Alicia in the land of ceramics

At 5.00 pm the white hilltop town of Ubrique is just beginning to start all over again. During the mid-afternoon heat the locals shut shop and go indoors for lunch. Now, the town is getting ready for the evening. The shops open their doors again and the bars and cafes start to fill with people drinking coffee.

A tree-lined avenue provides shade and a home for the chattering birds. It takes you through the more modern part of town before winding up the hill into the old town. The hustle and bustle of Ubrique is a completely different atmosphere from the tranquillity of the white villages. I drive around trying to find a parking space. I’ve arranged to have coffee with Alicia, the local ceramist.

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I first met Alicia some years ago, in Grazalema at a craft exhibition. She was giving demonstrations on her potter’s wheel. I had always had a desire to learn to throw clay and readily rolled up my sleeves to have a go. Alicia’s patience and never ending cheerfulness were amazing as I clumsily tried to hold my piece of clay in the centre of the wheel. Alicia sat next to me, propping up my lump of clay and rescuing it every time it fell, with her expert hands. It became evident that I would need much more practice when Benjamin sat down for his turn. Within a couple of minutes Alicia had let go of the clay and left him to it, commenting that he was a natural.

I finally park and meet Alicia. We sit down in the busy pedestrianised street. The streets are lined with tables and it takes us a minute to find a spare one.

After ordering our coffee, Alicia tells me her story. I strain to hear over the noise of clinking coffee cups, singing birds, children playing and people talking. It’s hot for the time of year. The heat rises from the pavement which is still warm from the day’s sunshine.

Alicia working on aplate
Alicia at work

In the year 2000 at the age of 33, Alicia started her ceramic course in Cadiz. She’d decided to embark on a new life after a relationship broke up. She had always loved pottery and decided to pursue her passion. Alicia regards her potter’s wheel as active meditation. A connection with herself. She finds it therapeutic.

“I spend hours and hours in the workshop. Time goes by. It could be Saturday or Sunday, but I love it in there.”

Alicia now teaches her skill to others. Her pupils, she tells me, leave her classes feeling relaxed and having enjoyed themselves.

When we have finished our coffee, I accompany Alicia to her studio. She has a three-storey town house. The bottom floor serves as her workshop and display area for clients. She lives on the middle floor and has another apartment with a terrace leading out to a view of the mountains on the top floor. It’s great for anyone who wants to take a course in pottery and needs accommodation.

selection of pots

Miranda, an Australian lady, recently stayed in this apartment. Miranda combined a visit to Spain to learn about the language and the culture with a pottery course. A perfect way to learn the language without having to attend formal language classes. I met Miranda, when I popped in earlier in the week to pick up some bespoke gifts Alicia had designed for the writing retreat. Miranda was having a fantastic time and I was reminded how much fun learning a language is through another activity.

When we arrive at the studio, two of the students are waiting outside. We go inside and they settle down. Even though it’s an adult class, Alicia tries to contact the two that haven’t turned up yet. Her concern for her learners is evident. One of her pupils thinks that one of the ladies has a mother who isn’t well and won’t be coming today. There is clearly a feeling of companionship in this special space. These ladies care about each other. They chat, they share news and offload their problems. They worry about each other, they empathise and they make each other laugh.
group 3 edad

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When I ask why they come to the class, a lady called Inma tells me it’s “Because I love arts and crafts”.
She backs this up with a huge smile before starting work on the tile that she is decorating.

“Which colours would you like?” asks Alicia showing her a tile with a selection of colours.
Inma decides on her colours and sets to work painting the tile she has designed.

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Hand painted celebration plate and personalised thimbles
weding day plate
Bespoke gifts

While Alicia is showing Marta how to make the handle on her mug, the door opens and Teresa bursts in. She chats to everyone as if they were long lost friends, including me. She comes to “get away from the stress in her life” as she finds the classes distract her from the daily tasks of looking after family members. The ladies talk to each other and ask me questions. It’s clear that these classes are a social event as well as a learning opportunity.

I make my way out of the door amongst cries of “come back soon.”

I smile to myself as I walk down the road. I haven’t even picked up a piece of clay and the feeling of wellbeing has been contagious. I make a mental note to do one of Alicia’s courses one day. I just hope she has enough patience.

