Preserving the past – but planning for a bright Tomorrow
If you have ever witnessed a traditional Algarvian basket weaver mid-weave, you may have found yourself enchanted by their ability to turn plants found in the countryside into beautiful baskets. You may also have worried that with less call for these things nowadays and nobody to take over, these traditional skills and knowledge, seemingly contained in the well-trained movements of the weaver’s fingers, might be lost forever.
Well, this is one of the reasons I was so pleased to learn about the Loulé Criativo project. Originally started in 2015, it aims to protect and promote traditional artisans and techniques while, at the same time, bringing them into the present by adding an innovative modern twist.
But first, let’s talk about protecting and promoting them …
If you take a walk around the cobbled streets of old town Loulé, sooner or later you are bound to stumble across various shops and spaces that are part of what you could call the ‘network’ of Loulé Criativo.
You can find the Palm Weaving Shop, the Copper Shop, the Clay Studio, the Watchmaker Studio and the Luthier Studio (which specialises in musical string instruments).
Loulé Criativo also works with tour operators to offer a diverse and dynamic creative tourism programme where you can not only meet and mingle with these local artisans and try your hand at their art for yourself but also attend workshops, short courses, themed weekends and other creative experiences that will teach you how to make anything from paper flowers, hand-painted tiles and cardboard furniture to fig and chocolate “cheeses’’. And, in spring, they even take you on a walk along what’s called the Almond Blossom Trail.
Now for the twist!
Loulé Criativo realised that although it is very important to preserve the traditions of the past, the only way to truly safeguard them for the future is to enlist a younger generation of artists and designers to think of new uses and innovative designs to bring these old techniques into the modern world.
How do they do this? Well, by experimenting – in their laboratory
And where better to find the inspiration of how to blend tradition with innovation than the beautifully restored Palácio Gama Lobo. Located close to the Loulé bus station, this privately owned manor house, with its coat of arms emblazoned into the front of the building, was originally built for Manuel da Gama Lobo in 1763 and, although it has long been considered a landmark in Loulé architecture, had fallen into disrepair.
The Loulé municipality bought it and restored it to its former glory – but with the future in mind. In 2019, it became the headquarters of Loulé Criativo and the resident artists of their Loulé Design Lab.
It’s always a joy to visit this palace
With its classically tiled floor, fabulous ceilings and glorious windows, the palace seems to be eternally engaged in a dance with the sunshine that’s forever shining through the windows and directing your gaze to something new.
If you are looking for an excuse to visit, you can attend the workshops held there and they usually have an exhibition on, as well as a little boutique shop (open Wednesday to Saturday mornings) which displays a sample of the diverse and often complementary talents of the resident artists of their Loulé Design Lab.
The Design Lab
The Design Lab is an incubator for artists who apply for the residencies that run from one month to three years. It helps them grow and supports them while they turn their ideas into a viable business. In return, the residents ‘pay back’ by sharing their skills in workshops or helping other designers, which serves to unite and create a wonderful creative community in Loulé.
One artist at a time
Now, there’s a lot to explore here and I simply can’t tell you about everybody at once. But now that I’ve hopefully set the scene, I would like to introduce you to one resident artist at a time. Starting next month with architect Sandra Neto – but be warned, things are about to get Messy.
+351 289 400 879
Palácio Gama Lobo: Monday to Friday 10.00–13:00 and 14:00–17:00 Saturday 10:00–15:00
Photos © @Loulé Criativo