The curious world of Carminda Rodrigues

Among all the interviews we have made so far for the project Portuguese Folk Art from A to Z, the interview with Carminda Rodrigues was definitely a very special one. The life of Carminda Rodrigues was, like many other rural lives, a modest one filled with hard work. Born in a small village of Pousa, Barcelos, in the house where she still lives today, she dedicated herself to working in a factory and on her plantation, with little time for other activities. Practically illiterate, the characteristics of Carminda’s life seem to contradict the richness of her creative universe, which manifests in various objects she has produced across the years. From the original embroidery and the religiously inspired woodcarvings to bouquets of flowers made from plastic, Carminda’s art has a disarming simplicity, just like her personality.

he characteristics of Carminda’s life seem to contradict the richness of the creative universe she possesses, manifested in the creation of various objects she has produced throughout her life. From the original embroidery and the religiously inspired woodcarvings to bouquets of flowers made from plastic, Carminda’s pieces of art have a disarming simplicity, just like her personality.

This post is a partial translation of the interview we did with Carminda. The complete interview, available in Portuguese, can be found at http://www.artepopularportuguesa.org/carminda-rodrigues/

What did you do for a living?

I worked on my plantation. And I had to work in a factory too. I spent twenty years working both in the factory and on the fields, doing everything.

What did you do in the factory?

I was a cleaner. And I’ve managed to save some money for retirement. That is good for me now, because I can’t work anymore. I used to do everything, I worked with the plow, with the cows … But now I can’t.

You worked for 20 years in the factory and then you left, didn’t you?

I left. They dismissed me. They started firing  the ones who were near retirement age, and the youngest ones stayed. They fired a lot of workers. Now this factory is closed, it was called Rainha do Cávado.

How did you usually get to the factory?

I went there on foot. I left my house at six AM, and sometimes I started working even before going to the factory and after I came back. It was three in the morning and I was working in the fields. That was my life! I always had a slave life. I was afraid to get married…

When did you start constructing these pieces?

About 10 years ago. They take a lot of time and a lot of work.

Why did you start?

I had a figure of Christ, and someone stole it from me. So, I took some old boards and did this one. But it did not look pretty, it was very skinny. I cut down a chestnut tree and I made the one that is now in the living room. I also made this rose. Then I did Our Lady of Sorrows and the rest.

Did you learn to embroider alone or with your mother?

I learned alone, by myself.

When did you start doing the embroidery?

It was a long time ago, when I was young. I have more embroidered towels, but they are stored.

How did people find out that you have these figures here?

It was like this: I kept it in secret. No one knew. But then some of my colleagues came here, and they saw it. They told a journalist, and the journalist wrote a story about it! And then everybody found out. In Barcelos and elsewhere! Many people came from Braga and other cities.

Who are these figures?

Jude Thaddeus, Queen St. Elizabeth, King D. Diniz, the husband of St. Elizabeth, St. John the Baptist, Our Lady of Sameiro, Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Christina.

And that dove?

It’s the Holy Spirit. St. John the Baptist is baptizing Christ.

Do you go to mass?

Of course! Our Lord and Our Lady are everything! We are worthless without them.

Where do you go to mass?

Here, in the Church of Pousa.

So, it was in the Church where you saw these images, wasn’t it?

(She nods.) Santa Cristina is the patroness of Pousa.

Are you working on new pieces?

What’s done is done. I already have enough things.

What would you like to do with your saints in the future?

Let’s see… I do not know yet. Give to a museum or so. My nieces, if they want, can keep them. If they don’t… But they like them, they like it very much.

Photo credits: All photos by Joana Soares e Nuno Marques for the project Portuguese Folk Art from A to Z – www.artepopularportuguesa.org. This text was kindly revised by Alioona Khramogina.