Pico Pao is a workshop with a long history of craftsmanship that began in 1979 in Lubián, a small Spanish village nestled in the mountains on the border with Portugal. In the neighboring Portuguese county of Tras os Montes (“Beyond the Mountains”) the local woodpecker is known as Pico Pao (“Stick-Beak”). The song of this handsome green bird, which evokes the whinnying of a horse, alternates with the sound of his pecking at the trees as this resounds through the valley, blending in with the carpenters’ hammers as they work on the wooden roofs of the village houses. The old dwelling where the workshop originated offers a view of the entire valley, with wisps of smoke rising from the chimney tops and where every so often a Pico Pao can be seen flying gracefully towards the chestnut forests.
Some time ago, a woman lived in this house with her six children. The poverty that these children grew up in, along with an industriousness and an ingenuity that enabled them to make use of virtually any material they came across, resulted in some of the finest, most desirable toys a child could wish for. Out of this resourcefulness and an admiration for the subsistence culture of these mountain villages grew this small workshop in Lubián. Here were made the first wooden replicas of old-fashioned toys, along with reproductions of the cameras used by the first street photographers and copies of traditional, pre-industrial looms.
Over the years Javier Bermejo’s attention was increasingly drawn to a collection of old-fashioned toys and games Juegos de la Antigüedad, of which he salvaged hundreds – of both European and African origin – from oblivion.
Currently Pico Pao is in the process of re-founding the workshop, incorporating the younger members of the family and focusing its activity on designing and perfecting original games. The newer games, which belong to the collection Ludus Ludi, are notable for their lack of rules; they can be seen more as exquisite raw materials for poetic experimentation, for the stimulation of abstract thought, for the interpretation of random discovery and for the playful enjoyment of the senses through direct contact with artistic objects.
The games enable all players to examine the nature of the language of art and to observe the ways in which chance, intuition, curiosity and daring can lead to delightful, unexpected and sometimes unsettling experiences, even revealing intimate truths about ourselves that we may have been unaware of.
The craftsmen at the old workshop feel that they have come a bit closer to the real heart of what a game is meant to be, in every sense, and that the spirit of that woodpecker from long ago lives on in their work.