Northeastern Folk Art

Northeastern Folk Art
Northeastern Folk Art

The Popular Art of Northeast Brazil reflects the extension of its territory and the diversity of its culture and some types of work are found, with small variations, in all states.

While relying on tradition, popular art in the Northeast discovers new languages, techniques and materials: the ability to reinvent itself attests to its inexhaustible vitality.

The artisanal production of the Northeast reflects the extension of its territory and the diversity of its culture.

Take the example of the lace makers: throughout the northeastern coast – and in various parts of the sertão, especially in the cities that border the São Francisco – there are women who, supported by pillows or wooden frames, wield needles or bobbins and produce very fine braids like those brought by the first Europeans who arrived in the colony.

They are wefts and embroideries that, according to the technique, are given names such as labyrinth, goodnight, filet, redendê – and that usually leave coastal villages to win the fashion circuit of Brazilian capitals.

bobbin lace in the northeast
bobbin lace



There are artisanal works whose authorship dissolves in the collectivity and there are those that bear the artisan's mark.

The masks, costumes and embroidered clothes used in Carnival, in the bumba-meu-boi and in the folias-de-reis, as well as the clothes and objects used in Afro-Brazilian rituals or the puppets called mamulengos, are made by artists who are almost always anonymous. .

Clay Figures, Vitalino Pereira dos Santos
Clay Figures, Vitalino Pereira dos Santos

On the other hand, in Caruaru, in the countryside of Pernambuco, Vitalino Pereira dos Santos (1909-63) gave the figures modeled in clay typical of the region a style and a language of his own, with which he portrayed scenes of the sertanejo daily life; formed a legion of followers, living up to the title of “master”.

Today, his children and grandchildren continue his work, and the neighborhood where he was born and lived, Alto do Moura, was considered by Unesco the largest center of figurative art in the Americas.

Not far from there, in the forest area of ​​Pernambuco, pottery is also a source of income for more than half of the population of the city of Trucunhaém.

The researcher Lélia Coelho Frota points out that if the thematic axis of ceramics from Caruaru is the record of daily life, that of Trucunhaém is essentially focused on the sacred and the solemn, visible in the saints shaped by Maria Amélia and Zezinho and in the magnificent Master Nuca lions (1937-2004).


Lace is also a popular art in the northeast and is present in clothes, handkerchiefs, towels and other items, playing an important economic role in the North, Northeast and South regions.

The so-called pillow or bobbin lace is developed by the hands of lacemakers who work with a pillow, a cardboard filled with holes, thread and bobbins (small pieces of wood similar to spindles).

Brought by the Portuguese and Azorean settlers, this technique is a traditional work from various parts of the Brazilian coast.

Cardboards are passed down from generation to generation and some motifs are unique to a family. Although lace was not originally a Brazilian product, it became a local product through acculturation.


Lace is a form of textile handicraft, whose historical origin dates back to the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, and whose paternity is claimed by Flanders and Italy. Flanders calls itself the inventor of bobbin lace and Italy demands a patent on needle lace, from which Renaissance lace originated.

Bobbin Lace
Bobbin Lace

As the first category of lace, there are the lace made with the bobbin, called “bilro lace”.

The bobbin is a small instrument composed of a short rod whose tip has a spherical shape.

At the other end of the nail, a quantity of thread is attached, which, in the artisan's handling, is attached to a standard design or lace design to be developed.

The production of this type of lace requires the use of several bobbins, the quantity of which varies according to the complexity of the design. The bobbin lace is produced on pillows resting on the artisan's lap, or sitting on a wooden easel in front of her.

The yarn used by bobbin lace makers is cotton, predominantly white, due to tradition and because it does not hinder vision. The mold used is called “pique”.

The design models are old, being passed on from one generation to another. To obtain new models, lacemakers lend their piques to each other, or obtain samples from elsewhere. Some rare lacemakers make the head lace, without using a pattern.

The lace created can take different forms:

1) nozzles or tips that will be used to embellish fabric edges, or to be applied between two pieces of fabric
2) bedspreads, tablecloths, centerpieces and napkins
3) lace in the form of flowers, hearts, fans, among others, for applications on fabric, to decorate it
4) flaps: whole pieces, which will be used over the necklines of sweaters, blouses and dresses.

Lace and embroidery activities are the predominant handicraft in Ceará, present in about 104 municipalities.

According to the Monitoring System of the Craft Center of Ceará SAC-CEART, regarding the typology "boil lace", 700 artisans are registered, where in this universe, 99,4% are women and 0,6% are men.

