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Zé do Carmo (ceramist and painter)

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Ceramist and Painter

Zé do Carmo (ceramist and painter)

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Last update: 09/06/2022

By: Lúcia Gaspar - Librarian of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation - Specialist in Scientific Documentation

José do Carmo Souza, better known as Zé do Carmo, was born on December 19, 1933, in Goiana, Pernambuco, to artisan Joana Izabel de Assunção and Manuel de Souza dos Santos, baker and artisan of masks of papier-mâché.


His parents were from Igarassu and in 1930, when they were still engaged, they went to live off handicraft in Goiana, marrying in 1932.


Zé do Carmo attended only elementary school and at the age of seven, in 1940, he began making clay figures to sell at local fairs just like his parents.


At first he copied his mother's style, carving pictures of farmers, beggars, sugar and water carriers, newspaper vendors, mandolin players, and paper catchers.


Then, giving wings to his creativity and imagination, he decided to make angels who looked like people. His mother, a fervent Catholic, forbade him from making those profane images. Only after she died did Zé do Carmo begin to sculpt them, starting a new phase which he called “human transfiguration”. According to the artist, “Instead of playing the harp and lyre, my angels play instruments from the Northeast, wear the gown of the devout men from the sertão, and look like people”.

He produced over 6,000 pieces. His art is recognized and appreciated in most Brazilian states and abroad, in countries such as Germany and the United States.


Known for his art since 1947, he has a set of ceramic sculptures – some in natural size –, a rich collection with pieces made by his parents and his students, and many objects, documents, and antiques in his studio on Rua Padre Batalha, in Goiana, often visited by Brazilian and foreign tourists.


One of his great desires is turning his workplace into a house-museum, cataloguing and exhibiting his gems such as the Anjo do sertão, a sculpture about two meters tall that he made to gift Pope John Paul II on the pope’s visit to Brazil in 1980 and which was refused by the Catholic Church, becoming famous and giving the artist international recognition. “There are people who come from far away just to see this angel”, he says.


Another controversial work by Zé do Carmo is Vovô natalino, a Northeastern Santa Claus who wears gibão (leather jacket), alpercatas (leather sandals), and leather hat. The sculpture was made in honor of Northeastern folklore and inaugurated with the presence of Gilberto Freyre.

He taught modeling in clay and modeling proportions for a long time, and he also carved in stone. According to him, his early works were very popular, but he later managed to make greater sculptures such as an image of Father Cícero, a piece also exhibited in his studio.


Nowadays, he is more dedicated to painting than to ceramic sculpting. Since childhood, drawing and painting have always been his great passions.


Zé do Carmo was one of the recipients of the Patrimônio Vivo de Pernambuco through State Law no. 12.196 of May 2, 2002. He continues to teach his art to the new generations.



Recife, May 29, 2006.


sources consulted

AMORIM, Maria Alice. Joana e os cangaceiros de asas. Continente Documento, Recife, ano 4, n.43, p.22-25; mar. 2006.


ARTISTA criou anjos do sertão. Disponível em: Acesso em: 10 maio 2006.


PATRIMÔNIO Vivo. Diario de Pernambuco, Recife, 31 jan. 2006. Especial

how to quote this text

GASPAR, Lúcia. Zé do Carmo (ceramist and painter). In: PESQUISA Escolar. Recife: Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, 2006. Available from: Access on: Month. day, year. (Ex.: Aug. 6, 2009.)