot and then patiently shape it to match the dark-stained leaf molding.
"The thing I like most is the detail," Raidel Molina says.
Molina is a second-year student at Havana's Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos Workshop School, where artistically inclined 17- to 25-year-olds who like working with their hands learn the rare art of historical restoration.
The two-year course includes practical lessons in everything from carpentry and masonry to mural painting and plaster work. Students round out their general education with math, history, language and culture to help them understand the antiques they're restoring.
Since it was founded in 1992 under an accord between the City Historian's Office and the Spanish government, about 860 graduates have honed their craft while sprucing up more than 150 projects in Old Havana, a formerly seedy neighborhood that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982 and is a big tourist draw today.
Administrators say the school offers students a chance to study something they love, and about 70 percent find restoration jobs in the neighborhood afterward.
"I can't see myself sitting behind a desk, and I can't stand air conditioning," says Patricia Godinez Alonzo, 27, a former student who stayed on to teach stained glass. "My sister is an accountant and she's happy, but I find that kind of work monotonous."