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