Oficina Museu (Workshop Museum) – São Miguel, Portugal - Atlas Obscura
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São Miguel, Portugal

Oficina Museu (Workshop Museum)

One artist's collection of homemade handicrafts doubles as a monument to 20th-century material culture. 

Opened in 1996 by M. J. Melo, the entryway of Oficina-Museu das Capelas showcases the San Miguel artist/founder’s traditional Azorean handicrafts, such as impossibly delicate flowers made from the leaves of garlic cloves, fish scales, and pith from fig trees. Melo also carries on a monastic art tradition by painting terra cotta figures in his workshop, which has windows that make his work area completely visible to visitors.

But very quickly, you’ll realize this museum holds much more than Melo’s own artistry. Oficina Museu (Workshop Museum) contains a staggering array of artifacts from the past century, arranged in workshop setups. Various larger pieces of 20th-century industrial equipment, such as an ox cart, are displayed throughout the sprawling space.

What are perhaps most unusual are the more than two dozen life-size store models, galleries, and even a few operational workshops in a rather dizzying array of craft-related disciplines. Located along an indoor faux shopping arcade Melo built, these include but are not limited to a grocer (with plastic produce displays), blacksmith, cobbler/shoe repair station, letterpress printer, bookbindery, textiles merchant, toy shop, newsstand, and a loom weaver, the latter sometimes staffed by an artisan proficient in the discipline and making small rugs or potholders on the spot. Many of the model stores have a rope across the entryway and can only be viewed, not entered, even if there is a demo underway. The model merchants vary from practical—a tailor complete with dressmaking dummies—to the slightly absurd, such as a secondhand store that is basically a small alcove filled with detritus and clutter.

There are also many galleries labeled as shops, such as a photography or lighting store, that are seemingly devoted to the owner’s own collections of various vintage equipment, such as consumer film cameras, household electrical fans, and a variety of lamps. 

Plus, there is an entire anteroom dedicated to vertical display cases of Melo’s personal collections of ephemera: stamps, lighters, seashells, pencil erasers, bookmarks, stickers, matchbox cars, keys, keychains, and old phone-calling and credit cards (many of which bear his name). Beyond this, you will find a room of dioramas filled with those hand-painted terra cotta figures and labeled with slightly philosophical descriptions in several languages that say things like, “The spirit of the man is like the sea, full of resources.”

A sign in the diorama area aptly notes that the room showcases what a collector can achieve. Indeed, the entire museum is truly a testament to how much one person can create, accumulate, and display.

Know Before You Go

Entry is €2 per person.

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