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Interview w/ Maria José Garcia da Silva — Alentejo Furniture Painter

Redondo is a small but important town in central Alentejo, where the art of wood furniture painting with floral motifs – typical of this region of Portugal – struggles to survive.

— Is painting furniture your main activity? How do you support yourself these days?

Yes and no. I currently have two shops, one dedicated to crafts and another that has nothing to do with them. I could hardly live only from crafts. Now there is a greater demand due to local tourism, but this is just another phase. Everyone takes it on as a hobby, nobody is entirely dedicated to it.

The Covid-19 pandemic aggravated this situation, but local tourism is full, which has been our luck, as some orders come through this. However, there aren’t any fairs going on, for example.

The fair in Grândola (an important municipality in the Alentejo region) is great but it won’t happen this year.

— About the technique

The decorations are usually just floral motifs. These geometric designs begin with the finger. We start by drawing the center of the flower, and our imagination leads us to the rest.

— What is its history? How did this type of painting begin?

I only know that if my master were alive, he would be over 100 years old!

I began painting because there were some courses here in Redondo when I was 18 and afterwards I wanted to continue.

— Do you know how many female painters are currently dedicated to this technique?

At the moment, we have 4 Alentejo furniture painters in Redondo… I don’t know of any others. When we are done, it’s over. I am 56 years old and I am the youngest!

I don’t have knowledge regarding the rest of the Alentejo, but in Évora, which used to be the great center of this technique, there is no longer anyone working on it.

— Who will carry on this legacy?

Nobody wants to learn! There are people taking courses to earn money who afterwards dedicate themselves to something else.

The base takes a lot of work, and nobody can be bothered.

Foreigners look for it and like it. I just sold to Jacques Grange’s1 shop in Comporta.

— How can we fight against this downward trend?

I have no idea. The courses I taught and for which I had high hopes served no purpose. These are courses for the unemployed, promoted by the Instituto do Emprego e Formação Profissional (Institute for Employment and Vocational Training), paying the minimum wage. Most people jump from course to course and don't create a future out of it.

[1] Jacques Grange (b. 1944) is a French, world-renowned interior decorator. He completed projects for Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, as well as Isabelle Adjani, Princess Caroline of Monaco, François Pinault, Valentino Garavani, and Karl Lagerfeld.

Interview with Maria José Garcia da Silva
— Alentejo Furniture Painter

June 2020


Maria José Garcia da Silva (Zézinha)
+351 914 280 916

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