Business & Industry

May 1, 2016

TRADITION AND FINESSE IN THE PALM OF HAND

Completing 100 years of existence, the Sant'Anna Factory in Rua do Alecrim, in Lisbon, Portugal, may have its days numbered. It is nothing more, nothing less, than the last big ceramic factory that is still manufacturing tiles, panels and handmade pottery in Europe, and where it is also still possible to visit the factory and learn the art, truly an experience to be treasured.

In Portugal, it is almost impossible to imagine a palace without the luxurious tiles that decorate its vast halls and give colour to its gardens. This centennial craft, exclusive and refined, is so popular that it is easy, even today, to find it in the decoration of the facades of many buildings, not only in Lisbon, but also a little bit all over the world, taken by the Portuguese and the lovers of this art, that that is also an original way to tell the History of Portugal.

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Sant'Anna is a Portuguese ceramic factory that made sure to keep the tradition, and continues to produce pieces through entirely artisanal methods, from the preparation of the clay to ceramic glaze and painting, maintaining the same process since it was established, in 1741.

Broadly, the Portuguese tiles and ceramics technique is characterized as follows: the paste (clay) is sculpted to acquire the desired shape, then it is allowed to dry in the air, until it loses all moisture, and finally, it is bisque-fired in a kiln, "as it is made with worthy chef dishes". When this firing is finished, the clay is then glazed by hand and afterwards, painted by artists. The artistic process is completed with a final glaze firing, which will give the pieces the appearance, texture and shine that place them among the most exclusive artisanal pieces in the World.

Let's look at each one in particular. The tile came to Portugal in the XV Century, brought by the Muslims. In the following century, the country begins its own production, inspired by the Italian and Flemish tiles, and in the XVII century, by the Dutch. Hand-painted in a unique way, they lined churches, palaces, monasteries, fountains and stately homes, always following the trends, such as "New Art", "Art Deco", and modern architecture.

Another one of Sant'Anna specialties, the tile panels are unique works, and only the ones that are signed by the authors are considered authentic. These panels feature the most varied designs, many of which are more than three centuries old. The Sant'Anna Factory also reproduces bespoke designs, tailored to the desired needs and size.

Finally, the Sant'Anna faience is a type of artisanal craft that represents very well this traditional Portuguese art, known all around the world. Entirely hand-made and hand-painted, the vases, pots, plates, ceiling and table lamps, the ashtrays, glasses and many other products give elegance to any décor.

The Sant'Anna factory has two shops in Lisbon, one at Calçada da Boa-Hora, which has been open since 1741, and another at Rua do Alecrim in the historical and touristic area of Chiado, which opened in 1916 and celebrates its centennial this year. It is precisely this last store, the most emblematic one, and also the one that sells the most, that received an eviction order, to be converted into a property dedicated to "Bordallo Pinheiro". A situation that displeases the owners and inhabitants of the city, for whom it is part of the History of the country. Let us go back in History, to better understand its value.

In 1741, near the Basílica da Estrela, in the then-called "Lands of Sant'Anna", in Lisbon, a small red clay pottery shop, that only produced undecorated clay pieces, was opened. With the earthquake of 1755, there was a necessity to rebuild the city of Lisbon, to give it back the colour and the History. The pottery, particularly the tiles, were cheap, compared to other stone facings, and it gained fans, and became fashionable.

The urban growth has forced the factory to move its facilities several times over, until it finally settled in Calçada da Boa Hora, where it works to this today. Here, lovers of this craft can attend painting workshops, as well as learn a little about all the stages of production of the pieces. With a duration of approximately three hours, the ones that are interested take contact with a centuries-old craft, and are challenged to paint their own tile, an experience that surely stays in memory.

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