I am not sure what you think of when you think of Spain. I don't even remember what I thought of before I moved here. Unfortunately, most European countries are not really in the "Marketing" business. They don't recognize their "treasures" because they have done their certain trade for generations and generations. It is just their way of life. Living in Madrid now for just over 18 months, we as foreigners, hone in on these "treasures" pretty quickly and the American in us wants to business plan for them because we recognize how unique their products are. They don't see it as such. The "treasures" I have discovered while living here so far: olive oil, wine, jamon, olives, Manchego cheese and ceramics, to name the highlights. This time around I am going to tell you what I know and love of the ceramics here in our region of Spain.
This past week some friends and I took a trip to one of our favorite places to buy ceramics. If you didn't know about this "treasure" of a place you would never in a million years locate it. It is in a little town called Puente del Arzobispo located about an hour and half south of Madrid. This unassuming little town is full of ceramic shops...(and cake, well that is for another day). There are actual storefronts, and then there is De la Cal. Now, when it comes to the ceramics in Spain you can almost tell where a piece is from just by the design and colors. Each family has its own unique pattern and style of painting...yes all these pieces are still painted by hand. De la Cal has their own pattern and depending on where they are shipping the items depends on the colors. For instance, the little town of Segovia, located about an hour north of Madrid, gets some of their pottery from De la Cal and they have their own color scheme called...wait for it...Segovia. :-0
Here is the glamourous entrance to De la Cal. See what I mean...would you ever in a million years be able to find this. Never judge a book by its cover. What lies inside this faded, rusty gate will knock your socks off. Let me give you a little background on De la Cal...well...as much as I know. They are a family of five generations that have hand painted and still hand paint beautiful pottery. They do have some large clients. They do ship all over, but I am sure you would have to order enough to make it worthwhile for them. One of their big clients is Columbia Restaurant in Florida. Now, I may be mistaken, but I think this restaurant is the oldest restaurant in Florida. If you google Columbia Restaurant and go to their shop tab...you will see De la Cal's Sangria Pitchers made just for them. I of course have a picture as well below. These were getting ready to be shipped out. The woman in charge now, Ana, is phenomenal and the sweetest thing going. What I always notice from these types of families is that their work ethic is outstanding. They work extremely hard and are very accomodating. In the winter their factory is freezing cold and in the summer it is excruciating hot. I am sure they do all they can to keep costs as low as possible.
Now to show you and tell you about their "treasures". What I especially love about De la Cal and what makes them "unique" to me is that they will customize any of their pieces in whatever colors you want...and if it is a successful color scheme they just might name it after you. The color schemes that I know came about because of the "Americans" and I think one "Brit" are the Tiffani, Ashleigh and the Belinda. The first time I went to De la Cal I brought pieces of my current dishes for them to match. Though, of course, it turned out beautiful, it just wasn't exactly what I was looking for.
So, this was my first round. I still love these pieces and will use them, well have used them, but wait til you see the others. I will save that for in just a little bit. I want to show you a little of their warehouse. It is located on, what appears to be, a little farm. When you come in this big green gate they have chickens and dogs pinned up. It is just so "typical" really. They might live right on the property, I am not sure. You walk up a fairly long dirt driveway to get into their warehouse. When you arrive in their warehouse there is pottery everywhere. They have pieces that are formed and drying, pieces waiting to be painted, pieces waiting to be fired, pieces that have been ordered and are waiting to be picked up and pieces waiting to be shipped out...all on this main floor of the warehouse.
They also have an upstairs. On the upper floor they have pieces that you can purchase right there...I suppose you could think of it as an "outlet" or maybe even the "seconds" so to speak. Maybe these are pieces that didn't pass their quality control test to be sent to a customer or maybe the customer decided it wasn't to their liking or maybe they are "discountinued" patterns or types of pieces or have some small defect. I am not sure, but it is always fun to go up and look around upstairs. It is extremely dusty up there, but you never know what you will find.
I cannot even put in words how much I love this place. You can sort of tell by these pieces what their signatures are. The flower on the vase on the right is one. You can also see this flower in my platter above. Another signature are the arches with a design within the arch. This is seen throughout their sangria pitchers, vases and copas. Some traditional pottery designs of Puente del Arzobispo are bird and hunting scenes. De la Cal does these as well. I believe their signature colors are blue and yellow, which you will see below, but like I said that have created some amazing pieces for us "Americans". If you were to go to their website you would see mostly these types of peices:
This is a sort of fancy filigree design. It looks very regal to me. I bet it is quite the story to hear about how they came up with their "signature" design. Speaking of designs and colors...many of the "Americans" or foreigners in Madrid, per se, order the Tiffani style. Tiffani was an American whom lived here and wanted a design that reminder her of Spain. She basically started with the idea of the colors of the Spanish flag and left that idea with the painters and designers at De la Cal. The pattern and colors have evolved over the years and, of course, each piece is different. My most recent pieces are a little different from the pieces people have gotten a few years ago.
|Sangria pitcher, personalized, along with copas|
|Tres pisos frutera. Three tiered.|
|Close up of the Sangria Pitcher.|
Here is an example of the Ashleigh:
Again...holy cow are you kidding me...beautiful. This color scheme came about when "Ashleigh" was ordering pottery for a wedding gift in the colors of the wedding and now she has a pattern named after her. Pretty cool!!!!
Another fun little fact about the pottery in Spain is that each piece has the idea of a signature. I like to think of it like art...each piece is signed, in one way or the other, by the artist. The signature basically is the family name or business name and the region or location. Here are two examples of what De la Cal does:
Here you see Ceramica De La Cal (family), Puente Del Arzobispo, Toledo, Espana (location) and Hecho A Mano (Made by Hand). I have just recently noticed this stamp on their items. It may be new or maybe just on larger pieces.
Again...De la Cal (family), Puente and Espana (location). These are hand painted on most of the pieces that I have. I only have one piece with the stamp. We shall see what comes on the pieces that I just ordered.
One other favorite stop of ours when we are in Puente is Cruz Ceramica. At Cruz you cannot special order items and if you are there and see something you like you better buy it because it might not be there next time and they might never make it like that again. The Cruz store we go to is run by two sisters. There storefront is filled with beautiful things, but if they really like you, they let you go to the back warehouse where they house all of their "treasures". I think if you just walked in off the street, again, you might never know they have a warehouse full of all kinds of things in the back. We literally pull up cushions and sprawl out on the cement floor digging through the stacks of platters and bowls and whatever we feel like, looking for the "perfect" piece for us.
Here are some Cruz pieces that I have:
Notice right away the difference in both pattern and color designs. Cruz is very intricate and we actually got to observe one of the sisters hand painting a platter. It is very time intensive as you can clearly see. The more times we go back it is apparent that they are training the next generation of painters. The younger generation is a bit more "free" as in the square platter, yet the older generation likes their clean lines and symmetry. Also notice the CRUZ signature. They don't specify their location, but most signatures do. Another little detail on all the platters and some bowls I have noticed, is they are designed with little holes on the back, within the base, for hanging on a wall.
The ceramics are by far one of my favorite things here in Spain and I am sure to leave with quite the collection. Like I mentioned before, depending on where you purchase the ceramics, the colors and styles will vary. I will save a comparison of pottery from different regions for a later post. Today you have just visited Puente Del Arzobispo. I don't want to overwhelm you all.
Coming from a country where just about everything is mass produced or made in China it certainly is a breath of fresh air to see these amazing small businesses in Spain that are still deeply connected to their roots.
Until next time...