The Return of the Handcrafted

It may seem a contradiction in a society addicted in the new, in cheap products and continuous economic growth, but there is a growing group of people that values quality products, manufactured slowly, the knowledge of craftsmen and the recovery of old techniques, supporting what can be considered as a revival of the handcrafted. Pedro da Costa Felgueiras is an excellent example of this movement and is currently a reference in London in historical painting techniques, european and oriental lacquering.

"Since we went to China to make poor quality products that production stopped in Europe," concludes the Portuguese sadly, adding that "in the British capital there is a real return to craft, many people think that it is important to maintining it alive, not to lose a legacy of centuries."


After working in the fashion area in Portugal, the artist traveled to Japan and several European cities to settle in London, where he says people are valued for their work, "if we are good in something is what matters." It was in this city that he has deepened the fascination with antique pieces and the techniques used to create them, which led him to take out a conservation and restoration course at the prestigious Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design. Having created his studio in 1995, Pedro da Costa Felgueiras is known for his flawless work, respect for history, multi-disciplinary knowledge and research it conducts for each job.


Despite its fascination with the past, the Portuguese believe in the relevance of these ancient techniques in a contemporary setting, proof have been the numerous projects developed for museums and private clients. Standing as true works of art, both for the technique and creativity, as the materials used, its historic paintings can be seen, for example, in Strawberry Hill House, in southwest London, a museum home that belonged in the eighteenth century to the aristocrat Horace Walpole. "I have been contacted to re-establish the decorative schemes that had been completely lost and of which there were only small fragments. These fragments were enough to be analyzed and scientifically determine the historical pigments and techniques used between 1750 and 1790. The required parameters was to only use pigments, materials and techniques that existed during the life of Horace Walpole to redo these rooms," concludes Pedro da Costa Felgueiras.


The result of five years work is extraordinary not only in the historical level, as well as for the rare pigments used in the process. The 'Blue Verditer' - produced through a long process in winter by a septuagenarian, perhaps the last person in the world to do so when temperatures remain near zero - was applied in the Blue Bedchamber, while the 'Ecclesiastical Purple' was the pigment used in 'Holbein Chamber', space dedicated by Walpole to the exhibition of painter Holbein's drawings, as well as several pieces of Indo-Portuguese black rosewood furniture.


Another project that Pedro da Costa Felgueiras feels particularly proud, was the recovery of a house that the artists Gilbert & George have in Spitalfields, London. Having been completely redone by the Portuguese, the home of the eighteenth century "was not a completely historical and exactly correct replacement, but more a work that was done to satisfy the demanding and particular taste of artists who value the quality of their own work, but also appreciate the quality of a historic finish, made with authentic materials, that a have superior texture compared with any modern imitation."
Whether in the recovery of antique furniture in a historic building or in the production of a new piece with techniques of the eighteenth century, Pedro da Costa Felgueiras considers that doing something with the hands pleases him, it's something crucial, not comparable to anything done by a machine.


Equally fascinated by the manual labor, ceramist Paulo Alves early turned this instrument in its main creative tool. "Since I was a kid that I like to disassemble and reassemble things. First toys of the time, bicycles, then motorcycles... I've always been curious to see the people who worked with their hands, how they fixed many different things, what they did, what was their nature, and the hands they had," tells Paulo Alves.


After taking a pottery course in the eighties and have traveled the world to deepen this knowledge, the ceramic, currently living in Cadiz, Spain, says "that is reappearing a new take on some traditional activities. It seems to me that many people are tired of so much massification. I observe that is emerging a change, an exchange of 'more' with 'less'. The crises also cause good results."


With reference to the east and the fascinating world of tea, Paulo Alves has developed in recent years an intimate dialogue between form, texture and function, creating a delicate collection of cups, specially designed for drinking tea. Entirely handmade in his studio, the pieces demonstrate a great sensitivity to the details, a celebration of the unique details that the human hand can develop, inspired by the "little subtleties that go around, discreet and anonymous, in the empty or almost spaces. In the end, the pieces I make are 'cozy'. You can call them cups, 'bowls' or whatever they want, but they are always 'cozy' of something or nothing," reveals Paulo Alves philosophically.
It may take up to two months to realize the ceramic process, from the initial design stage to the last firing, Paulo Alves "has an affection relationship with the pieces. I never abandon one until it's finished. Then I let it go its own way."


It was the passion for music and instruments that motivated the change of life of Fernando Lima when we was 44. Having a stable life obtained through a family business selling machines for the footwear industry, he left everything to embrace an old desire. "Life can not only be eating, sleeping and making money, there must be something else. I wanted to build my dream," he says. At 16, while studying music, Fernando created the first instrument for lack of family possibilities to acquire a new one, nearly three decades later he decided to pursue his passion, moving to Italy in order to study 'Lutherie', the art of building stringed instruments. Having entered directly into the third year of the course, which ended with top marks at school Antonio Stradivarius in Cremona, the world 'capital' of violins production, the artist quickly became a reference in this area. "What we really want to do, we can do it, but we really have to want to," he says.


Currently 53, Fernando is the only Portuguese who ever had a laboratory in Cremona and now has admirers of their work in the four corners of the world, including musicians from major international orchestras, renowned violinists as Lidia Baich, Wonji Kim, Massimo Quarta and Igor Azim and many collectors who purchase his violins as an investment. Whereas its activity is much more than just making violins, is an art, Fernando is always in a constant search to overcome himself.


"I can show you 100 violins, but mine are easily identifiable, when you make art, no person can copy what I do, it is unique. All my instruments are built by hand with love and care, I do my own varnish and choose my own timber, which should be beautiful and have the best acoustic qualities," reveals the Portuguese 'luthier'.


Having a waiting time of two to three years, his violins reach the value of 30.000 euros as a result of their high quality and recognition of the Portuguese in the music scene. Inspired by the rich history of Cremona and by the great masters, Fernando Lima intends to go down in history and "build the best violin in the world." His laboratory, located in the city center, in Piazza Roma 8, is where it all happens, just some meters of the space where Antonio Stradivarius had his atelier. "I often say that in the past the best violins were created across the street, now it's here!" Moved when he hears his instruments being played before large audiences, Fernando Lima feels that he born with the goal of making other people happy: "doing something with your hands is the return to the human essence, to your deepest self. The artists can not let overcome by consumerism, by the machines, we have to create, to do something different, when we lose this, we fail to maintain lit our internal flame."

Originally published in Doze magazine.