A forgotten traditional craftwork

Josep Ferrer

Josep Ferrer, 86, a simple-hearted and quiet man, was born in San Cugat del Vallés, Catalonia, where his grandfather used to work as a blacksmith.

“I was born in my grandfather’s workshop. When I was a kid I played with the hammers,” explains Josep.

Josep switched from playing with the hammers to working with them at the age of 13, more out of necessity than choice.

“It was during the years of the [Spanish Civil] War [1936-1939]. Money was scarce and you found yourself in a situation of real necessity. My grandfather asked me to help him in the workshop.

“Those were difficult years, but we were lucky because one of my uncles was working for the Council of Catalonia and he was sent to Paris to the League of Nations. So, my uncle sent us packages of food like coffee and sugar that my mother could exchange with the farmers for vegetables.”

During these years of war Josep mostly forged iron tools for farming as in times of war there is no money nor will for art. But after the war he began to create other objects like chandeliers, coat racks, and copies of antiques. These copies were in great demand because of the museum Cau Ferrat, founded by the Catalan poet Santiago Rusiñol, which has on display a vast collection of forged iron antiques.

Josep considers himself an artisan although many artists have used ironwork to build abstract sculptures, like the Catalan artist Julio Gonzales (1876-1942), or Pablo Gargallo (1881-1934) who was born in Aragon but moved to Catalonia where he learnt to forge iron as an art.

“Blacksmithing is very traditional in Catalonia and in Spain in general. Last century all the iron Gaudí used was forged in Barcelona.

“Nowadays all the blacksmiths in Spain are making very similar things, nice and with high quality. But it wasn’t like that in the past when the blacksmiths from Catalonia were the best in Spain.

“The real blacksmith creates an object with one piece of iron, without soldering anything at all. You need a lot of experience to achieve the expertise. Each person has their own working style; I consider my style contemporary.”

For 30 years Josep forged pieces for American railways. “It was a big company. They used to send me the designs, because obviously the Americans have different tastes, and I built them.”

Josep’s home has a garden full of different flowers and plants and a big dovecote: His wife’s hobbies are gardening and taking care of her doves. Just to the left of the garden is Josep’s workshop.

Josep and his family are very united. His daughter and her family live next door and the two houses are connected.

Talking about blacksmithing again, Josep explains: “I retired 23 years ago and since then all I do is to enjoy myself. I continue to forge pieces for love of this craftwork and everything I do is to give away to friends and family.

“Unfortunately, now there is very little demand for these art pieces. With the economic crisis people do not spend money on superfluous things.”

Blacksmithing is not all Josep does in his spare time; he used to do freediving (diving under water whithout any breathing equipment) until the age of 65. But he is very humble about it: “I used to go only 12 metres deep; there are those who go down to 30 metres.” Josep stopped practising this hobby because “the oceans are very dirty and the animals do not come near the shore. So, there are few fishes to look at and it’s not worth it.”

Josep also loved mountain-climbing and now, though he doesn’t practise it anymore, he still meets with his group of alpinist friends once every week for lunch.

As to musical tastes he explains, “when I was young I went dancing very often, but now I don’t like modern music.” What about sardana, the traditional circle dance of Catalonia? “It is not the kind of dancing that I did, although when my wife and I were dating we use to take the Vallvidrera funicular to Collserola Natural Park every Thursday evening and there were sardanas. Thanks to those nights I know a little how to dance sardana, but that’s it.”


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Park Güell

Park Güell, built between 1900 and 1914, is one of the most important touristic sites of Barcelona because of its architecture by Antoni Gaudí, creator of the city’s flamboyant Sagrada Familia church.

In 1984 UNESCO declared Park Güell a World Heritage site, which was no surprise as the style of the park is as crazy and imaginative as only the distinctive style of Gaudí can be.

It features bridges made of stone and big columns that look desertic and massive. There are many colourful areas covered in mosaics in Gaudí’s unique and recognizable style.

The park was meant to be an aristocratic city-garden but instead it was opened to the public.

Juan Hueso, who works in Park Güell for the council of Catalonia, explains the park’s history: “Count Güell contracted Antoni Gaudí to design a set of private houses in these 18 hectares.

“Only three houses were built, and the remaining lots remained unsold, as in that time this area was outside the city and you needed a lot of money and a car to live here. So Count Güell’s project failed.  Güell decided to donate the rest of the park to the city and it is now a public space for the amusement of locals and tourists.”

In the three built houses of Park Güell lived Gaudí, Count Güell, and a third family. Gaudí’s house is now a museum, Count Güell’s house is a school, and the third house is privately owned and worth a small fortune.

A huge number of people of all ages and nationalities visit the park every day. To get to the park from the nearest metro station visitors have to climb a steep street, but there are electric escalators in the middle of the road (an unusual sight, in my humble opinion).

The park attracts not only visitors but also street vendors selling souvenirs. There are many buskers who use ingenious and colourful props, with a variety of music ranging from flamenco to ska, to gypsy, to African, you just name it.

“Street vendors are forbidden in the park, so the vendors are always watching for police. On the other hand the police do not say anything to the musicians because the tourists like them,” said Juan Hueso.

Most of the musicians are found in the lower part of the park where most of the visitors are. But walking to the less crowded upper areas you will find a busker with a very fine instrument playing relaxing melodies from idyllic times.

Mauricio Cazelli

The musician is Maurizio Cazelli, 52, an Italian who has been playing in park Güell for seven years. His instrument, from ancient Persia, is called the Santur.

“I came to Barcelona to give a concert at a cultural institution and then I fell in love with this city and never left,” explained Cazelli in a distinctive mix of Spanish and       Italian.

“The climate here in Barcelona is good all year round. I once lived in London for a year and let me tell you, in four months I did not see the sun once,” he added.

“Barcelona has good services, the city is clean and safe. It is not like that in all Spain; it is just in Barcelona that everything works perfectly.”

It is twenty past nine in the morning and at this time the passers-by are mainly locals exercising, walking their dogs, or council gardeners working. They all say hello; Cazelli seems to know everyone.

There is a reason why Cazelli sits where he does: “If I sit further down in the park I could earn more money because not everyone comes up here. But I like it here because it is quieter and the view is amazing, people can just sit and enjoy my music. I create a special environment with this location and my music for people to relax.

“If they want, they leave money; if they don’t want to, they don’t. They take pictures of me, make videos and I don’t care, I like it actually. This is a cultural exchange.”

Suddenly a bunch of vendors came running up the path, hiding behind hedges and communicating between themselves with hand-signals. A short time later they were followed by police, also running, hiding and talking on their walkie-talkies. The situation is rather comic and silly.

“The police come and patrol the area and the vendors run away. Ten minutes after the police are gone, the vendors come back. And it is like this all day, in a cat-and-mouse chase,” explained Cazelli.

“The musicians have a different treatment because music improves the park. The requirements are not to use amplifiers and to be really good with your music.” He adds, laughing, “but of course not everyone here is.”

“Park Güell without music would be dead, it would be just a park in a mountain.”

The police are tired of playing hide and seek with the vendors and there is a proposal to gate the park in order to control the entrance.