A region told in tiles

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A region told in tiles

The art involved in ceramic and tile work in Portugal is imprinted in the national identity itself. Manuel Miranda, who lives in the Douro, is one of the precursors of this art and is still active today.Based in Lamego, this he produces​...

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The art involved in ceramic and tile work in Portugal is imprinted in the national identity itself. Manuel Miranda, who lives in the Douro, is one of the precursors of this art and is still active today.

Based in Lamego, this he produces work which, day after day, leaves his workshop and travels to many and different places. In Portugal, his tiles can be seen everywhere, but it is abroad that Manuel’s tile work attracts most admiration.

Like the Portuguese cobbled streets, tile work is regarded as a brand image of the country. Much used in architecture, for interior or exterior surfaces, this prime art can be found in all kinds of buildings, pavements, churches and convents.

Manuel’s work with tiles began at an early age, when he still lived in Coimbra, where he was born. “I’ve been doing this for some 40 years. Pottery was all around and it captivated me since boyhood. Then I was taken by the art itself. As I learned the trade, the passion was born and then I developed a taste for it”, he says.

Good materials as his allies

Manuel has a deep appreciation for the art and there are details to which he sticks to this day. “I make my brushes just as before. When I was young, I’d go with my colleagues to buy hair from horse farriers and grooms, and we knew how to pick the best, finest hair. Now, technology and the new techniques have left all that behind, but I will not part with my brushes,” he points out.

Today, he secures horsehair from breeders from the region who are aware of his needs. As the artist says, good quality brushes are a must, although one also has to be mindful of the quality of the paints. “I buy them around Aveiro because you don’t find them here. They’re specific paints for ceramics and glazed tiles that ensure the end quality I want. These materials have to be suitable because they reach temperatures of up to a thousand degrees.”

The artisan draws from photographs, although the Douro is his prime source of inspiration, with its never-ending vineyards, the strength of the men and the opulence of the river. It is no wonder, therefore, that his work is found all over the region. Resende and Tabuaço Town Halls are a case in point, since it was he who cladded them, having taken about a year to complete each one.

Tiles that cross oceans

Manuel’s mastery has crossed borders and his favourite creations, those that he misses the most, are to be found in Brazil. “I did a job for the Church of Nossa Senhora de Fátima, where they asked me to paint our Sanctuary, here in Portugal. I had to visit the Sanctuary in Fátima to photograph the details and then I drew it all by hand.”

He has another work in Brazil as well, which earned high praise. “The work I’m most proud of is Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, that I created for a church in Rio de Janeiro. Some city council mayors from the Douro region have saw it there and came back all teary-eyed,” he tells us with pride.

Despite the large size of all these works – some may include almost a thousand tiles – Manuel Miranda takes equal pleasure in producing small-scale work. “Small work also excites me a lot. Sometimes, it’s these tiles that bring tears to my eyes as I see them leave in a buyer’s hands.”

It is in these most cherished tiles that the artisan shows not only the light, but much of the Douro imagery which surrounds and inspires him. Through these small mosaics, Manuel builds a picture book, full of colour and rich in the landscapes and customs that define a region.

Text: Patrícia Posse | Daniel Faiões 

Manuel Miranda
Atelier Nelarte
Manuel Miranda,
5100 Lamego

(Next to the bus station in Lamego)
+ 351 963632670 / +351 919428824