“When I go out everyday, my husband thinks I am going to a meeting”
As softly spoken basket weaver Santina Berlofa sits down to talk about her life-long love for handmade, her eyes sparkle and a broad smile lights up the 82 year-old artisan’s face.
When I arrive for our meeting on a bright Sunday morning, Santina is actually working – she does the voluntary job of serving customers at the shop run by the artisan association of Monte Alegre do Sul, a small town in the countryside of São Paulo, every day.
“I come here everyday to work, but my husband thinks I am going to attend a meeting of the association. He asks: ‘are they going to close the association?’ I tell him ‘it is not going to happen’ and he sighs in relief – we have that same conversation all the time,” she laughs.
Santina has been a crafter every since she was a little girl in rural northwest São Paulo in the 1930s. Her mother worked as a farmer and also made dolls, accessories and decorative items woven with corn leaves that would be sold to boost the household income – and Santina grew up working in the fields and weaving whenever there was a moment to spare.
Craft became even more present in Santina’s family life when she met her husband Francisco and taught him the art of weaving: when the couple was not working in the coffee, corn and cotton fields, they would make utilitarian items together. Francisco then began to focus on making chairs out of vine while Santina made pieces that could be used at the home, such as baskets and trays.
”Craft gives me work and exciting days to look forward to”
– Santina Berlofa
Santina says that as a young woman, she was “extremely shy” and that craft also provided her with a hiding place of sorts: “I was never the kind of person that would knock on a neighbor’s door, as I was way too shy for that,” she says. “And we didn’t have a TV or a radio back then, so making things with my husband was also a way of spending time together doing something we enjoy.”
One of the oldest of 15 siblings, Santina was one of the only people in her family to learn the corn weaving technique, based on the wet leaves of the corn. She has passed it on to her daughter and other relatives, as well as other local artisans, but fears that the art that she learned from her mother might disappear.
“Everyone is busy doing other things. No one is really all that interested on doing this sort of manual work if they can get a better paid job doing something else,” Santina says.
The small downside of craft in her advanced age, according to Santina, is that her hands are not as stable, her eyesight not as sharp and the production not as fast – for example, a medium-sized basket which would previously be made within a matter of hours, now takes two to three days to complete. Despite these minor challenges, craft – and being able to continue to work on basket weaving – is still very much the center of Santina’s life:
“My husband sometimes complains that after I started selling my work at the association five years ago, we don’t have as many visitors coming over to visit. I say it is a good thing, because when the house was packed on weekends, all I would do was cooking and cleaning the house – nowadays, I have work and excitement in my days to look forward to,” she says.
“And even though I never left this part of the world, I know that people from other places bought my work so my the fruit of my labor has traveled far,” she adds.
“It is a very special feeling: [buyers] don’t know me, I don’t know them, but one thing is certain: in every one of those items, there is a piece of me.”