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  • Suzanne Radford

Spirit of Wood

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

By Suzanne Radford

Tomorrow Magazine, June 2022 issue

José Maurício is 60 years, young, and for him, age is only a number. He is not one to wear a watch and only sees the value of time in reference to the wood he is foraging. He likes old wood, cracked and lined, characterful and strong. Wood he can carve something beautiful from.

José was born in Casais, near Monchique in Southern Portugal and he has lived there all his life. He has owned his property for thirty years. As you enter through the gates, there are plants for sale on one side of the drive, and on the other stone and wood carvings. It is an intriguing approach but it is in the gallery which opened its doors to the public fourteen years ago that you discover hidden gems, wood carvings in various shapes and sizes beautifully crafted. This is where the magic happens.

As you look down the long galley, softly lit, there are carvings on display in various sizes. Juniper, erica, carob and olive. Jose holds in his hands a cylindrical-shaped carving made from olive wood, wood that is over 2,000 years old.

“This is nature, this is my work...I work with nature...” José explains.

Work that can take many hours, around 1000 hours for one piece. This is okay, José enjoys his time and the process, and he emphasises the importance of going slow. In his work and in life.

To understand Jose and the concept of ‘slow’ he explains the process and how some of his pieces are soaked in salt water for 10 years. Wood that is plunged into darkness in 100 g of salt per 1-litre water (a greater salt ratio than seawater). The salt preserves the wood and kills any insects or parasites. The piece is then moved to fresh water where it stays for 2 years, then it is dried for a year. Forty per cent of the pieces on display in the gallery have gone through this process. Others have been stored in fungus, and some in the ground. All adding to the science and process of preserving, strengthening and drawing out the colour.

José takes care to honour and respect the wood. He doesn’t cut trees but collects them from the ground after a tree has died or fallen. Then brings the wood to life, revealing its beauty and igniting the imagination through shapes and texture. The slow process and attention to detail warrant prices ranging from €30 to €5,000.

José says, “The name of the gallery, Spirit of Wood, represents my connection to the tree both on the inside and on the outside.”

Growing up in the mountains and forest, José always loved nature, planting and growing. His father was a farmer and his father before he would carve large spoons and ladles, but it took Jose until he was 29 years old before he carved his first piece of wood. He is self-taught preferring to develop his own style and method rather than taking any formal training.

José's favourite wood is pistacia lentiscus (mastic tree) he loves it for its strength and depth of colour. After a long preparation time, pistacia deepens in tones of red. This bushy tree likes calcareous soil and depending on the salt content will determine its colour. The salt content is higher around Aljezur so wood gathered there can look almost black, less so and redder around Lagos and lighter around Portimao. Jose understands the land to understand the wood that he works with.

Whilst José might be someone who likes to march to the beat of his own drum, it is a slow walk in harmony with his environment. Taking things nice and easy, no clocks. It suits him well.

Wood Spirit Gallery

Coordinates: 37’17’12.51’ N 8’36’4527’W

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