Written by Bee Friedmann
Back in September 2022, I was so fortunate as to be invited by Apex Brazil to attend The Fenacce Artisan Craft Exposition in Brazil’s 5th largest city, Fortaleza. This busy city of high rise buildings lining the ocean is the capital of the Ceará state in North Eastern Brazil.
Fenacce is held to showcase the rich artisan crafts from this vast area of Brazil. I had never thought in my wildest dreams I would get such an opportunity to visit, to see such incredible craftsmanship and meet some like-minded craft enthusiasts from businesses across the globe. The creative economy of this area contributes to the wellbeing of many people and here they had a chance to showcase their incredible talent. It was an amazing honour to be part of this exciting event and to have such a great introduction to South American arts and crafts.
The time was divided between spending time visiting some artisans' studios as well as speaking with them during one to one sessions at the show. A visit to the CEART Craft Centre gave us the opportunity to see work from the various artisans under one roof. Housed in a beautiful, huge, airy showroom were the most delicious hand embroidered hammocks, baskets to lust after, incredible crochet tablecloths, brightly applicated leather products specific to this region, light fittings and table accessories. Rich in natural materials and craftsmanship, the Ceará state has a lot going for it.
Our first artisan visit was to lighting designer Armênia. Armênia welcomed us to her studio and workshop and spoke to us about her craft journey from fashion to making her incredible light fittings. Her creations made from natural materials take on organic forms and shapes. Her airy relaxed showroom is a testament to her incredible creative talent. Our next visit was to the thriving pottery studios of Antônia Lúcia to watch the very recognisable honey brown coloured ceramics with delicate lace patterns being created. We were shown how the pots are made, decorated and fired. The well practised ceramic art has been handed down from generation to generation. Our final visit for the day was to the community of Curral Granda, where Artfio, a group of lively and creative ladies, crochet beautiful homewares using colourful cotton thread. Under the diligent leadership of 70 year-old Ms Conceição Juvêncio, this project has transformed the lives of women in the region. It has given them financial independence to ensure their families are supported and also gives them a place to come together, to crochet, chat and support each other.
David dos Santos
During the one to one sessions back at the exhibition hall over the next few days I had the pleasure of meeting some very talented artisans from all over the region. These included Tacume Da Floresta, a group based in a small remote Riverside town in the Amazonas. These talented weavers produce bags, fans, and wall art made from the local vines. Started in 2011 by Thiago Azambuia, a passionate believer in “slow entrepreneurship” the project has gone from strength to strength and has even been featured in Vogue. I also met a very talented ex gardener, David dos Santos who forages small and large fallen branches and plants and gives them new life as birds, turtles, fish and insects, quite a few of which came home with me in my luggage! One artisan that stood out is Ana Gern who reuses textiles disposed of by the Santa Catarine industries and works with a group of artisans using crochet to produce cushion covers, plant pots and other delightful homewares. I also got the opportunity to buy from a small remote group called Buriti. Their delicate crochet placemats and napkin rings will be on our website very soon.
It was then time to wave my fellow craft enthusiasts farewell and head off into the wilder parts of Brazil for a little adventure. Being such an enormous country it was so hard to decide where to go. After a lot of research and the love for wild places, animals and plants, I decided to visit the Amazon region and the Pantanal. My limited visit to these two places has given me enough memories to last a lifetime.
I spent 3 days exploring the Amazonian region of Manacapurua with a brilliant guide, Robinson. He took me down the river tributaries of the Rio Negro and to visit some local craft groups and indigenous tribes. Travelling around by small boat is true slow travel and gives you the opportunity to experience the beautiful flora and fauna of this area up close. I swam in the river which was like a hot bath (the story of an escaped pet Anaconda put an end to my river swimming but I am glad I did have the courage to go for a dip). Tramping through the jungle under Robinson’s watchful eye taught me about the various trees and shrubs used for medicinal purposes. Back on the boat, cheeky little monkeys and beautiful coloured birds chattered in the trees and giant fish made the still waters ripple. At night the eyes of the Caiman shone bright in the darkness and the insects' symphony lulled me to sleep.
From here I travelled back to Manaus, a place where once the rubber barons of Brazil lived it up in pastel coloured mansions. I took a boat on the Rio Negro to see the Meeting of the Waters. Here the dark brown waters of the Rio Negro meet the sandy coloured waters of the Amazon River. Communities live in floating houses and life has a different pace. Back on terra firma I took in the magnificent Manaus Opera House also known as the Amazon Theatre. This grand pastel pink building of Renaissance architecture was the vision of Fernandes Júnior and work began in 1884 and took over 15 years to complete. It houses 196 chandeliers and a grand theatre which plays host to the Amazon Opera Festival. To escape the merciless midday sun I wandered along a wide avenue of brightly coloured buildings with the biggest doors I have ever seen! I believe this is to let as much fresh air in as possible during the scorching summers.
It was then off to the Pantenal which was truly the highlight of my trip. The Pantanal is very different to the Amazon but also an area of stunning beauty and magical animals and plants. Where the Amazon seems to close in on you with its majestic forest life, the Pantanal is wide and open. Waterways are explored by boat where you encounter giant stalks, fish eagles and capybaras. We even managed to see some rare Hyacinth Macaws and Giant River Otters. The only creature I really wanted to see and didn’t was the giant anteater. The Pantanal was ravaged by a long burning fire in 2020 and is only now starting to come back to life.
I had one more day back in Fortaleza before my flight left and I managed to find the sweetest little avenue full of brightly coloured houses, artisan restaurants and small shops selling beautiful jewellery and homewares. What a great end to an even greater trip.
Brazil is one big feast for the eyes and the ears and the senses!