Work is picking up pace as we are approaching the culmination of a years residency based in Mas de Barberans, southern Catalonia - work is being delivered, plinths constructed, design work drawn up and websites edited. I wrote the article below for The Basketmakers' Association Newsletter which tells part of the story so far - we also have a blog in progress and a special dedicated project website - lots more to come!
Choosing the wrong stick… Ports i Mans Residency
The Basketmaker' Association Newsletter No 149, May 2014
Tim Johnson and Mònica Guilera are currently basketmakers in residence with the Museu de la Pauma (Palm Basketry Museum) in Mas de Barberans and the surrounding mountainous national park ‘Parc Natural dels Ports’ in southern Catalonia, Spain.
Tim writes the following of work in progress:
We proposed an idea to the Museu de la Pauma just over a year ago – that we would like to explore the variety of natural materials in the environs of the village of Mas de Barberans, to work with those materials over the four seasons of a year, to make a body of new work and then present it in an exhibition at the end of the project and coinciding with the excellent annual fair of basketry and vegetable fibres in August ‘la Fira de les Fibres Vegetals’. We were delighted to have our project accepted and co-funded by the museum and the Els Ports national park whose mountains loom over the village.
As we are learning over our frequent visits Mas de Barberans is a special place, one of the joys of a project like this is the familiarity with place and people that evolves over time, it is nice to be recognised in Mònica’s bright orange van as we explore and harvest. Set between a vast plain, known locally as ‘the sea of olives’ - due to its leafy waves set in motion by the fierce winds that come through the year and scatter branches and roof tiles crashing to the ground, and the high mountains of Els Ports, the village is a perfect base. Repeated visits to special spots brings deeper knowledge and appreciation of the variety of plants and wildlife in the area, endless olive groves interspersed with terraced almond trees and huge dark green carob trees are divided by the fascinating barrancs – dry river beds that flood after easterly winter storms. Agriculture gives way to scrubby forest, pine, box and juniper then upwards to mountain pastures with grazing Ibex and frequent Griffon Vultures wheeling overhead.
Quickly as we harvest, photograph, experiment, identify, walk, discuss – we realise we have time enough only to sample the huge variety of materials available, one could spend years here learning and making. Traditional basketmakers in this region today use primarily the European Fan Palm (Pauma and Palmito in Catalan and Spanish) to make a wide variety of beautifully braided and stitched baskets, the Museu de la Pauma has a good collection of examples and frequent contextual exhibitions telling the story of the palm weaving tradition. Mas de Barberans is still home to several palm weavers, some of whom form the collective ‘Art Pauma’ and who made many of the museum’s exhibits.
As we work with the plants of the Ports – olive and oleander, black oranges and arundo cane, Sarga willow (Salix eleagnos), iris and asphodel – we discover all these plants demand different handling, we gather presuming we can find a way to make them work for us – how will they be in a month’s time? We also have different ideas and approaches – Mònica working from the diverse Catalan tradition combining willow and split arundo cane and myself combining tradition and experimentation - I often seem to be picking the wrong sticks! Of course the beautiful straight olive sun shoots are perfect for Mònica’s weaving but those spindly branchy lengths grab my attention and find their way into a piece and maybe into the exhibition – let’s see!
Tim and Monica are documenting the Ports i Mans residency here: portsimans.blogspot.co.uk
The exhibition will open during the annual ‘La Fira de les Fibres Vegetals’, 2nd and 3rd August 2014 and will run for several months at the Museu de la Pauma: www.cdrmuseudelapauma.cat
There is an annual basketry contest (certamen) with traditional and contemporary categories and significant cash prizes over the weekend of the fair, this is open to international entries and details can be found on the museum website here: VIIIè Certamen Internacional de les Fibres Vegetals