A Spaniard in Granada Revives an Ancient Islamic Craft—Golden Pottery




July 14, 2005, Granada

My family and I journeyed to Granada, Spain, to visit the Alhambra and develop an appreciation for the cultural achievements of the Islamic empire at its height during the 14th and 15th centuries.  We were not disappointed, and I highly recommend a visit to Granada to tour the magnificent Alhambra—you can time it in July if, like us, you like hot days and long siestas.

We had an unexpected meeting with the master ceramicist and sculptor, Miguel Ruiz Jimenez, that added an additional and welcome dimension to this segment of our trip.

We had noticed beautiful local ceramics in the hotel lobby, and wanted to find local artisans and see their work.  Ignoring the front desk at the hotel, I went directly to the web and accessed the Spanish Google, keyed in “ceramica artesana Granada”, and, within five minutes, I was speaking with Agustin Ruiz, who manages an Andalusian artisanal ceramics association called Abacoarte.

Thirty minutes later we were in a taxi on our way to the nearby town of Jun to visit the artisans’ ceramics factory, and we were introduced to Miguel, who graciously gave us a tour of the ceramics plant.

CLICK ON IMAGES FOR A BETTER VIEW

Dsc_0079Miguel Ruiz Jimenez demonstrates how terra cotta receives a plaster coating before painting and glazing.

Given that our total knowledge of Granadan ceramic arts was zero, we had plenty of questions for Agustin and Miguel.

We learned that Miguel Ruiz Jimenez has been making ceramic pottery since the age of seven—today he is 56—and that his art has been recognized through works commissioned by the Spanish Embassy in Algiers and the monument in the Granada Park in Coral Gables, Florida. He also won the competition to represent Granada in Expo-92 through his original design submission of the “Vaso de las Granadas”.

Throughout the tour, Agustin repeatedly suggested that we go see Miguel’s private gallery nearby, which houses his collection of Nazarite Crockery, which he terms Golden Pottery, in the style of the Islamic ceramics that are among the treasures of the Alhambra.

We drove up to an unusual gate made of organ pipes that retracted automatically and allowed us to proceed up a hill to a structure that resembles a white geodesic dome with an interior exhibition space of approximately 12,000 square feet.  Inside, we were greeted by Miguel’s wife and surprised to find an exquisite collection of jugs, vases, plates, and bowls—all replicas of historic Islamic designs.

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Interior of the exhibition space

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One of the "Jugs of the Alhambra" collection

Miguel’s website features excellent pictures of these art works and also features some of his sculpture work.  If you visit the site you will have the opportunity to read some of Miguel’s personal views of history, politics, and technology in the context of his own life’s work.
  He is definitely a colorful and opinionated individual.

So how has Miguel Ruiz Jimenez financed his expansive exposition gallery and the years of practice that it has taken for him to master the craft of making Golden Pottery? His talent has  been recognized by members of the Saudi royal family and other well-heeled Muslims, and he has received commissions to make one-of-a-kind pieces that now adorn palaces and banks from Marbella to the Arab Middle East (apparently a replica of the Alhambra has been built by a Saudi prince near Riyadh).

Prior to the expulsion of the Muslims and Jews (the Jews had 90 days to convert or leave the country) by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain in 1492, Spain thrived in the midst of an  Islamic empire which has been noted to have featured relatively peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews.

As we prepared to leave the gallery, we were surprised to find one of Miguel’s "golden pottery" plates featuring Hebrew characters in its center, and we figured out that it was a Passover Seder plate with elaborate 15th century designs.

This coming Pesach we will celebrate in San Francisco with a Seder plate from Granada, made by a master artisan whose inspiration has rescued a lost Islamic art from oblivion.  Google searches definitely work. 

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40 degrees centigrade is hot! (approximate conversion = celsius x 9/5 +32)

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