The Tapestries of Portalegre | The Water of S. Mamede
Summer was in full-fledged motion, it was bearable in the shade… but, under the sun, one could understand how the prolonged drought was about to show all of its downsides.
A 28-year old mature man, coming from the tank located in the back of Convento de São Sebastião, with his muddied boots, entered the room and, taking his glasses off, wiped his forehead with the handkerchief he had in his pocket.
Slowly, he opened the desk’s drawer and picked another one – fresh – he thoughtfully looked through the window. Using a resigned but firm tone, he yelled from the office’s door:
– Call the dyer! We need to change the recipes; we don’t have enough water anymore and we are about to state using the City Hall’s water… Guy Fino was the one who said this, a sagacious and vivacious businessman, in 1948.
That was the scene in Portalegre’s drought years… there was this need to adjust the mixtures and simmer the baths again. The art of dyeing depended on the quality and quantity of water, and the tank which fed the whole plant only had silt and mud. The mountain’s water was not enough anymore. Indeed, Fábrica de Lanifícios de Portalegre and other industries of the Fino family used the water of Serra de São Mamede!
Of course, when this descended the mountain, it was regarded as free by the simplest souls. They easily forgot the investments made in lands, mines and even farms. And they didn’t have to pay, on a monthly basis, for hard workers, who knew the underground passages between mines and reservoirs, tanks, and the pipe, valve and thread maintenance, which needed to be controlled. But, indeed, the water of S. Mamede descended due to gravity. This was provided by nature.
– And call Ti Feiteira! I need to check with him to see how we are going to proceed! – the businessman emphasized, while he picked a case with documents from the cabinet.
José Feiteira was the one who knew the trails of the mountain, the mines and the tunnels that descended down the hill, places where he entered to come out the other side. He controlled the taps and the pipe and plumbing network – he ensured that the water would indeed descend. The black case had a list of orders and deadlines. The colors were the responsibility of the head of dyeing, who would change and tune things to do the corresponding recipes.
It was one of the secrets of the fabric men. The quality of the fabrics dyed in Portalegre had been acknowledged at least since the death of the Cardinal-King Henry I, in 1580, and there is a lot of documentation on black dyeing, and the way it provided mourning clothing, the kind that preceded the Philippine dynasty.
Another important reference is the dyed fabrics of Marquis of Pombal, another visionary who, after having expelled the Jesuits, ordered the occupation of the convent and hired French dyers to strengthen our teams. Always looking for more colors, more vivid and persistent. The most famous was José Larcher and used the same waters of S. Mamede.
When I realized that legacy, I climbed it, looking for the idea and imagination of Guy Fino, of his interest in springs, I went to S. bento to find the signs of that private network used to collect the best waters, Quinta Branca, Quinta do Mealheiro and, above all, Maguetes, where, in a half-buried building, the reservoir still shelters and channels it to Portalegre.
But dyeing, the fixation of color in tissues, particularly in wool, is not only made of water, so I will invite you here to talk about other alchemies which will take us to thousands of colors.