Dinis Cunha, Wood Splint Basketry

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Dinis Cunha learned wood splint basketry from his father from a young age. Uninterested in studying at school or into practising the craft, Dinis left his hometown at 18, only to later return and become bitten by the “basketry bug”. Thirty years in the business, he is today the only basket weaver in Vilar de Nantes, a municipality in the very North of Portugal, where the craft once thrived.

Name of Craft in the local language
Cestaria em madeira rachada
Type of Craft
Wood splint basketry
Knowledge Holder
Dinis Cunha
Location, Website
Rua da Pedreira, nº 9, 5400-580 Vilar de Nantes, Chaves, Portugal
Contact
+351 276 325 158 / +351 934 934 413
Type of Business
Knowledge inherited from father and grandfather; manufacture in a workshop at home.
Year of Establishment
1980’s
Successors
No, but there are two whom he trained, one of which opened his own workshop

Workshop and sales space
Located by Serra do Brunheiro, Dinis opened his workshop over thirty years ago on the ground floor of his house next to the garage, the only place from which he sells his work, besides participating in fairs.
Materials
Wild chestnut
Technology / Tools / Machines
Hatchet, saw, secateurs, pruning shears, iron to smoothen the wood, easel, knife, sandpaper
Techniques / Processes
Woven and Plaited / Harvesting, cutting, heating, damping, splinting, ironing, weaving
Members / Employees
1
Apprentices
Although he has given training, Dinis doesn’t have an apprentice or a successor to ensure the continuation of his workshop
Education of the Craftsperson
Dinis started making splint wood baskets with his father between the ages of 12 and 13

Best-selling product
Small bread baskets
Average time of production
4 baskets per day (minimum 7 hours)
Average price per item
10 EUR – 25 EUR

Artisan’s certification from CEARTE; member of Associação de Desenvolvimento de Vilar de Nantes (Development Association)

Dinis started making wood splint baskets with his father between the ages of 12 and 13.

He did this to supplement the family income from agriculture. Not particularly interested in studying at school or into practising the craft, Dinis left his hometown at 18, and only after returning in the 1980s, did he pick it up again professionally, suddenly “bitten by the basketry bug”. He has trained other basket makers, and it’s unfortunate that none of them have continued with this craft. He harvests his own material close to home, in Serra do Brunheiro and prepares the wood in his workshop. There is never any waste as he uses the shavings from making the baskets to then heat the new wood that he harvests. He makes the traditional Portuguese agriculture baskets, and some altered renditions suitable for domestic use.

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Located by Serra do Brunheiro, Dinis opened his 30 square meter workshop over thirty years ago on the ground floor of his then recently built house.

Next to the garage, this is the only place from which he also sells his work – besides the fairs in which he participates in. Since this is a concrete construction from the 1980’s, he usually works with the large, west turned door wide-open to the outside, thus bathing the space with natural light. Only in the very winter does he find it necessary to close the door for warmth and use electrical lighting. The white painted walls help to spread light throughout the space, which is equipped with all his tools and machinery, wood in waiting to be worked, and shelves to exhibit the finished products. 

 

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    Dinis harvests his own wood close to home and has had wood open “for three, four years” - “the longer the better”.

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    He usually harvests in Winter and during “old moon” stage.

When working on it, he “soaks it” because the humidity level is essential for preparing the piece.

The easel, “just like in painting”, is the unavoidable tool; another are two kinds of pruners – one for the wood, another, smaller one, to manufacture the piece, and an iron to smoothen the wood, “like the coopers use,” placing pieces of wood on the easel and “plowing” them to reach the necessary thickness, which depends on the size of the piece that is to be made. After this phase, the easel serves as a bench: first, to “found the piece” – the pieces of wood are placed on the floor and interlaced (obeys counts depending on the piece and size) to make the background, “the foundation”; then, to lift it, with a “rope” guiding the “weave” that rises to the desired size; it ends with the border, which “is the finish”, “the cleanliness”.

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    Dinis builds a variety of baskets using the wood splint technique, but the best-selling pieces are the smaller, so-called bread baskets, that cost between 10 to 25 euros. As he mentions, he sells all kinds of basketry but sales depend on the buyer’s budget. His only sales point is at his own workshop, and he participates in around four or five crafts or gastronomy fairs a year.

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