Myriad examples of Viúva Lamego hand painted tiles can found in and around Lisbon, the rest of the country and even abroad. Some less conspicuous than others, some decorating arguably the most important Portuguese projects of the last decades, such as the Expo pavilion designed by Alvaro Siza Vieira 1998 in Lisbon. The grandeur of this company can be sensed in the factory in Sintra, where every little detail is beautifully matched to the next. The colour scheme seems preconceived, everything is held in slight turquoise and blue tones, even the hair clips of the skilled women painting each tile by hand are shades of blue. Wherever our eyes wandered, something unexpected awaited us - whether it was the many moulds piled up in various parts of the large factory room, the secret narrow rooms where new designs were painted in collaboration with artists, or the intimidating kiln, ready to burn the next load of tiles coming its way. We could not take our eyes off the many colour tests, one more exquisite than the next, or the careful skill of the woman, arranging each tile next to the following one, to then paint a pattern spanning across all of them in vivid colours. There was an air of expertise, of experimentation and innovation and of secrecy regarding yet unpublished designs in every room of the factory, which we absorbed with great curiosity and delight.
Miguel, a very charismatic and warmhearted man, told us anecdotes about designing and building together with Alvaro Siza Vieira and collaborations made with Manuel Cargaleiro, who still works with them in residency today, being over 90 years old. We spoke to Miguel about the relationship between tradition and innovation, how to remain relevant as an artisanal company today and how to pass on this knowledge to the following generations of pioneers. Seeing the factory and the myriad samples of colours, textures and tile variations and engaging in such an informative conversation made a lasting impression on us as our first road trip stop.
Miguel Almeida Mendes is the commercial director of Viúva Lamego. Viúva Lamego is one of the Portuguese hand painted tile pioneers of the last decades, working with a craft that is frequently seen as a reflection of cultural, social, and economic influences, inseparable from the country's history. The production of tiles in Portugal dates back to the mid-sixteenth century, yet it was only in the nineteenth century that Viúva Lamego was established: in 1849 in Lisbon. The company remains relevant as a tile pioneer also due to its many collaborations with notable artists and architects, among them Joana Vasconcelos and Alvaro Siza Vieira.