||Whoever said there is no oasis in the middle of the desert-like Brazilian North East countryside where the harsh sun punishes everything in sight, was lying. “My people have always lived here in the mountains. The countryside follows us up to the top.” So says Francisca Rodrigues Ramos do Nascimento, a leader in the neighbourhood of Viçosa do Ceará, a paradise in the middle of the dry “sertão”, explaing that the place where she lives is known as “The Top Community”.
“I’ve been here since 1939, always working with clay. Since I was 12 years old I wanted to make my own things so I could have my own money. I learned with my aunt. Back in her days everything was made of clay. There was no table; people would sit on a mat on the floor to eat. They used to call everything pottery, not ceramics. There were plates, jugs, pots for making coffee. But life changes, and nowadays no one uses those things anymore. People buy stuff readymade, they are always in a hurry.”
Francisca admits she had always wanted to make figurines. “I used to see them in magazines and newspapers and thought I wouldn’t be able to do the same. One day an organization visited us with a person to teach a course. It was good, I learned a few things but I realised I had my own style. I learned to make faces looking at our own.”
In 2005 Francisca received the title of Master of Culture, in the city of Crato, Ceará, which gives her a monthly salary to teach other people. “This recognition didn’t come easily. Many of my colleagues have passed away. The work was hard. Many women who have died should have received this award but I accept it in their name.” Francisca didn’t know but she also pays homage to her ancestors, Indian women from native tribes who have worked with clay to make pots and pans since the beginning of time.