A Wonderland of Dreams

Loulé Criativos Artist of the Month: Bernadette Martins

I think of Loulé Criativo as the mother tree. She was first planted in 2015, and, since then, she has grown many branches, sprigs and twigs that spread out in all sorts of directions. But at the root of this grand family tree is the desire to showcase Algarvian artisans and techniques, and to safeguard them for the future.

If you are a regular reader of Tomorrow, you may remember that I’ve been writing mainly about the various criativos that innovate at the Loulé Design Lab, located at the Palácio Gama Lobo. As we’ve seen, these artistic laboratory boffins do work with traditional techniques yet tend to add their own modern twist.

But, as I said,Loulé Criativohas other branches, too. And this month I was delighted to get the opportunity to venture out into the old town and down the beautiful cobbled streets to find potter Bernadette Martins at Loulé Criativos Oficina do Barro (Clay Studio).

The potter’s wheels

Bernadette’s bicycle finds its familiar spot outside the door of this picturesque little olaria each day. I walked up to it and peered inside the workshop. ”Amidst her sculptures on a bustling work table, Bernadette paused what she was doing, setting aside her wooden clay tool and warmly welcomed me in.

We sat down for a cosy little chat and it quickly became clear that Bernadette is not only absolutely lovely but also a multi-talented artist with her fingers in lots of, well – clay! We were surrounded by just a few of her creations, from a jackrabbit mid-sprint to sunbathing mermaids sitting in jacuzzis – and lots of ‘coral-full’ pots. 

Before I got carried away asking about Bernadette’s work, I thought it was best to start from the beginning and find out the experiences that shaped their creator.

From fashion to fire

Bernadette was born and lived in France until she was nine. She studied design at IADE in Lisbon and later got a job as a costume designer for French television. This exciting role took her around Portugal and France. However,  after six years of glamour and constant movement, Bernadette decided to seek out a more peaceful life in the Algarve. 

She enrolled in a one-year tile painting course. This ignited her passion for ceramics and the transformative potential of the kiln fired up her desire to learn more. 

It was at this time that she decided to start a family. With no more time to take additional courses, Bernadette turned to the internet. Though not quite the resource it is nowadays, Bernadette was determined. And nothing beats hands-on experience. She bought her own kiln and, through trial and error, taught herself at home.

Over the years, she feels fortunate to have made a life merging her two passions of illustration and sculpture – passing on her skills to those interested in learning. 

And she’s still constantly experimenting herself! One of her favourite techniques is the Japanese raku, which most notably involves firing at high temperatures and then placing the pieces in a container with combustible materials like eucalyptus leaves, pine needles, or newspaper. The result? Very unpredictable, but it often leads to incredible one-of-a-kind pieces, which Bernadette finds very exciting.

From seed to sky

Bernadette is eternally inspired by nature’s wonders. Anything from humble bean sprouts to humongous bulbs can serve as the catalyst for the most remarkable works of art.

She works with various kinds of stoneware and often uses delicate porcelain as the perfect material to represent new life sprouting from a seed and reaching for the sky. There are also her pendant lights adorned with porcelain seeds – they work a little like wind chimes, creating a soothing melody as they lightly brush past each other.

Some of her most beloved creations – those she wished she had more time to create – are her collection of animals, such as elephants, curious otters, racing greyhounds, and that speedy rabbit. It makes me think of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, and I like to believe this rabbit is “late for a very important date” and is leading the way underground to a magical queendom from which the rest of Bernadette’s work could be based. The only difference – this wonderland is under the sea.

Enchantment under the sea

It’s clear Bernadette harbours a great love of the ocean. Besides her mesmerising mermaids and massive muscle lamps, looking around the workshop, everything seemed to be covered in coral. From pots to vases and even cake plates, they look as if they were left behind at sea after a tea party, and the colourful coral and other sea organisms have moved in and made themselves very at home, leaving Bernadette’s creations covered in a subtle delicacy of shapes and textures. 

Bernadette regularly receives commissions to create tile works for private houses as well as street names for Loulé council. However, last year she was truly tested when she was asked to create what you could call an ocean-sizemural for a seafood restaurant called the Cervejaria Ribadouro in Mar Shopping.

This job took her months to complete, from painting and firing every single tile at the workshop to their careful transport and reassembly at the restaurant. It must have been like a giant puzzle, finally being assembled on the wall, transforming the restaurant’s blank canvas into an impressive aquatic spectacle brimming with vibrant depictions of lobsters, prawns, mussels, and barnacles.

Sublime fragility

In 2019, Bernadette embarked on an apprenticeship under the guidance of master contemporary jeweller Filomeno Pereira de Sousa. 

Throughout her ceramic work, porcelain has always been close to her heart, but her recent move into the world of jewellery has allowed her to learn about other materials and techniques. Working with anything from brass, silver and copper to titanium, Bernadette has truly let her imagination run wild – and the results are stunning. 

Bernadette chose to call this new project Frágil. She’s aware that the word ‘fragile’ is not described favourably in the dictionary, as it is often associated with weakness or vulnerability. But to Bernadette, Frágilrepresents something beautiful, delicate, and unique.

Her work is certainly all those things. And Bernadette hopes you enjoy her pieces as much as she enjoys making them.

To sign up to her tile painting workshops, please visit www.loulecriativo.pt and follow Bernadette on Instagram at both bernadette.martins.ceramic and fragil_jewellery or visit her website at www.bernadettemartins.com.


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