Red Book

“Red Book” identifies Algarve crafts at risk of extinction

According to the report, 14 of the 26 identified crafts need “urgent safeguarding”, with one already classified as “disappeared”.

The Algarve has a red book of artisanal activities that are at risk of extinction, such as cane basketry, but which can still be saved if the masters pass on their “knowledge” to young people who believe in the viability of new businesses.

The Algarve Handicraft Activities Red Book was recently published in book form following an investigation that made it possible to inventory the degree of risk of 26 traditional arts in the Algarve, involving 174 artisans, 16 municipalities and four craft associations in the region.

The book “characterises the current situation” of Algarve craft activities and highlights a set of “suggestions” in order for these arts not to disappear.

“The book indicates measures for the conservation and preservation of these arts. If they are at imminent risk of extinction, it has a set of, let’s say, more urgent measures” that must be taken to prevent their disappearance, explained João Ministro, the publication’s coordinator.

“There is a set of aspects associated with these arts that must be valued and preserved, and what the book taught us is that there is potential and there are people and industries interested” in these activities, said João Ministro.

The Red Book makes some alerts, stressing that 14 of the 26 activities indicated require “urgent safeguarding”, with one of them already classified as “disappeared”: albardeiro (pack saddle making), which is dedicated to making saddles, that is, coarse tackles for pack animals.

In most cases, the Red Book identifies “small activities that keep some villages alive” and has a “relevant economic expression” for these populations. The work in palm and cane basket weaving is, according to the book, one of the techniques that need “urgent safeguarding”.

The average age of the 174 artisans involved in the investigation is 64. The main threat factors they identified are the insufficient economic viability of the activities, the little interest of the market, as well as constraints in the transfer of knowledge.

“The good news is that they [the activities] have a future. We identified it. Talking to the artisans who still hold knowledge, we verified that there is potential for interest. People’s interest in learning and the public’s interest in acquiring objects. No longer the same objects as before, but differentiated, innovative objects”, assured Susana Calado Martins, one of the coordinators and author of the Red Book.

The researcher stated that the new generations are interested in this type of work, with “many people interested in doing different work, not repeating the same objects”.

Esparto grass weaving is part of a list of intangible cultural heritage needing “urgent safeguarding”, which includes other activities, such as carpentry, scissor chairs, carved cork or tin work.

This type of grass weaving has already played an essential economic role in the Algarve, making it possible to make all kinds of ropes and containers for domestic use and for activities related to working in the countryside and the sea, among others.

This art, which for several years seemed threatened, is being recovered, with three masters passing on their knowledge to the younger generations in an old elementary school in the small village of Sarnadas, on the border between the barrocal and Serra do Caldeirão.

On the list of activities considered “currently viable” are, for example, tile making, pottery, ceramics, lace and embroidery.

However, the Red Book warns that, although some artisans see some increase in market interest, many consider it insufficient to reverse this reality. Sales are an issue because interested parties and existing supplies don’t meet. And so is the lack of product innovation to respond to current market needs.

The elaboration of the Red List of Algarvian Handicraft Activities was an initiative of the Commission for Coordination and Regional Development (CCDR) of the Algarve, carried out in the first half of 2021 by Proactivetur, an Algarve company specialised in ecotourism, creative tourism, consultancy in local development and promotion of traditional arts.