Alice Bernardo is a researcher and teacher dedicated to the research, appreciation and dissemination of handmade and semi-industrial production techniques from Portugal. She founded Saber Fazer in 2011 to devote herself to this project, having a particular interest in Portuguese wool.
Saber Fazer was born with the aim of ensuring the passage of technical knowledge, but also to educate and raise awareness among the public on issues related to environmental, social and economic sustainability. Alice believes that smaller and local scales of production are increasingly relevant.
“It is time to recover and disseminate the knowledge that allows us to create sustainable production chains and collaborations. We focus our work on local resources and sustainable small and medium scale production processes. We work with regional flax varieties, wool from sixteen indigenous sheep breeds and we grow many of the raw materials we use in our training courses organically.” Alice Bernardo
Almost all existing sheep are domesticated animals. Unlike wild sheep, whose hair naturally falls out in the Spring, the fleece of domesticated animals simply does not stop growing. A sheep that is not sheared at the right time will overheat, lose appetite and mobility due to excess wool and weight gain. The sheep carry a year's growth of wool that accumulates dirt, and can cause aches, diseases and attract insects. For this reason, shearing is a mandatory annual practice to ensure animal welfare.
"When we decided thousands of years ago to domesticate a sheep, we assumed a responsibility that will have to be fulfilled as long as it exists on the face of the earth." Alice Bernardo
But our responsibility doesn't end there. We also have an obligation to ensure their well-being during shearing and to honour the raw material we are about to receive. After all, it is a naturally renewable, biodegradable material with unique characteristics that has taken a whole year to grow. Nothing in this process should be left to chance.
A professional shearer, Marty O’Connel, performs the shearing according to a specific method: the Bowen technique. Created in the 1940s, this technique is like a well-choreographed dance, defining a sequence of movements that optimise not only the process of wool removal, but also the comfort of the shearer and the animal.
The shearer's love for the art of shearing and love for sheep is an important factor that we have the opportunity to share every time we organise a shearing. In his hands, the sheep relax and often fall asleep while he gracefully removes their fleece, just like a dancer in woollen shoes on his small stage.
A Pele do Lobo (The Wolf Skin) is a series honouring the Portuguese native sheep breeds. It starts with a gentle approach to this animal’s raw material: wool. On the one hand, Pele do Lobo is a declaration of care and love to the origin, made with a specific technique observing the manufacturing rhythms. On the other hand, it is an artistic concept. This order is a perfect circle where the human context gives value to the material's provenience. This provenience responds by transforming itself into an artwork.
Each Pele do Lobo results from an extensive collaborative process, which starts with the shepherd, goes through the shearing and wool selection and finally the transformation into the artwork until it rests in its last habitat. This work is the result of a collaborative chain between Alice Bernardo, Marty O'Connel and Ana Rita de Albuquerque.
Ana Rita de Albuquerque's is a Portuguese visual artist. The artist uses felt like a contemporary and expressive medium, with permanent magical, renewable and reactive plasticity.
Everything starts with the attention to animal welfare, from breeding to general health. Happy sheep provide the best wool. The fleeces are sheared by Marty O'Connel and selected by Alice in a shearing organised by Saber Fazer. Alice chooses the wool considering its appearance and the suitability to be felted. Then the fleece is sent to Ana Rita de Albuquerque's studio to be felted using her particular mastery of the matter.
“The fleeces I like to felt are naturally less attractive to the wool industry. These are from Churra sheep, with long, thick and rustic fibres. They are a noble leftover: the wool rejected by the industry usually is buried, burned, or thrown away.” Ana Rita de Albuquerque
The fleece is felted by Ana Rita de Albuquerque, keeping in place the animal's natural features. On the inside, it is structured, and everything is held in place by a felted and embroidered membrane. It is a sheepskin that is not skin.