RAMÓN FRANCISCO RUBIO DOMENE – Plasterwork Specialist

Ramon is a craftsman and restorer specialised in making official reproductions of parts of the World Heritage Site – the Alhambra. He holds a Doctorate degree in Arts and Restoration cum Laude from the University of Granada. He has been employed since 2000 on the Board of the Alhambra, in the Conservation Department as Head of the Restoration Workshop for plasterwork and tilling. He therefore has extensive experience in these materials and the daily interventions that are taking place in the Alhambra and its Museum. He has been working with gypsum plaster for 26 years. He started to work with it as a student of the Academy of Fine Arts, when he decided to deepen his knowledge of the work made in the Alhambra. “I became fascinated and curious about how to work with gypsum and I started to work with artisans who worked in the Alhambra, learning their techniques. I learned, for example, how to do direct curving and to work with moulds,” he explains.

Ramon is also the Director of Doctum a private, cultural and non-profit organisation whose mission is the protection, conservation, restoration, management, promotion and growth of the Spanish Culture and Heritage. It is involved in the study, research, exchange, training and promotion of the methods, techniques, procedures, materials, know-how and the protocols used in the restoration, rehabilitation, management and consolidation of cultural heritage. Its main objective is to transmit knowledge and understanding of the traditional building and decorative skills acquired by our ancestors. Doctum also actively takes part in tangible and intangible Spanish heritage conservation with projects aimed at halting the deterioration of its legacy being caused by environmental and anthropogenic agents.

Ramon has also invented a new restoration mortar: “Procedimiento de Reconstrucción de Obras de Arte” legally registered at the Spanish Patent and Trade Mark Office (SPTO) by the Council of the Alhambra and the Generalife. Finally, he has published many books and articles on different topics, mainly about the Alhambra, restoration and conservation techniques among which the most important ones are the following:

He works every day at his workshop in Cenes De La Vega but he also has experience working in Granada, Jaen, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. In Granada, when he is not working making official reproductions of parts of the Alhambra, he works on the restoration of plasterwork and mouldings in many religious buildings. In Jaén, he worked on the plaster mouldings in Saint Andrew’s Church. In Saudi Arabia, he worked on a reproduction of the Alhambra in Riyadh. Finally, he has collaborated with other artisans from Morocco, Turkey, Thailand, the Philippines etc. and since March 2016, he has been working on the restoration of the plasterwork in a mosque in Morocco.

Description of the Work and Materials

Ramón explains: “My work consists of making reproductions of Alhambra pieces. These can be of existing pieces or of pieces that have to be re-created by designing them and cutting them. Then we have to create silicone moulds to reproduce the new pieces. Usually, this technique is used to reproduce parts of a cornice or facade that have been ruined or damaged and which need to be replaced.”

The Source of Inspiration

As Ramón says, his source of inspiration is undoubtedly the Alhambra, with its walls and Arabic motifs. There he can find inspiration for the creation and reproduction of different motifs (epigraphic, geometric or from nature). “There are so many different motifs that, when combined together, it’s possible to have thousands of different variations.” The final pieces are sold as official reproductions of the Alhambra and it’s possible to find them in the souvenir shops around the Alhambra. The majority of Ramón’s clients are tourists, who want an exact reproduction of the decorations which are on the walls of the Alhambra palace.

Summary

There will not be continuity within Ramón’s family. However, many artisans want to work with this type of material and are interested in the technique of plaster reproduction with moulds. Many of them also come from the Academy of Fine Arts of Granada. In addition, Ramon also collaborates and works with students and professionals from beyond Granada and Spain.

And what about the job prospects for his field of work? “The future of this profession, just as the future of all the other crafts, is uncertain. Artisans have to travel, constantly update their skills and knowledge and try to find a niche in the marketplace for themselves. New technology (for example a 3D printer) means its possible to make cheaper reproductions. Of course that will mean the reproductions are all identical, but nowadays many customers prefer the lower prices due to mass production even though the quality is inferior. If something does not change, the future of this profession could be seriously in danger.” However, the use of new materials or technology is not considered completely negative by Ramon, who adds: “I support the artisans work, but I do not deny the importance of using methods that the advances in science have given us. Nowadays, without silicone, my job would not even be possible”.

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