I´m just back from Asturias and, as always when I go there, I bought a piece of Sargadelos pottery to add to my modest collection. (See photo above).
Sarga…what? you might be asking. While the muted pastels of Lladró are world famous, the stronger colours and rather tortuous forms of the Galician Sargadelos aren´t well known, even by Spaniards. Yet beer and cider are often served out of Sargadelos pumps in northern bars and many couples in Galicia and Asturias are given a Sargadelos dinnerset as a wedding present.
I prefer this crazy porcelain to its namby pamby Valencian rival because of its more contemporary look and its chequered history.
The Marquis of Sargadelos
The story begins with Antonio Raymundo Ibáñez, Marquis of Sargadelos, born in Asturias in 1749 to a noble, but moneyless, family.
Educated in the Humanities, he began his career as an administrator for a powerful trading family, soon following them into the import and export business.
In 1804 he added a porcelain factory to his vast industrial complex, taking advantage of the excellent caolin found in the Sargadelos area.
At the time, the north-west corner of Spain was a microcosm of the social forces clashing in the peninsula as a whole. The power of the Catholic Church and the landowning nobility was being challenged by entrepreneurs and industrialists bent on modernising Spain and becoming very rich in the process.
Some historians focus on Ibáñez as a capitalist tyrant, enriching himself at the expense of the common people and their lands. Others defend him as a product of the Enlightenment and a firm believer in liberty, equality and fraternity, working to develop the region and alleviate poverty.
Whatever he was, the Marquis of Sargadelos came to a violent end. During the invasion of the French, he was accused of siding with them as an afrancesado and was beaten to death by enraged townspeople.
Cobalt blue and white
It was given new impetus in in 1963 when the painter Luís Seoane acquired the famous factory with a view, not only to marketing the pottery, but creating Galician cultural centres.
To this day, the tension between these two aims – one commercial and the other cultural – exists in the Sargadelos company. The shops, known as galleries, sell the pottery but they also have bookshops specialising in Galician and Portuguese literature as well as open spaces for book presentations, recitals, conferences and debates.
Could do better
Perhaps because of this tension, and though Sargadelos can be bought in a number of galleries, it is not as readily available as other Spanish ceramics. It is not for sale on the company website and in many shops most pieces can only be bought by special order. (I´ll collect my lapwing when I go back up to Oviedo in August). I like to buy my small pieces in a shop in Oviedo since that was where I first discovered it but it bothers me that the figures are hard to get.
Having said this, it may not be possible for shops to stock every piece since the output of figures has been vast, ranging from the wild and domestic fauna of Galicia, to artisan trades from the recent past, to historical, literary and folk figures. Its catalogue has been described as:
“ … extensive in terms of shapes, motifs, reliefs and exclusive colours, and includes crockery sets, ornamental figures and even original designer jewellery… this company takes traditional forms and shapes, and engenders in them its own unique artistic vision to create exclusive pieces.”
All Sargadelos pieces are named in gallego. In my modest collection, which so far only has items in muted colours, there is a cow (vaca), a figure of Santiago in his boat made of stone, a dove (pomba), a “hole-in-the-hand folk symbol (furaman), a shell (buguina), an ashtray (see above), a toothpick holder (not shown), a wolf (lobo) and now the soon-to-be-collected lapwing (avefría), which reminds me of the Scottish peewit.
I used to think that people who collected things were akin to trainspotters but now that I have the Sargadelos bug I enjoy placing all my trinkets around my house.
Sargadelos isn´t particularly cheap, so my collection is growing very slowly – the latest, tiny lapwing figure costs €16 – but I´m already thinking about my next acquisition.
What will it be?
Do you collect anything Spanish?
If so let me know, one anorak to another!