C A N T A B R I A   U N I V E R S I T Y
  Art and popular architecture   Popular Architecture
Popular Art
The forms of popular art in Cantabria.  
    Corbel of along balcony. Viérnoles   Adepts of the popular art of stonemasonry were great stylists, of whose mastery there remains a considerable legacy not only in Cantabria but in many other Spanish regions: especially of the more outstanding stonemasons from Trasmiera and Buelna, who were able to show their knowledge of stonemasonry and decoration in all sorts of buildings, be they popular or high architecture, religious or lay, and to this end the inspiration they had through the popular art of woodwork was invaluable.

Wood is one of the materials that most splendidly shows the beauty of popular art in Cantabria. The generosity of the natural environment allowed that wood be used plentifully both in construction and for making household objects. The very fact that until the end of the Middle Ages rural homes were made mostly of wood illustrates the relevance wood must have had until that time. Indeed, even up to the present day the use of wood has had great significance in the construction of rural buildings, and even urban buildings. The strength of this popular art has survived to this day, and is manifested in many of the elements of peasant houses in the region, especially in the carving of modillions on the eaves, of corbels and lintels of the long balconies, and of the railings and balustrades. In this last instance carving sometimes gives way to wood-turning, in the attempt to attain an aesthetic effect. The rapid transformation of urban areas has made most of the examples of this popular art of woodwork disappear.

In the entire region, and even outside it, the popular art of Cantabrian carpenters and cabinetmakers has survived. The work of these artists, be it in its most rustic instances or in its most refined, has been singularly important. So, over and above the genuine craftsmanship that even everyday beds, tables, benches, chairs and cupboards boast, up until the last century there was a significant manufacture of noble furniture and also chests, escritoires, and bargueños, the highest expression of these woodwork artists. Their art sometimes gave rise to whole schools of woodwork, like the Casar de Periedo or the Los Tojos schools, whose products crossed regional boundaries and the Spanish frontier.

Some of these popular craftsmen combined their artistic activity with tilling the soil or herding cattle. During the long winters all sorts of tools and objects were made in ploughmen's dwellings, and whichever of these went spare was exported to markets outside the region. Moreover, many ploughmen were albarqueros, particularly expert at making the wooden clogs typical of the region, called abarcas or albarcas; while others were able to craft objects out of bone, even up to the present day. And there were some even more specialised popular craftsmen who were reputed not only as cabinetmakers but as gilders, and sculptors of religious images designed to satisfy the needs of popular piety.

In the coastal areas what became well-known was carpentry-work applied to the construction of boats and ships; this craft was plied by the carpinteros de ribera. In its highest form, when relating to building galleons, Cantabrian craftsmen were famous from the Middle Ages through to the 18th century for their very deft handling of this skilful art - first at the Royal Atarazanas yards at Santander, and later at yards in Guarnizo and Colindres. Within this craft there was a specialism, that of the maestros remolares, concerned with making oars: from the 16th century on there grew in Santander a valuable manufacture of oars for export.

There are a number of decorative motifs that have perdured in popular art through the ages, and they achieve their fullest expression in woodwork because of its favourable ornamental conditions. Objects are often minutely decorated by using ordinary blades to engrave or make incisions. Other times, after using an adze, popular artists might use more specialised tools, like gouges and chisels, thus achieving a bevelled finish. This is the norm for making geometric motifs, like diamond shapes, oblongs, circles, spokes and ellipses. These motifs may reach a certain complexity, becoming rosettes, swastikas, crosses and stars. Botanical motifs are also frequent, like palms, leaves, vine tendrils, foliage, flowers, posies, etc., as well as human figures and whimsical objects like fans, sea-shells, and others. It is curious that some of these motifs have been passed down the ages from at least as far back as the Romans.

Popular art relating to metalwork has had great significance in Cantabria. Since the late Middle Ages the art and craft of ironwork became famous, thanks to the excellent design of the furnaces of Cantabrian smithies. Moreover, the importance of wrought-iron, made in the forges of the region, in regional architecture is plainly visible: railings, iron bars, keys, locks and door-handles. Bronzework also has been an important manufacture of the region, especially with regard to making bells: there have been veritable schools of bell-making, transmitting knowledge down the generations by means of an oral tradition up to the present century - the bell-makers of the Siete Villas smithies being an outstanding example.

Finally, the art of pottery in Cantabria has had a traditional significance inseparable from the manufacture of some specific pottery workshops, that became important during the 18th century - as in the case of the workshops in Valle de Piélagos, Mazcuerras, Isla and Noja. Also at that time "de Pas" ceramics became renowned; this type of ceramics is whitish, like the well-known Galizano earthenware, which is also white and girdled with blue glazed motifs, and of which some significant examples are preserved in the Museum of Ethnography of Cantabria.

Chair's back
Document chest
Wrought-iron grille
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