Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Portugal's Jewelry Traditions

The first day we were in Lisbon, it struck me: there were ourivesarias (goldsmithing shops) all over the place. Sometimes three or four to a block, all offering a mix of filigree, high-end watches, and cash-for-gold. I thought we must be in the jeweler's district, but then realized no, in fact, there are simply jewelers EVERYWHERE. And it's not just Lisbon. We observed the same thing in Porto, Coimbra, Viana do Castelo, even tacky old Portimão had a ton of jewelers.

Here is one of my favorite ourivesaria windows, discovered along one of the hilly streets of Porto. Notice the old jeweler's bench, the drawers full of assorted stamps and punches. There is even an old saw frame and what looks to be a twist drill, plus a stumpy little bench block.


Inside the shop, they used many of the metalsmithing tools as display props. I especially liked seeing these two-part plaster molds with old ring designs and floral patterns (although I don't really like how the beaded strands are all willy-nilly on top of them).


We drove about an hour north from Porto to a town called Viana do Castelo, apparently the main place for filigree in Portugal. There is even a specific filigree shape called "coração de Viana" (Viana heart) that Sharon Stone recently wore and now is in hot demand, even though it's been around as a design for, oh, several hundred years.


The traditional context in which all that gold filigree is worn has to do with ceremonies, be it a wedding, saint's processional, a feast day, or mourning. The ladies pile on the jewelry, and everything is full of symbolism. You can tell where someone is from, if they are single, their social position, etc. just from the costuming and jewels.


We'd heard there was a goldsmithing museum in Viana do Castelo, but upon arriving couldn't find it and instead wandered into the Museu do Traje or Museum of Costume. Turns out it was the right decision. The goldsmithing museum was robbed a few years ago and lost nearly their entire archives of filigree and religious jewels. What was left is now housed in the walk-in safe room in the basement of the Museu do Traje, probably the best small museum I've ever visited. The displays are incredibly well done, and if you are at all into textiles, embroidery, lace, fashion, folklore, processions, filigree jewelry, and/or metalsmithing...definitely visit!


The museum had a gorgeous display of gold (no photos allowed), as well as a video showing an artisan making filigree (totally made me want to try), and these great process boards illustrating the main tools and techniques in metalsmithing.


I was impressed by how little has changed in the tools I use in my day-to-day work in the studio, compared to the vintage/antique tools I got a chance to see in Portugal. I was also inspired by how well the museum showed processes, for example the evolution of making a gold bead (below).


Back in Lisbon, Rico and I wandered around visiting different jewelry ateliers, galleries, and shops.

We checked out the Galeria Tereza Seabra, a really cool space with legitimate art jewelry and two benches where a lesson was taking place. They also have an exhibit of cabinets of curiosity, but sadly it was closed for a month for vacation (ah, Europe).

One of the more memorable spots we visited was the Atelier Plum, a jewelry showroom I heard about thanks to a shopping guidebook in our hotel. Finding this space was a trip, as there is absolutely no signage and you have to adventure through some random places. To start, you walk all the way to the back of a shop called Hospital da Boneca (Doll's Hospital) which is a narrow room full of old dolls and doll parts. Nothing anywhere about jewelry or Atelier Plum to be seen. You go out what looks to be a service door, then up four flights of stairs, and finally press an unmarked buzzer and hope for the best.

A friendly lady opened the door, seemed a bit surprised to have unannounced tourist visitors, then showed us the horizontal drawers where all the jewelry was displayed. Honestly, I was hoping for some more exciting work (it was lots of simple bezel rings, some beaded necklaces, and randomly a drawer with ivory inlay...bad.bad.) I've become a total display snob now that I have the gallery, and I thought the jewelry was inaccessible and poorly shown in the drawers.

Anyhow, what was fascinating about Atelier Plum was seeing a 6-person jewelry workspace in action. I love noticing the details of how people organize their tools, whether their benches are a holy cluttered mess or nice and tidy, where the major equipment is set up, etc. The number one thing I was struck by was the ubiquitous presence of cigarettes in the workshop. The Portuguese are a country of chimneys, that's for sure, but it made my eyes goggle out of my head to see ashtrays next to the oxygen tank and cigarettes dangling from people's lips while they worked at their benches. I guess they aren't paranoid about explosions! :/

My favorite-favorite part of that visit, however, was the wall decorations. Classroom notes, sketchbook pages, and formulas were pasted and scrawled all over the place. It was genius! Below is a sample, with formulas for making tubing, alloys for different colors of gold, and the best quote ever: "In jewelry, 1 millimeter is 1 kilometer." Oh, how true.

1 comment:

What Would Kate Do... said...

Woah these are so cool