Meet Célia Macedo, a Portuguese ceramic artist based in the Alentejo, rejuvenating the craft with her contemporary designs.
Célia’s style has something of a Northern European vibe, influenced by her training in England. But it’s also complemented by traditional elements that she picked up when she arrived in the Alentejo. In doing so, she is also breaking gender boundaries in a region historically led by male potters.
Ahead of her ceramics launch with Farah, we had a chat with Célia to learn more about her story and why she ended up in the Alentejo, above all places in Portugal.
Célia Macedo in her studio
How did you get into ceramics?
I first got into ceramics when I had a full-time job as a researcher back in England. It appeared in my life as a hobby, but it was also a way to feel a bit less stressed about my work.
In England, it’s common for people to have ceramic classes. There is a big makers community, so you can learn just about anything. A bit by chance, I took a short ceramics course, and I fell in love immediately. I kept doing it as a hobby, but when I moved back to Portugal in 2019, I already knew I wanted to make pottery my full-time job.
So, you moved to Portugal and ended up in the Alentejo. Why did you choose this region to work as a ceramic artist?
It’s not just the Alentejo. It’s a specific region called São Pedro do Corval: the biggest pottery center in Portugal. It’s a small village that has 22 active potteries. A few decades ago, there used to be 40 something. Almost every other house was a pottery workshop. And it was here that they trained potters.
I came here because I wanted to learn under one of those master potters. I didn’t know anyone, but I approached Mestre Joaquim Tavares and told him my story and my passion for all of this, and he took me under his wing for almost a year.
São Pedro Corval
It’s not often you see female potters in the Alentejo. Do you feel there’s a separation in gender roles in the Portuguese ceramic industry?
Definitely, and it’s still a big challenge, especially in this part of the country. So if you go to Lisbon, it’s very common to see women doing ceramics. I actually think more women are throwing the wheel than men.
When you come down to the Alentejo and even the Algarve, it’s almost a no-no. When I came here and I asked them if I could work on the wheel, there was a lot of resistance from the beginning. People couldn’t believe that I was one of them because this role has always been attributed to a man.
Women only worked on the painting. And it’s understandable in a way because many years ago, making pots wasn’t just about sitting on a wheel. It was also about collecting the clay and preparing it. That was all very physical. Even the wheels were not like the ones we have today. So I get it, but these days it doesn’t make sense anymore.
I was very fortunate with my master potter because he was very different from everyone else, very forward-looking, and happy to teach me.
Now that you’re a full-time ceramic artist, what does your day-to-day look like?
It’s hard to explain because it’s not a linear process. It’s more trying to put all the stages together in one week. There’s a lot involved: throwing, trimming, decorating, firing, glazing, firing again, then sanding.
Sometimes I also have one day for packing and dealing with all the logistics. I usually have to plan at least a week in advance for all the tasks I have to do, because I do everything by myself.
Célia s pottery in different stages
So what part of the process do you love the most?
The making process. When I’m sitting at the wheel throwing pots, for example, it's so therapeutical and calming. It takes me to another world. I forget everything and everyone and all the sounds around me. And that hasn’t disappeared. People told me that when I started doing this as my job and not as my hobby, I wouldn’t like that anymore, but it's not true.
Finally, what do you want people to know about Portuguese ceramics?
I think people have to start understanding that Portuguese pottery is not just the traditional pottery that everyone immediately thinks of, like the red clay. These are things that you don’t use to cook or serve. It’s just to put on the wall.
But there’s another type of pottery that brings in the modern tableware and all of that. And you can get that from the Alentejo pottery. It’s not just the traditional side. There are also more modern things coming from this part of the country.
Our head importer, Rachel Farah and our artist Célia Macdeo's first meeting in the Alentejo.
View Célia's full Farah Trading Co line here