The Azores Nativity Scene at Portugalia Marketplace presents new surprises

FALL RIVER – Earlier this week, Portuguese artist Gualberto Cordeiro was busy transforming styrofoam into an Azorean village and putting the finishing touches on a Presépio (Nativity crib) with several moving parts that will be on display on the Portugalia market throughout the holiday season.

Clay, wood chips and moss were some of the other materials used to give shape to the typical Presépio of Lagoa, São Miguel, Azores.

“We created rooms with moving parts to make them more attractive,” said Cordeiro, who voluntarily traveled from the Azores to create the scene.

A windmill with spinning blades, spinning shepherds and sheep, and a religious procession entering and leaving a church are some of the moving elements that bring the nativity scene to life.

Cordeiro estimated he spent around 60 hours working on the screen.

“As I start to build it, I create paths, houses and streets… the landscape ends up dictating the final product,” said Cordeiro, who has extensive experience in creating exhibitions and of special decorations for popular events like the white festival of Ponta Delgada and the big Portuguese shopping centers such as Strada Outlet of Odivelas, Oeiras Parque and Amoreiras of Lisbon.

“I started working 20 years ago in the Sol Mar shopping center [in Ponta Delgada], and things basically evolved from there, ”Cordeiro added.

The nativity scene has become an annual tradition at Portugalia Marketplace, owned by the Benevides family.

“It is about preserving and keeping alive our traditions,” said Michael Benevides, co-owner of Portugália Marketplace on Tuesday.

And it’s nice to see the Presépio evolve every year and attract more and more visitors, he added.

“It changes slightly every year, but I feel like it’s a lot more changes than in previous years,” he added. “It’s more interactive. People want to bring their children and grandchildren. I think the kids will be intrigued by this.

Benevides also pointed out that regular customers, who frequent the establishment’s café on a daily basis, love to see the different rooms come together and the crib slowly rising.

“They love to see the artist work, sculpt… it’s really a work of art,” said Benevides. “He’s amazing. He should work for Disney.

The annual exhibition stems from a collaboration between Portugalia Marketplace and Nativity scene figurine collector Roberto Medeiros, who loaned over 400 of his figurines and came from the Azores to help create the scene.

“This is the 22nd year that I have brought Presépios to America. This is my 7th in Portugália, ”noted Medeiros. “This year, we have a different Presépio. In America, there is no Christmas without a Christmas tree, and in the Azores, there is no Christmas without Presépio. So we decided to combine the two traditions and we have a Christmas tree stretching out from the crib.

Medeiros said that innovation is one of the most important characteristics associated with the success of the display. He and Cordeiro usually have a conversation before coming to the United States to see what can be done differently.

“I dream and he creates,” said Medeiros.

The figurines on display this year were created by craftsman António Morais.

“He’s one of the best bonecreiros (figure maker) in Lagoa,” Medeiros said. “The tradition of making nativity scenes is very strong in Lagoa. It all started in 1862 with artists working there in the ceramic factory.

In addition to the crib, Cordeiro will also be working on some special decorations that will be installed outside the Portugalia market before his return to the Azores on December 3.

“I intend to create two large Christmas baubles made from vines and also a large Barcelos rooster made from polystyrene and covered with cement and some type of tough coating.”

With the exception of Christmas and New Years Day, the Nativity scene can be visited every day until January 6 at Portugalia Marketplace, 489 Bedford St.


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