|In the neighbourhood of Santa Terezinha, in Pirapora (MG), in a way everyone is related. A community of fishermen and figurehead makers was transferred to the area from the neighbourhood of Nossa Senhora de Aparecida, on the banks of the São Francisco River, after a major flood almost destroyed the place. The government donated land and a big warehouse so the craft artists could carry on working, and there they stay, all day long, sculpting the terrifying figures that are meant to ward off bad luck and evil spirits. Among them the young Raimundo Xavier Carneiro, 20 years old, stands out. Dedicated to his art, Raimundo works almost every day. “We have to work hard. At home, no one has an office job. I learned my art practising every day in the warehouse, with my mother. My uncle Sabino was one of the oldest figurehead makers around here. His son, Adão, also works with us. The wood we use is called tamboriu, and we have a license to buy it. It’s hard work, it takes 4 to 6 days of non-stop labour to make a large figurehead.” In the warehouse, the figureheads are lined up, all looking the same, but by paying attention it’s possible to notice differences in the finish, cuttings and carvings, some have more precise detailed decorations than others.
The details in the work by Lia das Carrancas never go unnoticed.
Baptized Maria do Carmo Pereira de Arruda, Lia was born in São Paulo, in 1973, and ended up in Pirapora when she was 14 years old. She had an accident and stayed there. She got married to figurehead maker Pascoal Antônio da Fonseca, nephew of Master Sabino. “I used to watch them at work. One day Sabino asked me to sit by his side and learn. Back then I was the only woman among them, and that made things tricky. In order to keep my individual style I ended up always working by myself, in a stall by the São Francisco River. Today, I’m the one who makes the largest figureheads around here, like Sabino used to. I make pieces taller than myself. I climb on a ladder, and that’s it.” Widowed less than a 2 years ago, all her family’s earnings come from her art which she has been developing for 14 years.
Then there is Adão Xavier dos Santos, Sabino’s son, who arrived in Pirapora while still a child. “We came to work the land by the river. My father used to make a few pieces, animals and pots for us to sell at the market. When we moved to Pirapora he noticed the boats going past with their figureheads and started making them. At first they were small, then became really big. We all learned with him. I have worked as a farmer, made charcoal and I am now a retired metal worker. Now I stay in the warehouse, and every once in a while I make something.” Adão Xavier dos Santos was born in Brasília de Minas (MG), em 1956.