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.
Artisan’s certification from CEARTE; member of Associação de Desenvolvimento de Vilar de Nantes (Development Association)
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.
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.
Dinis harvests his own wood close to home and has had wood open “for three, four years” - “the longer the better”.
He usually harvests in Winter and during “old moon” stage.
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”.
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.