The soul of the Douro on clay

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Alexandre Fandino Alexandre Fandino Alexandre Fandino

The soul of the Douro on clay

When art lives between the palm of the hand and the fingertips, the pieces "always appear different and are the result of the imagination". In the works of Alexandre Fandino, a master of figurative pottery, the Douro is a kind of watermark​...

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When art lives between the palm of the hand and the fingertips, the pieces "always appear different and are the result of the imagination". In the works of Alexandre Fandino, a master of figurative pottery, the Douro is a kind of watermark, evident in the presence of vines, grapes, boats, bottles of wine or sparkling wine.

"They’re the Douro nativity scenes, the baby Jesus of the Douro, Santo António of the Douro, Queen Santa Isabel of the Douro, Nossa Senhora do Ó, the crosses of the Douro, the Douro cockerel" he lists. His unmistakable style also relies on the reddish colour of the raw material, "my style is not to paint but to maintain the natural clay, because it captivates."

There are also many Christmas decorations, medallions with biblical figures and, thinking about the children, butterflies, hearts, dolphins, fish, stars, horseshoes. The craftsman also recreates the carnival masks of Lazarim, in various shapes and sizes.

Alexandre Fandino, 54, started playing with clay while at school, but it was only much later that the inspirational strength of the Douro prompted him to take up these artistic endeavours.

The greed of collectors

Fandino works mainly for collectors of sacred art, creating nativity scenes (the largest can take him three to five days), figures of St. Anthony and Christ, amongst others.

In 1998, the potter shared the first prize in the XIII Nativity Scene Contest of the Association of Artisans of Lisbon and, ten years later, was awarded the 2008 Anim'Arte prize for Artistic Production - Sculpture.

Every day between 6.30pm and midnight, the clay embeds itself in Fandino’s fingerprints. He says that "thousands of pieces" have already left his studio in Lamego, and are today spread across five continents.

Maria Cavaco Silva, D. Ximenes Belo, Vitorino de Almeida, Fernando Tordo, Mariza, Paulo Portas and Jaime Gama are just some of the public figures who have acquired his creations.

The most expensive piece sold for more than 300 euros. "I have magnets from 2.50 euros and nativity scenes from 15 to 150 or 200 euros," he adds.

Clay & pins, buttons, toothpicks.

At the week-end, Fandino goes to the quayside at Pinhão, where he has a stall and a passing audience. "Tourists are surprised to see me working here, they like to watch and take a picture."

In the "cosmic and cosmopolitan Pinhão" of Miguel Torga, he takes the clay and begins "to create spontaneously," without the aid of any sketches. The markings are made with old buttons, toothpicks, pins, straws.

It is on an adapted (and portable) bench that, with a rolling pin, he makes the clay "as straight as possible." From there, his fingers, his main tool, now enfold it, now sprinkle it with water.

Fandino rolls the piece on the newspaper sheet where he lays it. He uses one mould or another to "make a round or a square," brushes to smooth it or make collages and, armed with a stretched safety pin, traces the creases in the clay.

Finally, he leaves his personal mark: his signature, the year and a reference to Lamego. The objects dry for three days before proceeding to the kiln [furnace], where they are baked at a temperature ranging from 850 to 1100 degrees. Each firing may take between 60 and 80 pieces at a time.

Aesthetic choices

In his passion to shape the clay, he combines the motivation to work and the need to create. “I always try to innovate. In the piece about the flight from Egypt to the Douro, I made the pyramids and depicted Our Lady and St. Joseph fleeing to the Douro.”

Just imagine a Baby Jesus lying on a crib made of vine leaves, the Holy Family riding a boat on the Douro or St. Anthony preaching to the fish, reading a story to the Baby Jesus or carrying him in a grape basket.

In defying the conventional forms for the Holy Family, Fandino takes pride in his originality. “No-one would think of putting a nativity scene in a boat, using a champagne bottle to celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus. People like it and say I was quite creative.”

In the late sunny morning, people step close to Fandino’s stand, as he continues to carefully shape the next piece, surrounded by the Douro landscape, his eternal muse.

Text: Patrícia Posse | Daniel Faiões 

Alexandre Fandino
Lugar da Ortigosa, 5 – R/C
5100 Lamego
+351 968 276 415