Manuel Ferreira, Bulrush Furniture

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Manuel did a training in Heritage Conservation - Furniture in bulrush. To support this art and encourage its continuity, the local municipality donated a space, tools and raw material for the new craftsmen to begin a small business. Four years later, only Manuel endured. He wild-harvests his own material locally along the river, and is always open to training others in the craft.

Name of Craft in the local language
Mobiliário em Bunho
Type of Craft
Bulrush furniture
Knowledge Holder
Manuel Ferreira
Location, Website
Antiga Escola Prática de Cavalaria, R. dos Ex - Combatentes do Ultramar, 2005-000 Santarém Link to website
Contact
+351 914 802 336
Type of Business
Newly founded; manufacture undertaken at a workshop space offered by the Municipality of Santarém.
Year of Establishment
1990/2013
Successors
No

Workshop and sales space
10m2
Materials
Bulrush and sometimes wood
Technology / Tools / Machines
Razor/knife, wooden wedge, needle
Techniques / Processes
Coiled, woven and plaited / harvesting, drying, moistening, cutting, weaving, trimming
Members / Employees
1
Apprentices
Currently training 2 people between once and twice a week
Education of the Craftsperson
1 year training in Heritage Conservation - Furniture in Bulrush; 6-months internship

Best-selling product
Stool
Average time of production
A total of 4 hours, divided between 2 - 3 days
Average price per item
60 EUR

In 1989 Manuel did a training in Heritage Conservation – Furniture in bulrush. It lasted 1 year and was followed by 6 months of internship. Ten trainees participated but only five went on working.

To support this art and encourage its continuity, the Municipality of Santarém donated a space, the tools used during the course and the raw material left over from the internship, allowing them to start a small business. Little by little, others gave up and, 4 years later, only Manuel went on making furniture in bulrush. He is passionate about his craft and carries on, giving workshops and always looking forward to welcoming new people to come and work with him. At this time, he has 2 people over once or twice a week for training, but they can’t dedicate themselves more due to a lack of financial support, thus having to split their time with other professional activities. Manuel wild-harvests his own material locally along the river.

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Although he began this practice professionally in 1990, it’s only since 2013 that Manuel has been working from his current space.

Located within the Former Calvary School in Santarém, a huge and typical state building from this period, in concrete and built in the 1950’s. Shared with an artisan who works soft-rush basketry, Manuel works completely surrounded by bulrush stems – all over the walls and floor – within a 10m2 area, with decent natural light, and a water point just outside the door, that was especially set up for them by the municipality. 

Work is done sitting on a low bench, holding between legs the object to be made. In general, the stems used to weave are kept on one side and the “filler” on the other. The “mancheia” (handful) makes up the right amount to form the filling of the “slices”, that are woven and overlapped.

Bulrush is harvested between June and August along marshes using a brush cutter. Tied into bundles, it’s taken to a dry place and spread out in a fan shape to dry, untying the lower part and keeping the higher part tied-up (the plant can have up to 3 meters). After about a week, the bundle is turned over to dry on the other side.

Harvesting is done once a year for use along the year, always preparing the amount necessary the evening before each work day. The stems are cut at about 80 cm from bottom to top, moistening the lower part overnight. This part is used for weaving and the upper part is used as filling.

A container with water serves to keep the ends and filler slightly wet, and water is also used to keep hands moist to protect the skin. Tools used are a razor/knife (to trim excess material and cut imperfections at the end of each work), a “pazelha” (wooden wedge that serves to push the excess straw to the inside of the piece), a needle (made of steel, a wooden handle, and with a hole at its end to pass the fiber through, like in sewing), and a watering can.

 

As this practice is very hard on the hands, worsened by the fact that you have to keep them wet all the time - which doesn’t help his arthritis - Manuel takes nowadays a little longer to realize his pieces. Due to the more particular physical effort these require, he’s only making chairs by very special order (here combining wood and bulrush), and so he dedicates his time mostly to making the typical bulrush benches, in different sizes. These are one-person, low and round benches, made in spiral technique, accumulating layers in height, and with a hole at the center. However, as he very proudly states, “you can make all sorts of objects with bulrush”, and so he also manufactures baskets, coasters, and even headboards.