Green Woodworking at Cerdeira, Portugal.
Cerdeira Arts and Crafts School was set up over 30 years a go by a somewhat intrepid German woman by the name of Kerstin Thomas, who visited one day, and fell in love with the place. Then it was mostly ruins, having been abandoned by farming families in the 50s, as more opportunities became available in the towns. Kerstin raised her two children there, in this remote but magical mountainside - 10 years of which without electricity - and slowly, with the help of friends and donors, built it into the stunning centre for arts, culture, and the natural world that it is today.
There is no tradition in Portugal of green woodworking, and this year I returned for my second year teaching there. The Chair Course in Portugal is similar to the Creative Seating Course, but with a more modest brief. Strictly chairs. No benches. This year the participants were from Portugal, Northern Spain, England, Wales, and an English woman living in Portugal.
We spent the first morning splitting locally felled chestnut for the legs, and after a splendid lunch prepared by my apprentice Lulu, ventured into the nearby forest to forage for mimosa, or Acacia.
Introduced as an ornamental species from Australia, in the last ten years mimosa has spread along roads to form a dense foreground to the (also problematic) eucalyptus. They root into cracks in rock, into banks, and spread over established vegetation, growing incredibly densely. The shade they cast is so dark almost nothing will grow beneath them, killing off entire ecosystems. In many circumstances, these short-lived pioneer species would be replaced in due course by longer-lived canopy trees but there is so little here to seed into them, and they are such prolific seed producers, that simply isn’t going to happen. Around Cerdeira the tree has become self-perpetuating, smothering what is currently the main refuge for much native vegetation along the eucalyptus forest margins.
For the green woodworker however, it offers exciting opportunities. An attractive, creamy, close grained hardwood, with a rust red interior, and an interesting tendency to produce opposing branches which create delightfully wiggly pieces. This year we put together a simple steam bending rig, to find that with careful timber selection, mimosa steams remarkably well!
Here are a few photos of the work that happened this year, and the results of last years course as well.
I cannot really express how lovely the place is - the landscaping, architecture and detailing have been carried out with an artist’s eye, and in the most stunning location. The cafe serves breakfast and other meals if desired. And locally made bread, preserves and cakes. Come and experience it for yourself if you can.