Wooden Yoke Treasures from Portugal via Pau

As well as my beautiful fountain, I accumulated some more treasures from Pau which I promised to share.  These are both made of wood, a material I have a great affinity for in all its states. I love trees and what they are crafted into. I love having pieces of history around me and our new house allows me to do just that.

Once again, these are huge, heavy, pieces of wood that were once fully functional equipment in rural Portugal.

In its previous life, this piece was a yoke for oxen who were attached to it and then were used to push – as opposed to pull other equipment around.

In its new life it is a very stunning coat rack in our entrance hall.

There is an excellent vintage photo-stream on flickr showing similar yokes in use at the fishing village of Nazare.

The second piece is a similar yoke, but far more ornate and decorative with some very intricate carvings.

This one has been left without any additions and sits directly opposite on the other side of the hall.

I find myself tracing the patterns on this one as I go past it — it is a very tactile piece of history.

13 comments

  • From the barn to the home! SMILE! I love how time and technology can transform a tool from one use to another piece of Art. I’m surprised by the ornateness of the final two. It doesn’t seem to make sense to have such beauty and intricacy in such a utilitarian piece of wood.

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    • I found it hard to believe they had the same use. I am pretty certain the first one was used in the fields more than the second one – it has an earthiness and a robustness about it. Like you I have a element of wonder about the second piece because of its ornate nature.

      One explanation is that it is an apprentice piece made by a serving apprentice to prove his worth on his way to being a master craftsman. Each stage of their learning was marked by a practical demonstration of their skills and where they could use their flair and “show off” . A lot of the furniture owned by the family is made by one such carpenter and you can follow his career development through the increasing complexity of his work.

      Another explanation is that this is a special ceremonial piece used on saints days and where such ornate decoration was warranted. A lot of saints days are still quite ritualistic and involve a parade or procession of sorts with all the people and animals dressed in their finery.

      I am hoping to visit some of the museums in Portugal this year – particularly the rural ones – I shall be on the look out for explanations and provenance for these.

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      • That’s some excellent insight and research. I think you’re right that there were ceremonial uses for the beautiful yokes. Can’t wait to find out what you learn in the future!

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        • Mr P has weighed in with another possible explanation – a bit like gold and silver it could be an expression of wealth – ie my yoke is better than yours . There is a parallel with house decoration here – the more ornate the woodwork the richer ( and more able to pay) you were. I think I am going to favor the ceremonial theory until proven otherwise.

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          • I like your ceremonial theory, too. It doesn’t make sense to me that if you have a lot of money, you’d show off that wealth in an empty field with other oxen. You want people to see the wealth, not the land or animals. SMILE!

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  • It is going to be fun finding out – SMILE !

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  • A quick look , seems we might both be right – http://juliedawnfox.com/2013/11/27/y-yokes/

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  • Not as ornate – but a bit fancy for field work ………..

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  • Great way to repurpose Nicola.

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