Born inBezerros in 1935, a town in the interior of Pernambuco with only 500 inhabitants, J. Borges is one of the most renowned artists of the Northeast, Living Heritage of his state and an international reference of Brazilian popular woodcuting. His woodcuts reflect both the day-to-day reality and the folklore of the northeastern backwoods, representing in a creative way the diverse symbologies of that region.
Always involved in supporting his family, making wooden spoons to sell at fairs or handicraft toys, little José Francisco Borges was already fascinated by literature, especially that of cordel, so popular in the backwoods and which, he says, served not only as amusement, but also as a way of learning to read.
One day, already in his late twenties, Borges worked in the region selling cordel when he decided to venture into a different endeavor: to be the writer of his own stories. Enthusiastic about the success of the first publication (O Encontro de Dois Vaqueiros no Sertão de Petrolina, illustrated by Mestre Dila), soon he began producing other stories, which demanded that he find artists to create the covers. Unable to afford the illustrators, Borges did not let himself be beaten. He picked up a piece of wood and, even with little experience about woodcuting, produced the first of hundreds of woodcuts for his and others’ stories that he would illustrate throughout his life. In the 1970s, encouraged by artists and intellectuals such as Ariano Suassuna, his work with woodcuts first gained national fame, soon also to become international, with exhibitions in Europe, Central America and the USA, bringing to these regions all the imagination of the Brazilian Northeast.
Now 82 years old, J. Borges still lives in Bezerros, producing his woodcuts with the help of his children.
The story of the artist Nenê Cavalcanti is one of those happy examples of rediscovery that life sometimes offers us. Born in 1948 in a family of poor farmers in the city of Alagoa Nova, in the interior of Paraíba, Maria das Neves Cavalcanti Moreira discovered early on that the backwoods both poses difficulties but also may offer opportunities. And, for her, one of those opportunities was clay.
Life in Alagoa Nova in the 1950s, especially in a family of fifteen children, made it impossible for her parents to buy toys for all their children. So the solution was to learn to play with what nature had to offer. With the help of her sisters, Nenê gradually learned to work the clay to make the toys and other objects she wanted or needed in the house.
Many years later, already living in the capital, Nenê first worked during some time as a nurse, to then change profession and become a pedagogue. Working with exceptional children in the 1980s, she felt she needed more resources in order to interact with them. She then decided to take a course in plastic arts and it was then that the work with clay in her childhood began to return to the future artist’s life. Gradually, Nenê became involved with the idea of artistic production and, when she realized, she had already changed her profession once more.
With many years passed since her childhood, after changes of course and rediscoveries, Nenê Cavalcanti finally established herself as a potter and teacher of fine arts. Her feminine figures, angels, masks, naked and fat bodies and abstract pieces made of ceramics and recycled metals, all extremely delicate, have already won her several awards, and are now considered an aesthetic reference of the state of Paraíba.
Located 18km from the municipality of Pão de Açúcar (which, like the famous Carioca postcard, also has its statue of Christ the Redeemer), the village of Ilha do Ferro is a small community located in the hinterland of the state of Alagoas. Bordering the imposing São Francisco River, this place of fishermen has become over the last decades one of the best-known craft centers in the Northeast. And it was from this small village that the work of fisherman, farmer and artisan José Petrônio Farias dos Anjos won the world.
Influenced by the work of Fernando Rodrigues (the first prominent local craftsman and an almost unanimous inspiration for all the other artists who work today on Ilha do Ferro), Petrônio, as he is known, decided to follow the paths of wood sculpture in 2002 and, already in 2005, his peculiar style pieces began to receive the first calls for expositions in the capital.
Elongated, twisted bodies, animals with scary red mouths full of sharp teeth and imaginary two-headed creatures are some of his most notorious creations, all carved from dead wood trunks or respecting the shapes of roots created by nature itself. These and other works now have buyers in several Brazilian states, have already been sold to countries such as Italy and Germany, and earned Petrônio the 2014 Artist of the Year award, given by the Committee of the Théo Brandão Museum of Folklore and Anthropology.
Today, these and other pieces are exhibited outdoors at Sítio Estrelo, the artist’s property near Ilha do Ferro where he lives with his wife and two children since 2011.
