I have known Master Figueiras ever since my youth, some five decades ago, in his minuscule workshop. I loved seeing him build and repair pieces with such unhurried patience. Still today, whenever I pass by his door on Rua Nova in Portimão, I stop in for a quick chat.
He has done restoration work for the rich and famous and made friends with artists and intellectuals. However, out of his own modesty, he only says: “I made friends with many people over the course of my life”.
ECO123 – Master Figueiras, how did you get into this profession?
Master Figueiras – I began learning the art of cabinetmaking some 65 years ago at the age of thirteen in the workshop of Master José Pedro Martins. I didn’t earn a thing. Only at the end of four years did I begin getting paid 50 escudos per day. Later on, I went to Lisbon and, as I love art, I began dedicating myself to carving and painting, the work that I most like doing.
Was that the time when you began coming into contact with valuable wood and other pieces?
It was. I began by making copies of chests, 17th century pieces, working with ivory, restoring old pieces…
I’m better known internationally than I am here.
You have also restored pieces from abroad. How did you make those contacts?
I’m better known internationally than I am here. I did a lot of work for Germany and Holland, for many parts of our world in the good times. And people would recommend me to each other. I went to Germany once, many years ago now, and I did some restoration there. I also went to Paris where I did not stay because I had a commitment to restore some works in Switzerland…
You have also specialised in recovering religious art?
Yes, over five decades ago, I was doing work for the Quinta da Donalda estate, among other clients. It was there that I restored the chapel. I was then requested to do other churches in various parts of the country.
We also know that you dedicate yourself to sculpture and have had the privilege of seeing your fine collection of Christs some years ago now.
I no longer have them. Years ago, I held two exhibitions in local luxury hotels and all the pieces were acquired. All that’s left are the photos that my friend Augusto Cabrita(1) took at the exhibition.
What about the violin you made out of mulberry wood and finished in mother-of-pearl? Do you still have that?
I do. I did it aged 19. My grandfather liked playing and was always messing around with violins and I, right from being a kid, also liked them. That was when I decided to make one and it’s still there.
It was time to draw the interview to a close and share a cup of green tea (a supposed restorer of the human body) with him and his son Miguel, who took a pause from his job in hand. To remove a scratch from a piece of furniture, he had spent hours carefully removing the varnish from the entire lid in order to ensure an even finish. Happily, there is a descendent to continue the work and extend the Portimão reputation in the small world of antique restoration.
78 years old, has one son, Miguel, who is now perfecting his father’s fine art.