The peacock-makers of Taubaté

In a valley nestled in the mountains away from the megalopolis of São Paulo and Rio, a sculpture tradition is kept alive by makers for hundreds of years. The Figureiras de Taubaté are a group of sculptors from Taubaté, a city located about 123km from São Paulo towards Rio de Janeiro. You may ask, what is a “figureira”? Well, this is not even a word that can be found in the Portuguese dictionary, but if it could, it would literally translate to “shape maker” and refers to the feminine gender because of the predominance of women sculpturers – even though many men also make the items. The word actually comes from the tradition of sculpting animals, supposedly introduced back in the 17th century, when Franciscan friars brought sacred art from Italy for the Christmas decorations of their Convent – local animals were needed to complete the nativity, which were made

The clay pots Brazilians love

There is an old Brazilian song that goes “old pots make the best food” – but that refers to women past their prime, who actually happen to be the best lovers. Naughty songs aside, most of us have a favourite pan or pot in our kitchens, the one we love cooking with the most. In Brazil, and particularly in the southern state of Espírito Santo and its coastal capital Vitória, this much-loved item could well be the clay pot. While humankind has been cooking with clay pots since the dawn of time, it is relatively rare to find them in modern households – that is, pans that are made in the old-fashioned way, with clay and mangrove tree sap, like the beauties you see below: The making of this traditional pot is very important to Vitória’s poorer communities who make their living out of pot-making. It is a tradition that

Richelieu Lace in Brazil

In what appears to be a unlikely connection, a French clergyman ended up inspiring the production of a kind of lace that has become of the finest in Brazil. It all began in the 17th century, when French power broker Cardinal Richelieu, who served as chief minister to Louis XIII of France, wore elaborate uniforms trimmed with finest, intricate lace – he even brought lace-makers from Italy to France in 1624 in order to teach their skills to French crafters who would maintain his swashbuckling wardrobe. The exact origin of Richelieu lace in Brazil is unknown, but it is understood that it was introduced by Europeans to local craftswomen in the early 1900s, who adapted it with a traditional local folk flair. Richelieu lace is made mainly on linen-type fabrics and has special requirements for a perfect finish. The spaces to be cut on the fabric around the design are then woven

Taubaté: from peacocks to cinema

We have already introduced you to the lovely peacocks made at the Casa dos Figueiros. Now let’s take a trip to the place they come from – welcome to Taubaté! Taubaté is a city with about 300,000 residents in São Paulo state. It is located in a very strategic place, almost halfway between São Paulo city itself and Rio de Janeiro – possibly the two most important cities in Brazil (unless you ask a politician, because the capital city and location of government is Brasilia!) Geographically the city is located between the coast and a mountain range, so the residents can easily leave town and visit the beach or gorgeous mountain towns, such as Campos do Jordão. Before the Portuguese settled in Brazil, Taubaté was part of the ancient Tupinamba Territory, along the Paraiba do Sul River. The first village was created in 1640 being proclaimed as an autonomous locality on December

Blind artists reinvent Shakespeare

Spotting a collection of Shakespeare-inspired sculptures was an unusual find in the Casa dos Figureiros, an art workshop we visited recently the countryside city of Taubaté in the Brazilian state of São Paulo. About a dozen sculptures of the main characters of Shakespearean plays were on display, however none of them had a price tag – only a small card mentioning they were produced at Instituto São Rafael, a Taubaté-based association created to provide social and economic opportunities to those with visual disabilities. By talking to fine arts professor Décio de Carvalho, also an artist himself, we find that the sculptures – which include characters such as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet – were produced as part of Arte e Cegueira (Art and Blindness), a project he introduced at Instituto São Rafael. A passionate reader of English and Irish playwrights, novelists and poets, Carvalho sought a theme that

Bandit’s shoes hit the catwalk

The Brazilian equivalent of Jesse James and fashion design may not seem immediately connected, but an artisan has reinvented some bandit classics to create shoes that are now desired by fashionistas worldwide. Espedito Seleiro, a craftsman from the small town of Nova Olinda in the state of Ceará has the creation of multicolored leather shoes as his main source of income – all inspired in the shoes worn by Lampião, one of the most famous and feared gang leaders in the Brazilian northeast in the 1920s and 1930s. Lampião (“Oil Lamp” in Portuguese) was the nickname of Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, a cattle farmer and also an accomplished leathercraft artisan born in the backlands of the state of Pernambuco. Lampião became an outlaw after falling into a feud with other local families which resulted in his father being killed by the police – he sought vengeance and proved to be

The Craft Tour of Brazil

In a recent blog we described the Gift Brazil mission, our focus is on trying to shine a light on artisan craft in Brazil and to make it available to the world. Brazil is a very big country. It is the biggest country in South America and the entire Southern Hemisphere and only Russia, the USA, Canada, and China are larger. If you got in your car in Porto Alegre in the very south of Brazil and started driving north to Belém you could keep driving for a week – assuming you stop the car to eat and sleep! But we have made a commitment to ensure we visit every state in Brazil during 2014, to meet local artisans and to work with the local artisan associations so we can personally find some great craft from all across this enormous nation. It will be a challenge because many parts of the country are impassable

Apiaí: reinventing pottery

As part of Gift Brazil’s Great Craft Tour, we visited Apiaí, a small town located 320km from São Paulo city surrounded by lush Atlantic rainforest and one of the most important and traditional pottery hubs in southeast Brazil. Apiaí wants to make its priviledged location and outdoor activities more known to tourists, that is not what we came for: we wanted to know more about the the pottery history in the town and the people making it, employing a mix of techniques inherited by indigenous tribes and African slaves. During the eighteenth century, the region surrounding Apiaí – also known as the Ribeira do Iguape Valley, or simply Rbeira Valley – was populated by former African slaves that had been freed or escaped their captivity. The fugitives then married local women and became farmers, who also produced their own clay pots, crockery and decorative objects. Way before the African slaves arrived,

Craft brings hope to Jequitinhonha Valley

There is a  major stigma of poverty and serious social, economic and environmental problems in the Jequitinhonha Valley. But the region, despite all its difficulties, is also one of the richest of Brazil in terms of culture and craft production. Located in the northern state of Minas Gerais, the Valley is home to some 80 small towns that in the heyday of mining attracted immigrants from all over the country, after the wealth of mineral resources in the area, including gold and diamonds. Today, centuries after all the predatory mining that took place, the region suffers badly with lack of opportunities. The typical drought and blazing sunshine does not make things easier for the local families – husbands often have to seek farming work in other places during the dry season, which can last as long as eight months. Faced with the arduous job of looking after the home and

Caning unites craft and architecture in Brazil

We have already talked about the cobogó, the ever-present concrete feature created in Brazil back in the 1920s as a solution to ventilate rooms, nowadays a decorative item in its own right and available in many graphic variations. When we found an example where cobogó met caning, we loved it even more. São Paulo-based architect Cícero Ferraz da Cruz created a new type of cobogó inspired in the chair weaving patterns of caning resulted in a project that unites two elements full of Brazilian character.  The cement pieces formed the beautiful panel of 5 x 6m seen above, now on display at Farm, a Brazilian womenswear chain, where caning was also used for the shop façade. Caning, a traditional type of chair-weaving craft deriving from peeled bark or skin of the rattan vine,  is very commonly seen in Brazil as a main feature of chairs, tables, bed headboards and other items. The