The production of products in black clay, produced in the village of Bisalhães, in the municipality of Vila Real, is an ancestral process that involves cooking the pieces made by potters in open ovens in the earth.
The Bisalhães black clay manufacturing process, in Vila Real, was inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage that needs urgent safeguarding by UNESCO.
The inclusion in the Unesco list will also “motivate the implementation of a wide-ranging safeguard plan that the municipality of Vila Real idealized, ranging from the training of potters, through the certification of the process and even the encouragement of the emergence of new uses and designs for this unique material “.
The main problem with this activity is the aging of potters. Currently, there are five who make this art their main activity and most are over 75 years old. This is considered a tough, demanding job, using processes that date back to at least the 16th century.
It is, in fact, a lengthy job that goes through different stages, from storing and separating the clay in the ‘granary’, when chopping it, sifting it to the ‘trough’, where it is mixed with water, until the “ peis ”, kept in humid places and then used by potters who must still soften them and remove excess air. This is how the ‘embolized’ is achieved, expertly placed in the center of the low wheel, at the pace intended by the potter, who gives birth to the pieces we admire so much.
Then, they are placed in the air to dry, so that women can ‘gogar’ (decorate), using small stones, drawing flowers, leaves and lines, or other motifs, whose taste or inspiration of the moment, they can represent.
This is followed by cooking, one of the main steps in the process, perhaps the one that most characterizes Bisalhães Pottery, as it is during the same period, in open ovens on earth, that the dishes acquire the characteristic black color.
After this hard mission, they are removed and cooled, one by one, small, small, medium and large wonders that, with skill and knowledge, are cleaned of dust, with careful pieces of rags. Then, they are placed in baskets, by the women, who tirelessly help in this whole process, transporting them to their homes, in order to prepare them for the sales stalls, reaching us two fantastic types of crockery: the so-called ‘Churra crockery ‘(utilitarian), oven bowls, baking dishes, cutlery, and the’ Fina ‘(decorative) crockery, secret jars, donut jars, plates, etc.
Despite all these initiatives, are there only 5 potters left? How to keep this art alive and how to attract new artisans to this art?
Over decades, the transmission of knowledge to the new generations (either within the village families or in the fruitless training courses carried out), has not been safeguarded by the local community. This is a reality that prevents new artisans from coming into this art.
The hard work of the process of making Louça Preta de Bisalhães (transportation, collection of raw materials, preparation of pieces, cooking and sale process), the traditional division of tasks, with the intervention of women, the little social valorization of this art, leading family production units, mainly the younger generations, to emigrate, looking for new ways of life, the progressive replacement of pieces of black clay by other objects of industrial manufacture, are also some of the great reasons for the abandonment in the production of Bisalhães crockery. The hope comes from two young and promising potters who, with their perseverance, have given continuity to all this knowledge and in which, despite different vicissitudes, we maintain the desire to project what we all intend, the continuity of the Bisalhães Pottery.