Trinidad (Trini) and her husband Agustín have worked with ceramic tiles for over 30 years. They produced them using mainly water, mud and colours and they have sold their produce all over Spain and internationally.
Agustín and Trini’s factory is located in Santa Fe, in the province of Granada. They started working in this field because of family tradition. Trini’s father had worked in this area since her childhood and she really liked his job. She was always in the shop watching her father working. Ever since she was a kid, she had always wanted to participate in the work that her father did and day by day, she learnt how to do the different techniques, distinguish the materials, set up the oven temperatures and much more.
Their tiles are mainly used to decorate kitchens, bathrooms or patios in homes, hotels and public buildings or even to decorate the walls of any room. They are well known in the Santa Fe area and in the region of Andalusia and they also have clients all over the world: Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria, Dubai, Quatar, Italy and the United States. In Spain, they have worked for clients all over the country: one example is the Pavilion of the International Exhibition of Seville in 1992.
The origins of ceramic and its properties
Spanish tiles have gained a worldwide reputation for some of the most brilliant and colourful combinations. The origins of Spanish tiles go back thousands of years.
During Medieval times and before the Muslim invasion of 711AD, ceramics were produced extensively in Southern and Coastal Eastern Spain, including tiles for design and manufacture, practical pieces, mosaic art pieces, roof tiles, fountains, and so on. Amazing pieces of artisan tilework were made for palaces and churches all around Spain. Ceramic tilework later developed and spread throughout Spanish homes to floors, kitchens, bathrooms and most of all, indoor patios.
Glazed tiles are enamelled with metallic and glass oxides that help protect tile surfaces, making them durable but also glossy and shiny in design. Spanish ceramics began to be exported from many cities in Andalusia, southern Spain. Rich in Islamic and Arabic heritage, ceramic tiles were exported throughout the Mediterranean, Europe and then the world.
Nowadays, Spanish tiles vary from modern to traditional, from colourful and patterned, to wood-like designs. The traditional and original kinds of Spanish tile may be quite expensive but they are extremely high-quality and durable. Ceramic tiles are, in fact, very resistant against many potentially damaging factors, such as water, wind and heat. The glazed surface of this material provides the product with impermeability, which makes it more resistant to rain, and that is why it was usually used as a roof covering.
Description of the work and materials
Trini and her husband produce three types of tile:
- Arista: From the Arabic tradition – each colour on the tile is separated by a small ridge (arista?).
- Cuerda Seca (dry cord): there is a small gap, like a ‘path’, between the different motifs and colours that the tile may have, to separate them.
- Artistic hand-painted tiles with floral motifs, animals etc.
Trini and her husband work with many different materials, but mainly with clay and water. They also work with different oxides, cobalt and tin which they use for decorating tiles. Taking a rectangular or square-shaped piece of fresh clay, a specific motif is applied. Once the pattern on the tile is drawn, it is placed in the kiln at a temperature of 800-900 °C. When the tile is ready, it is painted with coloured glazes and then it is placed back in the kiln to complete the process. “We come here every day and we always have work to do. If we have some pending requests, we start to work on them first. There are always things to do, such as cleaning, sorting or ordering materials that we have run out of” Trini explains.
The bases of the tiles are made of clay, they may be reddish if they are highly ferruginous, or whiter if they are more calcareous. To obtain strong colours on the tile, it is necessary to use glazes that contain lot of silica, which will make the tiles look like they are made of glass. The most expensive glaze used today, and one of the most difficult effect to achieve, is the metallic reflex, which needs to be processed with oxidizing and reducing.
Trini and her husband have worked for many years as artisans, and they have been through ups and downs in the market, but they have always been able to keep going.”The economic crisis has also been a difficult period of time for our work, but we have managed to maintain our profession and make a living from it.”
And what about the future of the factory? “It looks like our child is going to re-open the workshop, and even though we are already retired, we will keep on helping him little by little. He is not going to be directly involved in making tiles for now, but he will mainly take over the management of the company. We are also in contact with a private company that will try to open new international markets for us to expand to new customers.”
And she adds: “After all these years it makes us sad to see the profession of craftsman is increasingly less valued and is slowly disappearing. We have already retired, but still keep coming to the shop and doing small jobs. We know that soon we will have to delegate someone to do all these tasks. We have spent a few months in contact with an external company that is interested in moving in to reopen the workshop and continue the tradition. To do that I will hire new people and my son will also collaborate with them and us, my husband and I. We will also be here almost daily to help out in any way possible. Although our son did not want to work in the workshop initially, because of the crisis and the lack of work, he has been more inclined to get to know this world and work in the workshop, even if not directly on the creation of the tiles.