In case you are wondering, for the handmade gifts on the writing retreat I ordered a bookmark.
bookmarks Alicia
I collect them wrapped up individually in small paper bags ready to go and I generally leave them with the welcome pack for my guests to open when they arrive. For this year’s gift, I have another idea, but that’s a surprise waiting to be revealed.

To see more of what Alicia does, click here:

Alicia’s pottery

pots

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When leather meets the art of Pepe and Isabel

As I sit here writing this I am looking out at the mountain range. A cool breeze is blowing in through the open window. The fig tree below is slowly growing up towards the second floor of the house. I hear the background noise of people on their way home for lunch, a car stopping to drop someone off, a door closing, a voice across the road. And then, it’s back to silence.

This quiet village is where Isabel Garcia and Jose Luis Bazan, otherwise known as Pepe, make magic out of leather. From the narrow, cobbled street you would never know that behind the big wooden door of the white washed building two artists are busy creating works of art with leather. Their taste for something a little different is obvious in the pieces they produce. Their eye for quality is reflected in their designs. A lamp, a wall hanging, a colourful bowl; elegantly designed products that any table or shelf would be proud to display.

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I love to take guests here during the writing retreats. The element of surprise as they walk into the entrance to find a leather workshop reminds of the first time I visited the May Patios in El Puerto de Santa Maria. You would just never expect a workshop to be here. There’s no sign post, no neon advertising light, not even a name outside the door. The surprise as you cross the threshold into a world you’d never expect was there.

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A visit to the workshop

There’s also the pleasure the guests experience as they pick up the leather goods, run their hands over a beautifully crafted bowl that looks like it could be made out of wood, and communicate with Isabel. They ask questions, warming immediately to Isabel’s lovely nature. Isabel has English lessons twice a week in the village and each time we visit her, she understands more. She looks at me for clarification when she hasn’t understood something. And then the communication is like a tennis match with each side looking from me to the person who has spoken and back to the person who receives the message as I translate.

Pepe sits in the background tapping away on his next creation, always ready to answer a question about the leather or how he has made something. Apart from the fact that the products are designed and handmade locally by this husband and wife team, there’s something special about their work. Yes, each one is unique, beautiful and of high quality but it’s more than that. They have a love of nature which is reflected in their work but their work also carries their personality. It holds their passion for their art.

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Last time we visited with guests, Sheryl brought her own bag as it needed repairing. She discussed it with Isabel.

“This part needs stitching. Can you do it?” she asked.

Isabel ran her expert eye over it. She pulled it this way and that way examining it carefully.

“Yes, of course. It won’t take long.”

“How much?”

Isabel didn’t want to charge Sheryl for the repair. “It’s nothing,” she said. “It will take me five minutes.”

Sheryl attempted to convince Isabel of the value of her time and experience. Isabel shook her head dismissing Sheryl’s protests. These small acts of generosity are a natural part of Spanish business.

Whenever we bring guests here, inevitably, someone leaves with something. It’s difficult not to. A unique, handmade leather bracelet as a present for someone special, an eye glass case or an exclusive handbag in a colour bold enough to brighten up the winter days back in the U.K.  Often the writers buy something as a thank you present to themselves. Time has been well spent in coming on the retreat.

fundas-monederos pulseras patchwork-bag

 

Isabel looked around for a box to put the goods in. Soon they will be going to the Christmas Fair in Sevilla with their leather goods and most of their work has already been individually boxed ready to sell. Despite the protests she insisted that each item has its own box. I smile. It’s a sign of their dedication to quality. She then carefully wraps the gifts up in paper. Another delight of Spanish shopping, having your parcels individually wrapped as part of the service.cuencos

Over the years Pepe and Isabel’s company, Artenazari (now renamed Jose Luis Bazan), has won many awards for their work and prizes for their unique pieces. Recently they were awarded the opportunity to work with the prestigious company Loewe who make luxury leather goods. As a result, their work has been displayed in many places including Paris, Milan and Tokyo.  You can see more of their beautiful handmade leather goods here.

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Isabel and Pepe when they featured in Oficio y Arte magazine

In the afternoon I got a message from Isabel to say Sheryl’s bag has been repaired and I can collect it after her English class. If only I’d managed to get a photo of the look of delight on Sheryl’s face as I returned her bag to her. Isabel would have loved to have seen it.