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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