Records indicate that this typology has existed in Ceará since colonization, having spread throughout the interior and coastal areas, concentrating mainly in the municipalities of Aquiraz, Aracati, Beberibe, Acaraú and Trairi.

The development of handicrafts can become a brand in the region. This is the case for the district of Prainha with Renda de Bilro, located in the municipality of Aquiraz.

The municipality of Aquiraz has more than three centuries of existence, and an estimated population of 72.628 residents. The strong tourist appeal and a
history related to handicraft stand out as its relevant characteristics.


Perhaps nothing is more typical of Northeastern popular art than cordel literature.

In cordel literature, literature and image intersect in leaflets sold on streets and markets in the sertão: on the covers, woodcuts illustrate the verses, which cover all sorts of themes – from love stories and folklore legends to social denunciation and criticism. politics.

Bezerros, from Pernambuco, a neighbor of Caruaru, calls itself “cordel capital” and is home to some of its biggest names, starting with the octogenarian J. Borges, poet, singer and illustrator.

The same tradition survives in Juazeiro do Norte, Ceará, where the mythical master Noza (1897-1984), also a sculptor, lived: today there are workshops in the city where artisans reproduce his famous carved wooden images of Father Cícero.


Alongside the images of Father Cícero made in Juazeiro do Norte, there is a tradition in the Northeast of art and woodwork linked to religious imagery.

In Cachoeira, in the Recôncavo Baiano, Louco – the name by which the sculptor Boaventura da Silva Filho (1932-92) became known – was consecrated for the production of Catholic saints and orixás, long-line images of great impact.

As is customary, the craft of Louco was transferred to his fans and disciples, and today sacred pieces are produced in the city at the studios of Louco Filho, Doidão, Dory and Mimo.

In Triunfo, Pernambuco, Chico Santeiro carves images of São Francisco, São Pedro, Santo Antônio and Nossa Senhora, dressing them in luxurious clothes.

In Acari, in Rio Grande do Norte, Ambrósio Córdula also makes saints, nativity scenes and wooden angels.

Religiosity is also present in ex-votos, a tradition that dates back to the XNUMXth century and which, unfortunately, seems to be on the verge of extinction.

The old tablets painted with scenes of miraculous healings are no longer produced; the wooden images representing mainly parts of the body, carved in gratitude for some grace achieved, survive, and are still found in the so-called “miracle rooms” of churches, sanctuaries and pilgrimage centers.

Today, Aberaldo, from the island of Ferro (Alagoas), gives a new dimension to ex-votos, coloring them and converting them into decorative pieces.

The sertanejo mysticism is also reflected in the famous frowns with which the boatmen on the São Francisco River sought to ward off evil spirits that could threaten their voyage.

In Santa Maria das Vitória, Bahia, Francisco Biquiba dy Lafuente Guarani (1884-1987) carved some of the most remarkable. In the 1960s, scowls became a fever in decoration throughout the country and began to be produced on a large scale – losing part of the strength of the originals – in cities along the entire length of the river, especially in Petrolina, Pernambuco.

Wood is also the raw material for everyday objects, furniture and toys. In the same Acari where Mestre Ambrósio produces his saints, Manuel Jerônimo Filho builds exquisite trucks.

In Maranhão, Nhozinho (1904-74) transformed the malleable buriti wood into small dolls that reproduced the typical characters of the state and figures of the bumba-meu-boi; his work can be seen in São Luís, at the museum that bears his name.

Other Northeastern paineiras offer raw material to artisans from the hinterland and coast: with the fiber of carnauba, residents of the Parnaíba delta, in Piauí, manufacture baskets, objects and ornaments; from ouricuri straw, artisans from the coast of Alagoas make. rugs, bags and hats.


Ceramics are one of the most developed forms of popular art and handicraft in Brazil. Divided between utilitarian and figurative ceramics, this art made by the Indians was later mixed with the European barrista tradition, and with African patterns, and developed in regions favorable to the extraction of its raw material – clay.

In the fairs and markets of the Northeast, you can see clay dolls that reconstitute typical figures of the region: bandits, migrants, vendors, musicians and lacemakers. The most famous are those of Mestre Vitalino (1909-1963), from Pernambuco, who left dozens of descendants and disciples.

Figurative ceramics also stand out in the states of Pará, Ceará, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe, Bahia, Espírito Santo, São Paulo and Santa Catarina. In the other states, ceramics are more of the utilitarian type (pots, pans, vases, etc.).


