Portuguese tiles are recognised all over the world. Their production dates back to the mid-16th century, but it was only in the 18th century that this craft became established, with ceramics factories appearing all over the country. Viúva Lamego was one of the pioneers. Founded in 1849, it began as the António Costa Lamego pottery workshop, in Intendente, Lisbon. The façade, entirely covered with figurative art tiles, was innovative in its use of tiles as an advertising medium.
The bustle and noise are unmistakeable. We’re at the Viúva Lamego plant in Sintra. There are machines, kilns and areas for moulding, drying and storage. This is where the tiles take shape.
Passing through the factory to the painting room, there is a change in setting and atmosphere. Here no machines are heard and people don’t come and go. Natural light fills the room, as well as long tables, where each artist develops their work. This was where we found Manuela Guerreiro, in charge of the Viúva Lamego painting section. At that moment, she was working on the Monte Velho tile panel.
Manuela, who has been with the company for over 40 years, was 17 when she first came to the plant. Despite her taste for drawing, she had never worked with ceramics. In time, she fell in love with her craft and became an artist. “Now I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I am still fascinated and every day is exciting. I love getting new projects like this one with Esporão. Although it wasn’t very different from what we usually do, it had its challenges. In this case, the overlapping shadows”.
Years of practise brought greater flexibility to routine and agility to technique. The painting processes for the Monte Velho panels were almost entirely executed by one person. With her experience, the painting was ready in a week. For Monte Velho White, the orange background was the starting point. The space for the bottle was left blank and the bottle had to be perforated and centred. “Using tracing paper, we copied the design and perforated it with a needle. Then we went over the perforations with charcoal – a powder that disappears in the kiln -, and the design was outlined on the white surface. Next, we hand painted the piece, applying the same colours and shadows as on the bottle. Since this is a panel, there’s a marking process on the back to facilitate assembly”.
“Haste trips over its own heels”, as the saying goes. And that is one of the things Manuela tries to teach her team, especially the younger members. For this painter, machines make identical pieces and, at Viúva Lamego, no two pieces are alike. Every piece is unique, and that singularity and the mark made by the artisan, gives it value.
“Our pieces can only be signed by one artist, but Viúva Lamego represents a group of artists, this team. We feel great pride when we see the pieces mounted in different cities in Portugal and the world, and realise that our hands were there”.
These days, at the Herdade do Esporão wine tourism, the result of this collaboration between Monte Velho and Viúva Lamego can be seen. Thanks to the work of Manuela and her team, one of the walls of the restaurant’s terrace has gained new colour and a new story.