The Heirs

Words: Lígia Gonçalves

It’s not a secret, but perhaps we don’t talk about it enough: Portuguese Soul extends beyond the pages of this magazine to a homonymous television programme, broadcast on the Portuguese public channel RTP2. Quite fittingly, the theme of this issue of the magazine was also the principle that guided the second season of that documentary series. Therefore, we went to some of the protagonists of the programme: artisans, designers and creators who, every day, reinvent and rethink our heritage, to hear their voices on this web that is constantly woven between identity, past and future.

The soul of Portuguese Soul unfolds into two: a magazine and a documentary series aired on the Portuguese public channel RTP2, whose second season premiered precisely in the summer of 2023. One season, with eight episodes, that aimed to take a closer look at our heritage, understand who we are, discovering what clothes, accessories, fabrics, shoes and materials tell us about ourselves as individuals, as a culture and as a country. A deeper look at craftsmanship, the artisanal ethos, roots, the future, and how roots underpin the future. In short: about essence.

In an issue of the magazine that fittingly aims to look at our heritage as a constantly transforming asset, we returned to the television series and posed three essential questions to some of the protagonists: Who are we? Where are we going? How does the past influence us?

Below, we have gathered the answers from Nuno Henriques of Toino Abel (Wicker and Reed episode); Annette Brinckerhoff of Tinctorium Studio (Dye Plants episode); Mariana Sousa of Sous (Linen episode); Jorge Guerra Duarte of the Museum of Silk and Territory of Freixo de Espada à Cinta (Silk episode); Jorge Filipe, weaver and linen producer (Linen episode); and Ana Vasconcelos of Belcinto (Suede episode).

For them, we are made of memories and spaces, of reinvention, of family stories and those with whom we interact. We are local and simultaneously global. After all, just like what composes the Portuguese Soul, heritage is not confined to a single idea: it is mutable, diverse, and above all moves beyond time, like the mosaic that composes us.

And, in case the reader decides to visit RTP Play to explore the documentary series version of Portuguese Soul (we hope so), I’m giving you a declaration of interest right now: one of the names you’ll find in the credits is the same as the one who signs this article.

Nuno Henriques

Founder of Toino Abel
Ep. Wicker & Reed

Q: Who are we? What defines our identity?

A: We are many things. We are not an inevitability; we are what we want, what we choose to do, and, to a (large) extent, we are what we have been.

The word Património (English: Heritage), comes from the Latin patri, father; and monium, state, action, condition. In other words, it is what we choose to do with what has been left to us.

Therefore, the first step would be to acknowledge what has been left to us. In the case of reed basketry, there was clearly a blindness, an inability to see them [the baskets], to recognise them as valuable and as something that has been left to us. I decided to work with this ancestral activity, specific to my village, relegated to a corner, scorned, as many other activities are (“If you want to be universal, start by painting
your village.”
— Tolstoy).

The landscape, for example, is heritage. To what extent does current action acknowledge previous actions? To what extent are we also responsible for preserving this inheritance, dressing it in current codes so that others can recognise it?

It is important to say that we are, of course, a collective cultural production, but to prevent it all becoming a uniform cake, the same from city to city, the unique identity of these traditions is what makes the cultural colour of the world richer.

Q: Where are we going? How does the past transform into the future?

A: Somehow, the past, or what has come down to us and reached us, has been around for a long time. In the case of baskets, for several centuries, they have passed from generation to generation, so much so that we can’t even pinpoint an origin. This is always threatened by all the life that populates the present and the things that come from tomorrow. But, in the end, it seems to be more future-proof because it has managed to transcend all movements, all fashions, all wars, all new disciplines and technological advances, even though it was, sometimes, threatened by them: it may be design, industrialisation, or new social structures, and yet it has crossed all these obstacles and has come from ancient times to us. So much so that not even artificial intelligence disturbs it.

It is perhaps the definition of craftsmanship, something that is constantly under threat, but that has managed to pierce through time and persist, making it into what probably has the best chance of living in the future.

But maybe this is just inhabiting. To transform into the future, it is necessary, for example, to have design. To resurface. To reach an audience. To fulfil new functions. In the labour field, it means, for example, to integrate this activity and those who practice it into the social welfare state.

Q: How does the past influence us?

A: What I find most interesting is doing what we please, what we think it should be done, what we think is right, what amuses us, what moves us, what touches us, and not a rigid, perhaps conservative repetition that does not question what the previous generations did. But that communication, talking to the past, keeping it present, bringing it with us, makes everything more interesting.

We are not a blank page. We want to remember ourselves, recognise ourselves. As I heard from [Portuguese architect] Souto Moura in a conference he gave, “even the astronaut likes to be back on Earth.”

