Many moons ago (or a year, more precisely) I wrote a story about what I called our ‘luminescent queen of the night’ and local artist Fernando Colaço very kindly let me use a picture of one of his beautiful stone moons (with its chiseled jawline and crooked smile) to go along with my lunar ramblings.
Fernando is from Alcoutim but frequently takes part in various markets in Castro Marim, Tavira and at the ‘Mercadinho’ in Loulé, which is where I usually run into him. Every Saturday morning until October in the historic streets of Loulé, this little arts market will continue to alternate between various ‘themes’ with different artists displaying their enchanting, and often handcrafted, creations.
Fernando and I are now firm friends and I’ve slowly been finding out more about this master craftsman and how he makes his stunning stone statuettes. He told me that in order to find the organic raw materials for his art he sets off early in the morning with his water bottle and empty backpack to the various rivers and streams around where he lives.
‘Leaving no stone unturned’, he explores the shorelines looking for pebbles whose hidden personality looks trapped within, and who, with a little bish here and a slightly bigger bash there, he could uncover and bring to life. Although his go-to creations tend to be fish, faces, hands and indeed moons, the nature of his art means that none will ever be completely alike. Fernando says that the stone tells him what they want to be, the only limit: is his imagination.
I asked him how long he’s been doing this and he waved his hand and said “Oh, a long time...”. “But time is relative…”, I replied doggedly, determined to find out. “How long is a long time?” A lifetime, as it turns out. Fernando has been slowly chiseling away at his art for close to 50 years. He told me the story of how he first started and the tale has a wonderful evolution to it, with one thing just being a natural ‘stepping stone’ to the next.
You see, he first started out working as a blacksmith. This led him to one day try and assess the strength of a piece of steel he had just forged. The best way to “test its metal” (as they say) is to put it up against something equally sturdy, and so, he decided to bash it against a stone. His well-made metal was more than a match for it, but the pattern he was able to engrave on this solid surface fascinated Fernando and started him off down this new and rather rocky path.
What I love about this story is that Fernando then set about using his metalworking skills to create the tools (hammers, chisels, contraptions to secure it, etc) that he needed to set his new ideas into stone. He also went on to make his own tools for woodworking and, in a completely unrelated and surprising avenue of creativity, he also makes puppets.
Fernando always loved art and, although he said he never went to school to learn, he lived in Lisbon when he was younger and frequented all the local art exhibitions, taking inspiration and teaching himself.
His grandkids and lots of children at the markets would often become mesmerized when they saw him busily bashing away at his work, and so he now creates a sort of softer mould, along with some more child-friendly tools, so that kids can learn and ‘have a whack’ at creating their own imaginative sculptures.
So, keep an eye out at the local art markets for him and, if you want to get in touch, then you can find him on Facebook at colaco.fernando or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org