This is the first in a series of interviews from MEMORANDUM, a collaborative journal celebrating craft, community and nature. This week Harriet Walker speaks to Pedro da Costa Felgueiras, Lacquerer
It’s a somewhat worn adage to say someone was born of another era, but Pedro da Costa Felgueiras will happily tell you that himself when you meet him. A Lacquer and paint specialist by trade, he hand restores antique pieces using techniques far out of step with today’s automated workforce.
“It wasn’t until I got to the flea markets of London that I started questioning how things were made,” he says. “I remember arriving home laden with beautiful old broken things and thinking ‘ what do I do with it now?”
He knows now, having trained in conversation. He taught himself 18th century methods from ancient manuals and learned traditional Japanese lacqueirng (using Urushi sap, rather than European shellac) at the feet of a narrative master. And that has allowed him to renovate masterpieces, from woodwork to whole house- Hogarth’s 18th century pile right through to Gilbert and George’s home in Spitalfields. “They were very particular,” he recalls. “I often bump into them and they still thank me!”
“My hands are the most important thing in my job,” he continues. “I often dread that something might happen to them. I hope they are the last thing to go when I get old”
“I wash them constantly, almost like a docter does as some of the materials I use can be so toxic. I also do yoga to keep my wrists supple, so I can keep on doing very delicate work.”
Da Costa Felgueiras, 45 claims to have pickled himself through the turps and lacquer he surrounds himself for his trade. Indeed people often mistake him for being far younger. But perhaps that’s a fitting fate for a modern man who spends his time refurbishing the treasures of the past. Perhaps it’s karma. Perhaops the time he spends looking after them is keeping him young in turn.
Interview by Harriet Walker
Photography by Tess Hurrell