The introduction of plastic and other synthetic industrial raw materials imposed on the packaging and transportation of various products. Today the old basket maker craft is only sought within the decorative arts and crafts. Used to transport almost everything, baskets, in various forms and materials, were essential in the daily lives of societies in all contexts, from Prehistory to the Mid-20th century.
The baskets assumed various forms and functions, their typology and dimension was defined by the purpose for which they were intended. The same technique of interlacing wood or twigs was also applied in the manufacture of sibanas, hedges for ox carts, and for covos, traps used for lamprey fishing. Therefore, the variety of baskets is quite large and with particular regional characteristics, standing out several typologies in this territory: the gigãoor leaf basket, for the collection of leaves to make manure; the ground basket, for transporting clods from the fields; the gigoor harvest basket, with their half-gigo or half-basket versions, for the grapes harvest transportation from the vine to theharvest basket (which was associated with the cambito, a piece of wood or iron that allowed hanging the basket on the ladder or on any branch); the weed basket; thecanastrel for delicate loads; the seeds basket; the low or long giga, to put the ironed clothes, also called the wicker basket, but distinct from the small and round wicker basket; the condessa, a closed basket with lid and handle for snacks transportation in the countryside and in pilgrimages, or for orders sent by train or bus; the hamper, carried on the head by the bakers and fishmongers, and often used as a cradle…
But if the basketshad particular importance, the same can not be said of the basket maker craft or the hamper maker, a much less recognized and discreet work as it was considered easy and done in a domestic context.
Although it is not possible to know the extent of the profession among the population of the county of Penafiel until the 19th century, we know that in 1815 there were ten hamper makers in the parish of Paço de Sousa (three masters, five officers and two trainees). In the city of Penafiel, there was a hamper maker in the neighbourhood of Fornos in 1820, and in 1833, two others in the neighbourhood of Santo António Velho (now Carmo’s Street). The 1836 census registered four hamper markers and five basket makers across the county and, in 1879, there were a total of thirteen hamper makers and five basket makers. A few years later, the 1881 Industrial Surveycounted eight basket makers, labeled as wicker works. In the following census these numbers remained more or less constant, but the aging of the craftsman and the lack of interest of the younger demonstrate that this activity was passing into oblivion. In the 21st century, in the county of Penafiel, only two artisans still dedicate themselves to this craft.
The most characteristic basketry is made of cracked wood, also using wicker basketry for smaller containers. Unlike weaving, cracked wood basketry was a man’s craft in combination with the work in the fields. In the second half of the 20th century, women also devoted themselves to making round and small thin-twig wicker-baskets, a work of thoroughness as it involves counting and plaiting the delicate twigs, sometimes finishes with coloured painted notes.
Although they mainly use australian wood, willow, laurel or alder, the basket makers give preference to tame chestnut or new oak wood, about three years old, which has to be soaked for two days and then cut into thin strips with the plane, in a basket maker’s stool. The basket maker starts the basket at the bottom, holding the interlaced straps with his feet and his own weight. Once the bottom is set, the wooden strips are folded to lift the basket walls and linked together by the cross-interlaced wicker strips, work that can be done seated down, finishing the basket with the making of the wings.
SOEIRO, Teresa (2008/2009) – “A cestaria tradicional em Penafiel”, Portugalia, Nova Série, vol. XXIV-XXX. Porto: Departamento de Ciências e Técnicas do Património, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto, p. 253-288.
GALHANO, Fernando (1961/1962) – “Cestaria de Entre Douro e Minho. Contribuição para o estudo da cestaria portuguesa”, Trabalhos de Antropologia e Etnologia, 18. Porto: p. 257-335.