Mestre Vitalino was a man who never saw himself as an artist or master yet he always was one. He spent the 50-odd years of his life making clay figurinhas, although he was also an artisan, musician, actor and writer. He was a man of many talents and both his legacy and influence remain strong throughout Brazil.
It all started in Caruaru (Pernambuco) where he grew up, within an area that is known as the agreste, or rugged countryside. When there were no toys to play with, he just created his own using both the things he saw and the things he imagined as a catalyst. The northeastern lifestyle and the traditions which bind it were the inspirations behind Vitalino’s work.
Born in 1909, he was already playing with the leftover clay from his mother’s pottery by the age of six. While he gradually became renowned locally, it was only in the late 1940’s that he began to be recognized nationally and by the mid-50’s his work was already being displayed in Europe. Mestre Vitalino may have died before his time, at age 54, but before he passed, he had created an estimated 600 pieces and freely taught many others how to imitate his style.
Reflecting his surroundings, some of his best-known pieces carry names like: retirantes, casa da farinha, terno de zabumba, batizado, casamento, vaquejada, pastoril, padre, Lampião, and Maria Bonita. Today, these pieces and more can be viewed in the house he once lived in (which is now a museum), as well as in museums in Recife, Rio de Janeiro and in Paris (yes, his work is said to be displayed in the Louvre).
You can see 14 B&W photos starting here from 1947 when a French photographer captured the Mestre’s daily life. I also recommend the excellent short documentary (in PT) below.