It all started when I read in the paper that a book called The Red Book - Red List of Algarvian Craft Activities - has just been published.
The book has uncovered all the local crafters of the Algarve still in business and identified which ones are still viable and which ones are in urgent need of safeguarding.
The main trouble facing a lot of these old crafts is that although they are undeniably fascinating, they have stopped having any real practical use in today's world - and, consequently, there’s been a distinct lack of eager apprentices for them to hand these handicrafts down to.
This seemed to me to be a real shame and I didn’t really know what could be done about it. I thought perhaps The Portugal News could help a little by writing about a few of them. But first, I’d need to find them. And for that, I’d need to somehow get my hands on that RED BOOK.
A little research showed me that the book had something to do with a shop in the backstreets of Loulé called Projecto TASA - and after paying them a little visit I am now filled with hope that these ancient arts can actually be rethought and revamped for this modern world and live on long into the future.
The future is nature
Walking into this lovely little shop I was delighted to see all kinds of traditional handicrafts on display - but with what seemed to be a modern twist.
There were things like clips to seal bags, napkin rings and even what's called a ‘Memory Sticks’ (nothing to do with computers) - all made from one of the most abundant natural resources in the Algarve: ‘cana’ (giant cane).
There were also cork lamps, clay and copper vessels, embroidered pillows, ‘winged’ clothes hooks, pig shaped baskets and even a cork bicycle seat (to name but a few).
The Natural World is Sustainable
I had made an appointment with Graça Palma, the coordinator of TASA, and when she invited me into the office/workshop I was delighted to find Vanessa Flórido, the resident artisan, was busy in the middle of the room weaving the ‘seat’ onto the most gorgeous olive wood chair.
As I sat talking to Graça and she explained how this project came to be, I kept getting distracted by all the charming things on display and was constantly enquiring about what native plants they were made out of.
This is how I found out, for example, that the plant Vanessa was using to weave the lovely chair was called ‘tabua’ (bulrush) - a plant that you’ve no doubt seen growing around lakes and wetlands. I even found out that June is the time to pick it and that they have recently been out harvesting.
A little history
TASA stands for ‘Técnicas Ancestrais, Soluções Atuais’ (Ancestral Techniques, Current Solutions) and was a project initiated by the Comissão de Coordenação e Desenvolvimento Regional (CCDR) Algarve in 2010.
You can watch a documentary about it online and it shows how a couple of young designers spent a lot of time getting to know the local artisans and learning about how they did things.
They then went back to the drawing board and came up with some very clever and beautiful ways of keeping true to the deep roots and history of these ancestral arts- but adapting them so that they have practical uses in today's day and age.
Mix & match
One of the particularly cool things they did was to bring together different local artisans and get them to collaborate on pieces (something that had never happened before).
So, for example, they got the cork artisan to put the finishing touches on clay wine containers created by a local potter. This idea of ‘mixing things up’ continues to this day - as Vanessa showed me how she weaves ‘palma’ (dwarf palm) into the perfect size natural tops for some terracotta pots (used for storing herbs).
Proactivetur to the rescue
Graça explained that after this initial project was completed they needed somebody to take it over and run with it.
In 2013, Proactivetur, a responsible tourism company, took over the management of the project. Graça explained how they were probably the perfect people to do so as taking people on these tours they knew a lot of these local artisans already.
The project has been going from strength to strength ever since. They continue to bring young designers and older artisans together and the results are quite wonderful. The designers are very committed to keeping the soul of these regional arts alive - but with a practical spin for the modern day.
This now even greater local knowledge into the increasingly hidden world of these handicrafters made Proactivetur the perfect people to write this RED BOOK. They very kindly gifted it to me and agreed to help point me in the direction of some interesting artisans. Stay tuned!
Hope for the future
One final note, and that fills me with hope more than anything that these ancient arts won’t be lost, is that Vanessa had a group of children coming in later that afternoon to learn how to make some ‘moinhos’ (windmills) and ‘vassourinhas’ (hand brushes).
TASA runs workshops like this for small groups of young and old both in their workshop and out in the wild - with the artisans themselves.