Focus on… José Silos Franco

So far in Foundartes ‘focus on’ series we have spoken with amazing artisans who dedicated their life to their art.  Sadly we can’t speak with our next artisan but he truly changed the ceramic world in Portugal and is widely considered to be The Artisan.

Cherished by many and the inspiration to many more, today we focus on José Franco.

Born in 1920 in the small village of Sobreiro, Portugal, José Silos Franco came from a humble family, sharing the attention with 15 brothers.  His father was a cobbler and his mother sold loiça (utilitarian ceramic crockery) door-to-door and at local fayres.

This was the beginning for the young Franco and by the age of 10 he had stopped studying (like most boys of that age in the region) and started learning his craft with his uncle, António Joana.

Franco began creating clay miniatures by hand and learning a mastery of the potters wheel, by the age of 17 he was ready to start working on his own and picked up pottery work where his grandfather had left off; from that moment onward his pieces started gaining expression and distinction – it also helped that his mother was a great sales person.

During the war torn 1940’s José married Maria Helena and this coincided with visits to his workshop by other artists and intellectuals of the time; however it was not until the 1960’s that everything changed.

By this time Franco was simply known as ‘the master’ and it was this acknowledgment that allowed the wings to grow for his biggest dream – The construction of a ‘typical village’.

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It would portray a time in society and be the greatest homage to the locality of Mafra and in particular Sobreiro. Purchasing a small pine woodland area of 2500 m Sq. he embarked upon his greatest feat.

My wife Helena who is a great woman called me crazy for having this dream, she thought I should spend the money on the future of our grandchildren, or buying houses to rent out.

The village would be built with two thoughts in mind – shops and workshops would be replicated and equipped with period objects that best represented the activities of the time, simultaneously a play area would be built for children with there being an overlap of historical importance and educational purpose in the same place.

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…the village looks like a feast, in colour, in grace, in the invention that comes from the hands of this modest and simple man.

These were the words of Jorge Amado a writer and close friend of Franco, he went on to to say –

…at the same time he is wise and has a deep knowledge, that comes from the heart and is shown through the fingers as the gift of creation.  He was born to create beauty and lend himself to others, to make the heritage of the Portuguese people richer with his creations, figures of clay and everyday vases, their oxen with long horns, delicate fish, pigs and roosters made from the earth and bursting with lyricism – oh how it looks like a party, the village…

This is a wonderful poetic look at a man who was always cherished by the people and will always be remembered as a good and generous man.  He received the knightly commendation of Santiago by the then President of the Republic Ramalho Eanes and he was also blessed by Pope John Paul II.

The master has thus left behind a fantastic collection of pieces from art-sacra to folk and satirical art, most of which can still be seen today in the Village Museum. Thousands of people still visit the museum nowadays and some of his other works can even be found in the Vatican City.

José Franco marked not only this region but also many of our artisans who refer to Franco as the inspiration. José Franco died April 14th 2009.

I feel things that go beyond everything

– José Silos Franco

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