Annette Brinckerhoff

Founder of Tinctorium Studio
Ep. Dye Plants

Q: Who are we? What defines our identity?

A: I believe that who we are is a complex combination of nature, nurture, and choices. Our identity is the result of DNA, heritage, culture, experiences, and upbringing. But it is also the result of the choices we make in the present moment.

My identity as a natural dyer is possible because of ancestral co-evolution between plants and humans that led to the practice of vegetable dyeing around the world. But it also comes from a background that sensitised me to plants, a series of experiences that led me to this practice, and a daily choice to practice this profession. We are our past, altered by the present, which transforms into the future.

Q: Where are we going? How does the past transform into the future?

A: We can only start from what we know and work into the unknown, so the future inherently begins in the past. Like cause and effect, the past defines the future. Therefore, the lessons we take from collective knowledge and experiences are the roots from which the future grows.

Without countless past dyers exploring the potential of natural pigments in different ways, there would be no practice of natural dyeing today. Today’s natural dyers are starting from a historical body of work and making choices about what makes sense in the present. With time, these same dyers will influence what is known, what can be done, and what’s still left to be discovered in the future.

Q: How does the past influence us?

A: The past influences the future because it is a frame of reference from which we can navigate the unknown. Hindsight allows us to absorb knowledge and (hopefully) learn from past experiences, directly influencing what we do today.

It’s weird to read references to using unusual ingredients like urine or toxic minerals like chromium in a 15th-century dye manual. It is also devastating to learn about how the exploitation of natural colour fuelled slavery, colonialism, and contributed to environmental degradation. A history that contrasts sharply with the natural dye practices of indigenous communities and the “hippie” resurgence of natural dyeing in the West during the 60s & 70s.

So much has changed in today’s natural dye scene, yet the fundamental principles of how to extract and fix plant colours on fibres remain exactly the same over centuries. In this way, modern natural dyeing is directly influenced by the teachings and mistakes of past dyers — from the colonial pursuit of colour to a more conscious and responsible approach.

Mariana Sousa

Founder & Designer of Sous
Ep. Linen

Q: Who are we? What defines our identity?

A: We are mothers, daughters, grandmothers and local women.

At SOUS, we materialise our stories, poetry, imagination and individual questions through manual craftsmanship and its techniques. Always respecting the true production time, some pieces involve the work of up to five artisans. Each artisan has a different way of being, a different way of working, and different conversations. What I love most about our pieces is exactly the accumulation of stories and hours they carry.

As I often say, “What if our pieces could speak?” Well, they would certainly add a few more stitches, with tightly tied knots, to this answer.

Q: Where are we going? How does the past transform into the future?

A: I’ll go back in time to answer this question. Ten years ago, I launched the brand; in reality, SOUS existed well before I realised it did. The story began when I started designing clothes that I liked to wear: clothes that made me feel special. It was during this phase of my life that my family history began to inhabit my subconscious. The lines, needles, and fabrics demanded entry into this historical imaginary.

We hold hands and let ourselves be moved by fair winds, permanently aware of changes in the direction of the light breeze that commands us.

We brought our cultural heritage to other poles so that they can reach our sensitivity and art. We hope that people may enjoy our fashion concept, allowing for a new alliance with artisans, new women and new stories.

With this, we seek infinite growth, without considering that everything in the world is finite.

Q: How does the past influence us?

A: The past is a positive reference for creative possibilities, combining tradition and contemporaneity. Through this temporal junction, we continue to challenge patterns and paradigms, which allows us to innovate.

We seize this baggage of lessons that the past has offered us to enrich our path. It was the starting point for some experiences, colours, designs, for the pursuit of what is beautiful, unique and special. It always awakens in us the desire to revisit it, not only for our roots, but also to glean its unique characteristics. We revisit, reinterpret, connect experiences and affections, polish the old, giving new meaning to the new with greater awareness.

Jorge Guerra Duarte

Territory Museum Freixo de Espada à Cinta
Ep. Silk

Q: Who are we? What defines our identity?

A: Freixo de Espada à Cinta is a municipality located at the southern end of northeastern Trás-os-Montes, in Portugal. Until the late eighties of the last century, many houses still had a typically Manueline façade, with chamfered doors and windows, displaying very characteristic typologies of Jewish/New Christian architecture and decoration, of which some valuable examples still remain.

Located in a very rugged area with a different climate from the rest of northeastern Trás-os-Montes, it is a deeply rural and almost exclusively agricultural municipality. Consequently, throughout its entire area of implementation, the minifundio (subsistence farming) exists and persists in small family-owned farms.

But Freixo is also Douro, a Douro Superior that has sculpted nature and shaped the settlers of centuries who shared its banks. Epic stories are told, and epic memories remain in the transformation of its slopes, from barren and wild territories into UNESCO World Heritage terraced vineyards. Our history is inscribed and written in millennia-old stones, from the times when this was a sacred territory and animals were deities.

