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.
The Figurado of Barcelos is an unavoidable art, constituting itself as one of the greatest traditional productions in Portugal, due to the relevance that work in clay has acquired over the centuries and its connection to people and the region.
This art was mainly concentrated in the north-eastern part of the city, which was richer in clay and water
Figurado is a certified production since 2008. This fact makes Barcelos the first municipality to certify this popular artistic expression, which is the identity root of a territory that sought to enhance and affirm its unique art.
Assorted figuration was the designation adopted for the statuary pieces of popular expression, produced in the pottery tradition region of the current municipality of Barcelos, where they fit from small pieces entirely modeled by hand, to pieces produced in small molds or through mixed techniques used in this production. This group also included pieces modeled by hand, without mold, such as pitas, harmonicas and some roosters. Pieces started in mold and finished by hand, such as musicians and oxen, belong to the same universe. In the same way, pieces produced from a base form, raised on the potter’s wheel and which were also finished by hand, such as wheel cocks, nightingales and bugles, are included in this group. With the same designation of figurative, the pieces produced in mold were still known, but with a naive or primitive finish.
The diversity of this production is born from the skilled hands of baristas who reproduce everything they see and feel. The themes on which this production is mirrored are, in turn, religion and festivals, bestiary, daily life, various figures and miniatures. In this context, it is important to highlight the most characteristic pieces within each theme. In the theme of religion and festivals, representations of Christs and Saints predominate, as well as religious practices. The world of the fantastic, represented by the bestiary presents monsters, devils and deformed figures that unite the sacred and the profane in the Figurado. Representations of scenes from rural life, crafts, professions and dolls dominate the range of Figurado pieces, showing the importance of everyday life as inspiration for this production. In the category of single figures, emblematic pieces appear, such as roosters, hedgehogs, doves, oxen and goats. Among others, the famous Rooster stands out (you can read my post on September 1, 2020 https://lisbon-a-love-affair.com/2020/09/01/the-rooster-of-barcelos-how-was -this-portuguese-symbol-born /)
As for the mode of production, modeling, molding and turning are the techniques used in the production of the Figurado de Barcelos, used alone or combined with each other, with modeling being the most important and most valued, since the personal intervention of the craftsman is totally or practically total.
Finally, considering the identity of the Figurado, it will be impossible not to mention one of the most charismatic names of this art: Rosa Ramalho, the figure that drew the attention through which this unique art spread in the most urban and elitist environment.
Rosa Ramalho learned to work with clay very early, but abandoned this art to dedicate herself to her family. It was when she was a widow, aged 68 and illiterate, that she began to produce the pieces that made her famous. Discovered in 1950 for the collector Alexandre Alves Costa during his research on popular art. His works are dramatic and creative and show great imagination at the same time.
The Figurado de Barcelos, certified artisanal product, is currently one of the largest artisan productions in the county. This production started as a subsidiary activity of pottery, in their spare time and using small portions of clay, small pieces were made for children to play, namely figures of people or animals where a whistle or musical instruments were placed at the base of them (ocarinas, nightingales, cuckoos, harmonicas, among others). The Figurado de Barcelos is distinguished from any other production, assuming unique characteristics, both in shapes and colors. If you want to watch the making of a figure, I leave this video here.