This art form is widespread in the Brazilian Northeast, mainly in Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará, birthplace of its creator, where several artisans earn their livelihood from the production and sale of these pieces.

colored sand bottles
colored sand bottles

The making of engravings in bottles using colored sand is also called cyclogravure and appeared, in the 1950s, on Majorlândia beach, in Ceará, where there was a lady named Joana Carneiro, who filled bottles with sand of different colors collected from the hills. Of region. And, when filling them, I arranged the colors in circular shapes, with spaces around two centimeters for each piece of sand placed.

Once, she filled a liter with such sands when, just before finishing the job, the liter turned. As the container was not yet completely filled, the sands projected to the side and, accidentally, a drawing was formed that, in the eyes of a son present at the time, looked like a landscape.

This lady's son was named Antônio Eduardo Carneiro, who, some time later, would become known as “Toinho da Areia Colorida” for his ability to “draw with sand”. He was responsible for creating the first landscapes in bottles using colored sand.

Despite the name "colored sand bottles", other containers are also used in its manufacture, such as: goblets, tulips, bowls and several other types and shapes of wrappings, provided they are made of transparent and colorless glass, so that the colors of the sands be appreciated in all fidelity.

The vast majority of the sands that are used in this work have their coloring done by nature. Only the green and blue color is produced from the white colored sand, with the addition of dyes. The lightest or darkest tones are obtained by mixing the existing colors.

The price of the pieces varies according to the size of the container, as well as the complexity of the design. The more elaborate, the higher its price. Smaller pieces cost around R $ 10,00 per unit. As for the larger ones, they can cost up to R $ 1.000,00, or more.


The pieces produced in Maragojipinho have a very high cultural value and a great potential for growth and appreciation. Increasingly, the quality of the parts increases in the conquest of new consumers.

Bull Bilhar
Bull Bilhar

Most of the pieces made in Maragogipinho are unmistakable due to the finish with tauá, an engobe from clay, rich in iron oxide that gives the pieces a reddish color.
Another local feature is drawing with tabatinga, which is white liquid clay, very abundant in the region.

In Maragogipinho, thousands of utilitarian and decorative pieces are produced and the production volume reaches around 18 thousand pieces per month. These pieces are distributed to several Brazilian states such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Goiás, Santa Catarina, Ceará, Paraná and Distrito Federal.

The objects that present clear indigenous, African and Portuguese influences in their shapes have a very large variety of size and format. We can find objects that measure from 2 cm to more than 1,50 m in height.

Craftsmen, men and women still use the crude tools of centuries ago, such as the wooden lathe.

Typical clay pieces
typical parts

foot-operated and wood-fired oven, and every month they model, decorate and burn a rich variety of pieces. They are jugs, pots, pots, bowls, jars, pans, vases, plates, cups, bowls, jars, lamps, sacred sculptures, decorative objects, among others.

The excellence of Maragogipinho ceramics has been recognized.

In 2004 the community exported a container of pieces to Europe and two of its pieces competed for the UNESCO Handicraft Prize for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The ox-bilha, a piece that is a junction of the figure of the northeastern ox with the pot of Portuguese origin, received an Honorable Mention from the UN.

In partnerships with export companies, more than 40 thousand pieces have already been exported and circulate in countries such as Germany, Spain and Italy.
In order to promote its products, in addition to participating in fairs throughout Brazil, the community of Maragogipinho counts on the help of organizations such as SEBRAE and thus make large sales. The most recent one went to the Tok&Stok store with the sale of more than a thousand pieces.

This boosts the community since the demand for the quality of products for this audience is very high.


Popular art, at the same time a cultural manifestation and a source of income, transits between the reproduction of traditional knowledge and the discovery of new techniques and materials.

In the Northeast, the crafts handed down from generation to generation adapt to the circumstances and urgencies of survival.

In Acari, car scrap is transformed into dolls and toys by the hands of Dimauri Lima de Souza.

The colored sand that forms landscapes inside bottles, a typical souvenir from Ceará, is currently obtained thanks to the use of industrialized dyes – there was a time when. that only the sands of various shades of the Majorlândia dunes were used, on the east coast of the capital.

In Santana do Cariri, in the hinterland of the same state, the city government encourages the production of fossil replicas to avoid the predatory sale of the archaeological heritage of the place.

The myriad of objects that make up what is indistinctly called Northeastern handicrafts – cloths, hammocks, miniatures, toys, drawings, ex-votos, saddles, leather, ornaments, utilities – are recreated every day.

Popular Art in the Northeast


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