Spanish ceramic and porcelain artisans boast a heritage dating back to the Middle Ages. Throughout Spain, tiles are used extensively for building decoration and “signs”. Azulejo tiles were used to decorate building facades and professionals and tradesmen alike have displayed a tile depicting their profession outside offices and workshops throughout Spain.
We drove to the town of Manises, just north of Valencia, famed for its traditional gotico azul tiles for centuries. At the family owned creamics factory, Ceramica Vallencia, owned by J. Gimeno Martinez — housed in a 14th Century building — we observed and learned about the manufacturing process of Spanish hand-made ceramics.
At Ceramica Vallencia, artisans throw, shape and smooth each piece of ceramics by hand, starting with a custom-made clay whose formula is a family secret.
After a piece has air dried, it is then fired in a kiln. Once cooled, it goes to artisan painters for the application of the colored design by hand painting.
After the paint is dry, a glaze is applied by hand before the second (and final) kiln firing.
Ceramica Vallencia is several generations old and the second floor museum has ceramic pieces created over the years displaying the outstanding artistry of the family and the factory artisans.
Prior to 1953, in Spain the tradition of making ceramic tiles, dishes, sculptures, etc., did not include world class Chinese-style porcelain figures. After growing up in a small town near Valencia and working for a local ceramics manufacture in their 20s, the three Lladró brothers, Juan, Jose and Vicente, began to fire their first creations in a Moorish kiln built in the backyard of their home in Almassera, a small town on the outskirts of Valencia. Today, the extensive Lladró porcelain factory (so called, “The City of Porcelain” by the company), in close proximity to the original kiln, employs 1,000 artisans. Since 2007, Lladró has been run by Juan Lladró and his two daughters, Rosa and Angeles, continuing a family tradition in what today is a multinational enterprise with over 2,000 retail stores on five continents.
We visited the Lladró Museum which includes workshops with artisans executing all of the steps in creating a Lladró porcelain, from the pouring liquid porcelain (clay) into the initial fragment molds to the final painting and kiln firing. All Lladró pieces are handmade in The City of Porcelain.
Lladró sculptors create sketches of proposed new pieces which are then reviewed by management and given the “green light”. The sculptor then creates the volumes and shapes of the sketch, moving on to plaster sculptures in which all of the details, textures and features that complete the original piece are engraved.
Once the modeling of the original sculpture is completed, the piece is then divided into as many fragments as necessary for the work to be reproduced in porcelain. From each of the resulting fragments, a mold is created. In production, the mold is filled with liquid porcelain paste in order to create the different parts of the figurine. After the molded parts have dried, expert hands then put the pieces together using porcelain paste as an adhesive to recreate the original sculpture. The assembled sculpture (smoothed, sanded and carefully checked for flaws) is then fired in the kiln.
Experienced painters at Lladró then apply colors using techniques learned from master Lladró painters. Once painted, gloss sculptures are coated with a layer of varnish to give them the crystalline finish that is characteristic of Lladró porcelain. The coated sculpture is then fired at high temperatures in a kiln, causing the varnish to crystallize which then reveals the Lladró sculpture’s true colors.
We also had the opportunity to watch the creation of one of Lladró sculptures’ most differentiating elements in porcelain – the hand made flowers. Specialized artists set the petals of each flower one-by-one, to ensure perfection in the end result.
“Measuring 160 centimeters (63 inches) long, the monumental Lladró Queen of the Nile porcelain sculpture is the most complex sculpture ever undertaken by Lladró. [The museum] notes that five years went into its development. It includes 12 characters, takes 400 hours to paint, and another 150 hours to assemble all the different fragments. Particularly worth underscoring, technically speaking, is the complexity in firing the piece, for the size of the characters gives rise to an aerial composition with a delicate balance. With surprising accuracy, the artists from the Lladró High Porcelain Workshop have recreated the extremely wealthy ornamentation of ancient Egypt: the textures of fabrics, the settings of precious stones, the jewels decorating the characters, the exquisite ornamentation of the boat, the colors used in the hieroglyphics, reproducing real models from the time.” – from the Lladró Museum