Therefore, inhabiting this space is also inhabiting the margins of a territory, lost, conquered inch by inch, where time is neither past nor future…

Q: Where are we going? How does the past transform into the future?

A: The project to create a museum in Freixo was born many years ago. Because there still existed in this town a small artisanal variant of silk manufacturing and its by-products, it was decided to incorporate silk as a historical and collective memory par excellence. It is what remains of an industry that was once important and flourishing, exporting mainly taffetas, sieve cloths and socks to the main points of sale in northeastern Trás-os-Montes.

Thus, with the knowledge of some and the work of many, over the last few decades, the goal has always been to ensure that this process would not disappear entirely.

In this way, the restoration process for a 19th-century house, located in one of the town’s squares, was accelerated, and the Museum of Silk and Territory of Freixo de Espada à Cinta was born. In this chosen place, the aim is to recreate the entire ancestral process of artisanal silk production.

This is a unique art in Portugal, and Freixo de Espada à Cinta currently represents the centre that keeps this tradition alive and active. Therefore, the Municipality of Freixo de Espada à Cinta supports, promotes, perfects and disseminates this knowledge, which is simultaneously a collective memory, a right and an asset for the future.

Q: How does the past influence us?

A: Freixo de Espada à Cinta is a territory that thrills and dazzles. It reveals the magic of the land that we are. This is reflected in landscapes of unmistakable magnitude, simple rarities, where the sun marks the day and bells mark the hours. Here, we travel far from our thoughts, towards an infinite that transforms into an awakening or a rewriting of the history of the people who cross paths by affinities where traditions live, the know-how in different forms of life, where in their hands devotion and history are the marks of our roots.

Craftsmanship is alive and breathing. More than an attempt to respond to the uniqueness of the landscape, it is a secular commitment to work, materials and beauty, showing greatness and humility, opulence and simplicity, reality and imagination. The paths of art, knowledge, and history have made Freixo de Espada à Cinta a place of senses.

From the cocoon to the silk, there is a thread that guides us, that connects us to the ingenuity and expertise of those who inherited knowledge that refuses to be forgotten. It allows us to imagine a different future based on the experiences we have already lived. It is about understanding the trends and cycles of events to gain new perspectives or point out different solutions. The knowledge stored in Freixo is genius and identity, nature and culture. It is land and hands… embedded in the soul of a people.

Jorge Filipe

Weaver & Linen Producer
Ep. Linen

Q: Who are we? What defines our identity?

A: Our identity is often shaped by the surrounding environment, where we grew up, the people with whom we grew up, and the values and teachings imparted to us.

I grew up with my grandparents and neighbours, who helped each other, and I listened to long stories of teachings, experiences that have always fascinated me from a very young age until today. These stories often highlighted the skilled hands of the women in my family and their abilities.

Over the years, the desire to know, learn, and create has become increasingly strong. All of this has been extremely important in shaping the person I am today: defined by values and teachings that were, and are, important and that define my personality traits.

Q: Where are we going? How does the past transform into the future?

A: The past is extremely important today; as we all know, the world needs to slow down.

We need to look at natural fibres, such as linen and hemp, in the present and the future so that we can focus on the durability and quality of what we wear. These fibres are extremely environmentally friendly, in terms of both treatment and consumption of water, a necessary resource that is starting to become scarce.

We need to use these threads to make a difference, to weave a better future, using the past to save tomorrow.

Q: How does the past influence us?

A: The past is present every day in our daily lives, whether it be in art, moments, stories, or memories.

We are all a product of the past because there had to be a story in order for us to exist.

In my case, my curiosity about understanding the past of my family and their journey has led me to be, today, the one responsible for carrying on the transmission of knowledge and putting into practice all the wisdom they have left behind.

Ana Vasconcelos

Commercial Director of Belcinto
Ep. Suede

Q: Who are we? What defines our identity?

A: We are what our legacy has left us, intrinsic in the values and ethical principles that cement our whole and define us as Belcinto.

Much more than a brand, we are a company made up of people who form a family, that manufactures products with soul and aims for them to be a legacy for the future generations of those who acquire them.

Q: Where are we going? How does the past transform into the future?

A: Embracing this legacy, we remain focused, as part of this large family, on producing with quality while embracing innovative technologies. We are open to innovation as long as it aligns with our principles and ethics. We make responsible choices, always thinking about the impact on people and the planet.

Q: How does the past influence us?

A: In our case, significantly. The practical examples set by our founders, and the tough choices we’ve made, which now yield positive returns, are what guide us on the path forward.

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.

Top 3 Stories