Crafting a History

One of my new favorite museums is the The Edison Carneiro Folklore Museum in Rio de Janiero. The museum is housed in an historic home next to the Catete Palace. The museum admission is free but definitely rent the audio tour, it is excellent.

As a lover of crafts I was like a kid in a candy store at this museum, not only is the collection broad, it is also beautifully exhibited. From the dramatic lighting, the thematic display and the use of a house as an intimate space to display the work, this museum is a winner for both the novice and the lover of craft.

Circus performance, kinetic clay tableau, Folklore Museum, Rio de Janiero. ©MPeixoto 2011, all rights reserved.

The museum is organized around five themes; life, technique, religion, festivals and art. The crafts displayed in these themes vary in mediums from ceramics to wood, costumes to weavings, printmaking to photography and metal to music. Some pieces are beautifully functional like dishware, baskets and fishing nets and others created solely for religious or artistic purposes.

There are tableaus made out of clay for all of life’s stages, religious figures of both Brazil’s Catholic and Afro-Brazilian worship, costumes and instruments made for various cultural celebrations, pamphlets and photography for sale at markets and lastly art expressed through the language of craft.

Potter, Folklore Musuem, Rio de Janiero.

The first and last parts of the museum are my favorites. The first is the expression of life, mostly through clay. The pieces express life’s events from the most mundane (getting a haircut) to the most profound (giving birth and grieving death). Whether a single piece or a tableau, these works highlight the variety of expression from one region to another. And the museum displays the pieces prominently and dramatically, as if a cherished altarpiece.

Another part of the museum focuses on cultural celebrations. Brazilian folkloric characters may have a specific costume with its own instruments, headpieces, music and dance all performed together to relate its history and cultural significance. Characters as varied as the scary Carnival Clovis and the beautifully clothed horseback riders of the Cavalhadas are some that are displayed.

Carnival characters, Folklore Museum, Rio de Janiero.

A market stand is another display of functional craft, spices and homeopathy, popular literature (Cordel pamphlets) and a roadside photography studio.

The last part of the museum, art, at the top of the house, is my other favorite. Here, craft is fine art and most of the artists were self-taught. The amount of expression achieved through technical skill and creativity is sublime. Standing in front of some of the pieces, I am at a loss for words and can only feel the power of the artistic expression. Enjoy!

Next door is the Catete Palace, the presidential palace of Brazil from 1894 to 1960, home of the Museum of the Republic, a beautiful park, cinema, coffee bar — a great place to spend the rest of the day in Rio.

Catete Palace Park, Rio de Janiero.


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