It is no wonder that Espedito Velozo de Carvalho is known as Espedito Seleiro (saddler). The leather handicraft for which he is now famous has been in the family’s blood for generations, first with his great-grandfather, then with Gonçalves Seleiro, his grandfather, and, lastly, Raimundo Seleiro, his father, the principal teacher, and for decades one of the state’s most renowned artisans. Despite being today a name known in national fashion circles, with works in partnership with brands like Cavallera and parades in São Paulo’s Fashion Week, the name Seleiro gained fame initially with his father, much because of the following history.
In the 1930s, Raimundo had already good experience in working with leather, manufacturing saddles, belts, and clothing worn by cowboys in the region of Nova Olinda, in the Cariri region, Ceará. One day, a gentleman appeared in his shop with a peculiar order: leather sandals with a square sole. Even though he had no experience in shoemaking, Raimundo eventually accepted the order, and a few days later, when the same gentleman returned to fetch the products, the craftsman discovered the truth. He had produced a request made by Lampiao himself, and now it was adorning the feet not only of the famous cangaceiro, but also of Maria Bonita and rest of his group as well. His reputation of a good craftsman gained after the illustrious order grew up in Ceará, encouraging Raimundo to create a series of other products.
Over the years, in addition to carrying on his father’s legacy, Espedito Seleiro has developed himself as one of the greatest masters of leather crafts in the country. In his workshop, also located in Nova Olinda, employs today 22 artisans, among his sons, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law and nephews. They make shoes, bags of various sizes, straps, cowboy hats and other products, all in hand-sewn leather. The colorful patterns, one of the hallmarks of his work, were inspired by the garments of the gypsies who passed through the region. They give the products a look both traditional and very modern. In 2014, Espedito (today 78 years old) created in his city the Leather Museum, with the intention of keeping alive the legacy of his work and that of his ancestors.
Nowadays, the name Doutor da Borracha is synonymous with quality handmade products, made with natural materials, in a sustainable way, and full of Brazilian spirit. However, this success story began much earlier, at a time when he was still a rubber tapper among hundreds of others working at the heart of the Amazon jungle.
Few people know that José Rodrigues de Araújo was just one of the many poor working people extracting latex in the forests of the municipality of Assis Brasil, in the state of Acre, before earning the nickname Dr. da Borracha (Doctor Rubber). Accompanying his father and grandfather since the age of 10, José developed in the following decades the respect for the woods and intimacy with rubber that would influence his decision later on to change course and become a craftsman.
The seeds of that change were planted in 2004 after attending a course given by the staff of the Laboratory of Chemical Technology (Lateq) at the University of Brasília, where he learned the technique created by them of working the rubber called Folha Semiartefato (FSA). Based on the use of special coagulants (which dispensed with the painful hours of smoking the sap), José realized the potential of the new technique and immediately began to create objects such as shoes and bags, which were soon accepted by his relatives and acquaintances, encouraging him to continue with the production.
After 14 years, Dr. da Borracha works today in Epitaciolândia, in the community of Nova Esperança, and manufactures more than 400 pieces per month. One of Acre’s most recognized craftsmen, he also represents an example of a sustainable relationship with nature and the power of craftsmanship to change lives. From the first colored rubber shoe made for his 3-year-old son, several different color models and formats were born – feminine, masculine and unissex – even gaining the right to be exhibited at a design fair in Italy in 2014.
There was a time when the works created by the artists of the interior of São Paulo were seen as of little value, mere cheap ornaments for those who could not acquire more refined pieces. Although existing as an Association since the beginning of the 20th century (one of the oldest in Brazil), the Figureiras de Taubaté only gained respect from the academic circles after the important folklorist Rossini Tavares de Lima came to know them in the 1940s. Influenced by the reformulation of the notion of national popular culture created by Mário de Andrade, Tavares de Lima started to encourage the idea of the importance of their craft as an art form representative of the culture of the state of São Paulo.
Initially, artisans from Taubaté created small sculptures in clay representing the Divine, saints, cribs and other religious themes, as was the case of the work made by Maria Conceição Frutuoso, an artisan who became famous for restoring an image of the Immaculate saint belonging to the local church, and very influential in the region. Over time, some artisans began to diversify their production, creating other folk symbols typical of the Paraíba Valley, such as oxen, sheep, birds and foxes. From this work with other “figures” was born the name for which the association is now known (figureira is a person who makes figures).
In the same way that jongo is the most representative musical form of São Paulo, the pieces created by the Figureiras de Taubaté represent today some iconic examples of the crafts associated to that state. The blue peacock, the most emblematic figure among those produced in Taubaté, is nowadays considered the symbol of São Paulo’s craftsmanship.