A Wonder of Tiles

Ray Gillman has recreated the Seven Wonders of Portugal for a new TACT charity initiative. Sophie Sadler met him to find out how 63 tiles will help disadvantaged families in the Algarve.

Arriving in Ray’s driveway, I am instantly captivated by the depictions of the Seven Wonders of Portugal, set out as separate pictures along a wall. “As Sete Maravilhas de Portugal” was decided by a popular vote in 2007. The Portuguese Institute of Architectural Heritage originally selected an eye-watering 793 sites and buildings, which were eventually whittled down to a shortlist of 21, which the public voted for by the internet, telephone and SMS.

The winners were Guimarães Castle (10th century), Óbidos (1195), Batalha Monastery (1385), Alcobaça Monastery (1153) Jéronimos Monastery (1502), Pena Palace (1838) and the Belém Tower (1521). So why did this subject inspire Ray so much?

“They tell of the great Discoveries, times of enormous wealth and influence, political and family intrigues and of the battles waged for the country to become, and stay, independent,” Ray observes. Such was his fascination with the monuments that he went on to reproduce the wonders from separate depictions, joining them into a fabulous collage to display in another nook of his garden.

Ray’s evolution into a tile artist is an interesting transformation for the advertising executive who owned a design consultancy and wine bar in Covent Garden, London. On retirement, he turned his hand to painting watercolours as a way of subsidising his retirement income but admits he never sold any!

On moving to the Algarve, he took a Portuguese language course and met a fellow pupil who had been to tile painting lessons. On seeing some of Ray’s paintings, he suggested he try to reproduce them on tiles.

This ignited Ray’s passion for this new art form. As I wander through his beautiful Moorish-inspired garden, I encounter a haven of peace and tranquillity: a walled oasis brimming with Ray’s artistic endeavours. 

There are tiled paintings of his grandchildren, charmingly represented as monkeys perched on treetops, historic buildings, boats and saints. His covered terrace has a spectacular frieze of tiles painted with bougainvillea, vines and birds. It is simply breathtaking.

Initially, he designed his subjects using watercolours on paper, dividing the picture into squares which he replicated on the tiles. Many of these hang on his interior walls and are pieces of art in their own right, but subsequently, he has gained the skill to paint directly onto the tiles.

Perhaps his most impressive achievement was his depiction of the Portuguese Saint Elizabeth, to whom, coincidentally, his local church in Richmond was dedicated. He gave the panel to the church, where it is displayed in the nave, dedicated to his mother-in-law – also called Elizabeth. 

As a friend of Tomorrow magazine, Ray decided he wanted to contribute to its TACT charity, helping the disadvantaged in our community. He has created a second azulejo picture of the Seven Wonders to promote a souvenir brochure explaining the history of each, which will raise money for TACT in 2023.

“They give a good insight into some of the key elements of Portugal’s history,” explains Ray. “They are part of the many reasons we all love Portugal.” 

His new masterpiece comprises a panel of 1.35m x 1.05m with 63 mounted tiles, meaning it can be displayed on a wall. It was painted on a powder glaze compressed on a “biscuit” base. The colours are metallic oxides diluted with water. The tiles were fired at approximately 1050 °C in a kiln for 30 minutes before cooling. It takes six hours to get the kiln to that temperature and cooling takes a day and a half.

During the heating process, the surface of the tiles vitrifies, so the colours intensify and some change as the tile acquires its durable glassy surface. This type of tile decoration is called the “Majolica” technique.

The souvenir brochure is a beautifully produced and illustrated 68-page publication in English and Portuguese, designed by Phil Harding and Rebeca Silva of Creation Media, who gave their services free of charge. It sells to the public for 5€ and all proceeds from the sales and those to businesses and clubs will go to TACT to distribute to the many local good causes it supports. I stress all proceeds from sales because Ray, and his wife Vi, are paying for all printing, displays and associated costs.

Ray’s hope is that the panel’s final destination will be the gardens of the British Embassy in Lisbon. “I wish the panel to be a lasting expression of expatriate appreciation of Portuguese history and culture and of their gratitude for the welcome they have received in this marvellous country,” reflects Ray.

To whet your appetite for the enlightening brochure, we will feature a snippet on each of Portugal’s seven wonders from April. We hope it will inspire you to buy this unique insight into the history of Portugal.

How to get your copy?

Local shops in Lagos and Luz         

Mar d’Estorias,the beautiful Portuguese heritage store near the Cultural Centre.

The International Livraria/Book Shopon the corner of Avenida dos Descobrimentos over the road from the marina footbridge.

The Owl Story Book Shop at the top endof Rua Marreiros Netto in the historical centre near to the city wall. 

Harmony Earth (health and gift shop) at the side of the car park outside Baptista’s in Praia da Luz. 

By post direct to your address in Portugal

Single copies will cost 5€ plus 2€ post and packing to addresses in Portugal. 

To reduce postage costs we’re asking our readers to help the charitable effort by getting friends together and combining their orders (think of your group as the Seven Wonders!). 

So a box of seven copies will be delivered by Correio Verde to an address in mainland Portugal for 35€ plus 5€ postage. 

Calling all businesses, societies and clubs

We will sell sixty copies in minimum quantities and provide a free display stand. At 5€ a copy, this will produce 300€, but the ‘trade’ price is 3,50€ each, costing 210€ for each order. The margin will contribute to admin costs and the 210€ revenue will be a marvellous donation to TACT! 

We have already had exceptional support from Casas do Barlavento as well as Mar d’Estorias, both of whom are refusing to take the trade margin and will remit the full 5€ a copy!

Please email your order to Ray Gillman at vigillman@outlook.com, stating the address and your name and he will reply with details for the bank transfer and post the books to you.


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