Ataíde, the Straw Craftsman
Traditional communities around the world used to plait in order to fulfill their needs and according to their local, regional and cultural aesthetic standards. There is no doubt that we are living in a distinct society today, but it is interesting to point out which traditions have crossed generations and remain part of a handcrafted and historically sophisticated aesthetic imaginary. Straw plaiting has been passed along many generations, and is certainly one of the most beautiful manual practices.
Ataíde learned how to plait at the age of 14, in the streets, along with some friends. It was Mr. Genaro, an Italian immigrant and traditional plaiter known around town, who gave him his first job. After that, and throughout the last 34 years, many pieces of furniture have passed by his careful hands. He says that straw is a fragile and brittle material, very sensitive, and that it is only flexible when in contact with water, a necessary condition for the plaiting to be done.
According to him, there are rolls of already plaited straw available in the market, and the work of the plaiter has become much easier recently, thanks to the creation of machines that are able to plait many meters of straw in minutes. Not into the easy way, Ataíde claims that the straw that results from manual labor is very different from that which is bought by the meter already plaited. He says that the first is much firmer and more resistant.
Eight hours is the time it takes to make just the seat of the armchair Oscar (named after architect Oscar Niemeyer), designed and produced in Brazil by Sergio Rodrigues in 1956. Ataíde was not born yet at that time, but much of the furniture he restores today was produced in Brazil back then by designers with different backgrounds who used a lot of straw in their works, such as Joaquim Tenreiro (Portugal), Sergio Rodrigues (Brazil), Carlo Hauner (Italy), Martin Eisler (Austria).
Straw was part of the very first furniture that, having been produced in Portugal, arrived in Brazil in the 17th century, and is also present in today’s pieces. Modern architecture and a reason-oriented aesthetics applied to furniture started to grow in Brazil in 1927 through Gregori Warchavchik’s works (Odessa, Russia, 1896 – São Paulo, São Paulo, 1972), but it was only in the 1950s that modern designs began to please the masses. And although the shapes, typologies and functions of pieces of furniture have changed a lot since the 17th century, the raw materials have pretty much remained the same, they are usually wood and straw.
In the making of this series of videos and photos, we used pieces of furniture from our collection that were going through restoration. They are:
Triangular coffee table by Carlo Hauner for Móveis Artesanal, circa 1949
Dining chair, Carlo Hauner and Martin Eisler for Forma, circa 1955
“Lucio”, dining chair designed by Sergio Rodrigues for OCA, circa 1956
“Oscar” armchair designed by Sergio Rodrigues for OCA, circa 1956