Art from the sea

From the hands of Ti Chico, traditional fishing traps turn into artisanal pieces such as lamps, flowerpots and even Christmas trees.

Fishing is a tradition long linked to the history of the Algarve thanks to its relationship with the sea. All throughout the region, countless fishermen chose to follow the vocation rooted in their families for generations.

Such is the case of 74-year-old Francisco Valério, better known in Olhão as “Ti Chico”. He began by accompanying his father when he was only nine years old, when he also learned to make murejonas. “When I was young, I would look at what my father did and mimicked him. He used them for trapping octopus, cuttlefish, monkfish and seabream. We were always surrounded by fish,” recalls Ti Chico.

Although he retired not long ago, he did not want to leave his connection to the sea behind and began working as a craftsman, becoming the only one in the Algarve turning fishing traps into unique decoration pieces, in honour of all fishing arts.

“I needed something to keep me busy and, since I love murejonas, I thought I could do something with that,” he explains. “I made some small pieces, showed them to those closest to me and they gave us the idea of using other threads and even making lamps. They were really well received.”

And so the brand Murejonas do Ti Chico was born in 2018.

Since licences to fish with murejonas are no longer issued, only those who already had permission for this fishing gear can still use them.

According to Ti Chico, the goal of the brand is to “keep alive the memory of murejonas and modernise them with many colours and decorative purposes”. They can be hung on the walls, without any props, but some choose to turn them into lamps, flower boxes, candle bases and even Christmas trees.

The making process can take up to seven hours, depending on the size of the murejona. “The smaller ones take four or five hours, but I can work on the larger ones for six or seven. I’m probably the only one who still knows how to make them; and I’m definitely the one turning them into artisanal pieces.” Besides being unique, these pieces can be personalised by colour, size and even shape, from 25cm to 90cm.

As for demand, the brand has already had orders come in from all over the country. “Plenty in the Algarve, Vila Nova de Milfontes and, mainly, for Lisbon. Not so much for the North,” says Laura Dias, the master’s daughter. In addition, murejonas have already been sent to various places in Europe such as France, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom. “These are tourists who have already been to Olhão and weren’t able to take the murejonas on the plane and have asked us to send them,” Laura explains. “I’m already popular,” says a smiling Ti Chico.

For Laura, her father’s pieces are special. “People who like and order them really love the work. Those who don’t like it have no connection with the sea or history. Nobody else does this work, and people know that when my father dies, they will no longer find these pieces and they want that souvenir.” This is the case of some hostels, between Olhão and Fuzeta, who asked Ti Chico to make murejonas, similar to the old ones that were at sea, so as to decorate their spaces. “In those cases, I paint them black,” explains the master.

There are also several Ti Chico pieces decorating the walls of shops and restaurants in the city of Olhão.

To order one of these unique pieces, simply contact the family through social media (Facebook or Instagram), by phone (912 310 866) or email ([email protected]). Prices start at €25 for smaller murejonas.