while I was in Spain I visited one of the few places where the traditional terracotta wine and oil storage jars are still made.
this family workshop in Torrejoncillo, north of Caceres, goes back seven generations. three are still working, father, Antonio Moreno, two sons, Antonio and Juan Carlos, and at least one grandson that I saw, but as I wasn’t introduced to the three guys making pots, one of them, the skinny one with the beanie hat, could likely be another grandson.
inside the big kiln shed are finished pieces, these in the foreground unfired, the pinker ones in the background are fired. some of their wares are still used for wine production and storage, but most are bought for gardens, maybe ninety percent. I would love to see them loading the kiln, which is rather like a container in size, oil fired. sadly the old kiln has gone the way of all things. they used to fire over twenty four hours, building up slowly with encina (ilex oak) and finishing with brushwood, or broom, which one sees growing all over the place, much like gorse in England, which used to be used as a fuel here. one can understand that twenty four hours of nursing your handmade pots with a wood firing is exhausting and nerve-racking and that firing an oil-fired kiln is much easier.
it is packed from both ends and insulated with ceramic blanket folded hundreds of times.
next to the huge kiln shed is an equally large building which is the workshop. there were three potters working and about fifty pots waiting for the next stage. the pots are coiled and then finished with a thrown lip, so there are many stages of working while waiting for the body of the jar to stiffen up enough for the next set of coils. mostly the pot stands on bricks and a bit of board while the potter walks round it.
they are very practised at this and hands move too fast to photograph. coils about two foot long and five inches thick are stored against the wall under plastic
they dig their clay locally; its quite pale for a terracotta, sandy orange with specks of mica. I wonder whether it would take higher temperatures. they said they would sell me some, and I was not thinking ahead, or I would have got some then and there to try out. it is certainly a nice plastic clay with plenty of stiffness, looks easy to use. they also make bread ovens, their own invention, basically a round bellied pot cut in half horizontally to make a lid. these are very popular and they make a lot of them. Pippa and Manfred have one, and it is extremely efficient. Christmas turkey was cooked in it. this is one being made.
the jars are then put on a low wheel for the lip. they are very accurately made or spinning them like this would be dangerous to the pot.
you can see a paddle on the low trolley behind the tinajero, the potter or jar-maker. the pots are paddled into shape, using the palm of the hand inside the pot wall to support it. almost the same process as is used to make large jars in the far East, and is used by Svend Bayer in Devon.
they have some old pots for sale as well; the black stain is from pine resin painted inside to make them non-porous.
there are three villages near my house which were also centres for tinaja making. in Arroyomolinos they specialised in the tall straight sided conos. this image is from the book I bought from the potters, la tinajería tradicional en la céramica española, of Manuel Jiménez, tinajero of Arroyomlinos, paleteando (paddling) un cono, a photograph taken in 1989.
presumably there must be clay in these villages too, as I would have thought the main requirement for the location of a pottery will be the availability of a suitable clay, although a local need for wine and oil jars might be a criteria; there is plenty of oil and wine production around this part of Extremadura.
we went afterwards to the nearby town of Coria for lunch. in August it has a bull run through the streets and a bullfight in the main plaza. apart from that it is rather pretty.