One of the highlights of the Congreso for me was not directly related to belenes. It was our trip to visit the talleres (workshops or studios) of the company Talleres ArteMartínez in the town of Horche, where we ate lunch and dinner during the Congreso.
The company owes its origins to work done by its founder, Juan Francisco Martínez, it 1942 to rebuild an altarpiece for a local church destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Guadalajara suffered particularly heavy damage, and and there was a desperate need to rebuild the many churches that had been destroyed in bombardments or simply burned and destroyed by the Communist forces. It is family run, and the grandchildren of the founder are now the owners and among the company’s artists.
The founder’s first project was a reredos (retablo in Spanish) for a church in Horche. He created it out of plaster, an economical way of creating statuary and church fixtures that has been in use for centuries. From this, he went on to other projects, and eventually his son, Jose Antonio, a gifted artist, took over the business.
The company shifted to working in wood as well as plaster, and in 1971shifted entirely to wood. The figures are made the traditional way, carved and then finished with a layer of gesso and painted and gold-leafed.
The Artemartínez workshop is a multi-sensory experience, because the first thing that strikes you when you enter is the spicy smell of freshly carved wood, mixed with the sweet smell of the oils and paints used in finishing and polychroming the works.
Arte Martínez makes everything, from fairly modest, home-sized statues to entire altarpieces and also does commissions. In addition, it produces decorative works for home furnishing, such as mirror frames and lamps. Naturally, they also make Nativity figures, but they are groupings, such as the large group that you saw in the preceding post, or small figures for what might be described as a "table top Misterio." However, they are very beautiful and while you wouldn't build a scene with them, they would certainly be wonderful for your church - or even your table top.
The building is perched on the very edge of the hill where Horche is located and overlooks the wide valley. We came out onto the little stretch of road in front of the building – just prior to making a rapid dash to the bus that was to take us back to Guadalajara – and I looked back and felt really privileged to have been able to see a workshop where modern artists are still doing the lavish work of the great tradition of Spanish religious statuary. To see more, go to their website.