Alberto was born in Gonçalo, Portugal, to a family of basket weavers. When he was a little boy he started “playing” baskets with his father. He began weaving professionally at the age of 24 upon his return from military service. Dedicating himself to this craft, he makes wickerwork in a wide variety of shapes and forms.
Alberto Carvalhinho is retired since 2020 due to his age, but still working legally; holder of artisan’s certificate from CEARTE
His “apprenticeship” began around age 15, during school holidays. He continued studies in administration and commerce until around age 20 and only after military service, at 24, did he fully dedicate himself to basketry. Alberto remembers well a time when Gonçalo was “the capital of basketry” with over 700 basket-makers and even carpenters that only worked for this purpose. At 69, he continues to participate in craft fairs and to produce either pieces he likes or upon request, but begins to lose some hope for the continuity of this art due to the lack of raw materials and of people interested in taking up the craft. Even so, he is proud to only work with the best materials and intends to go on as long as he can.
About 45 years ago, Alberto Carvalhinho transformed part of the ground floor of his old stone house into a small workshop area.
Alberto Carvalhinho is very precise about the raw materials he uses, and works with either wild willow wicker that he harvests or wicker he buys from Chile. Since the wicker from Chile has been lacking in the last years and has become quite expensive, he has planted it himself to harvest. Unfortunately, the plantation was overtaken by a fire in 2022 and it’s taking time to grow back again, since it can take two to three years to reach cost-effectiveness.
In his workshop, located in the village of Gonçalo, with a well-known tradition in basketry dating back to the end of the 18th century, he makes wickerwork in a wide variety of shapes and forms, either without mould or using one of the hundreds he keeps – some of which belonged to his great-grandparents, whom he never met. With a small window and electrical lighting from the ceiling, wood and wicker is found all over, as well as baskets hung from the walls or stacked up in shelves. There are fairly large cutting and sanding machines, as well as a large stone water-basin to dampen the wicker.
The wicker is usually picked in January and February and selected upon its size, and around March or April it’s ready to be easily lathered, to take off the bark.
Depending on the quality of the wicker, it may have to be boiled before stripping the bark, or it’s lathered immediately after cutting. To achieve a natural white colour, the best solution is to bury the wicker, piercing the twig in around 30 cm in the soil and taking it out about two months after. For a darker colour, it’s boiled for around two to three consecutive hours.
He brought back this technique that was once very common in the winemaking areas of Portugal, and innovated it by applying it to all sorts of bottle shapes, besides the classic demijohn. Due to his sense of experimentation and the quality of his technique, Alberto can create a variety of patterns, by introducing in one single object diverse types of weaving or distinctly treated wicker to form various colour combinations.