Sunday, September 21, 2014

Objects 3. Cerámicas San Isidro Moorish plates

In 1963-64 (8th grade for me) my mother spent the year teaching teachers of English in Madrid, with me in tow. As I've remarked before, one of the things I most enjoyed about that year abroad was the exoticism of the shopping opportunities. In those days, foreign wares were not so readily available in the United States, and, at the age of 13, I found the European traditional and contemporary objects to be wonderfully new and appealing.
In Spain the specialties were strongly regional; a well-known example is Toledo steel, made into jewelry and knives for the consumption of tourists and serious collectors alike. Spain is also known for its regional ceramics and pottery styles, sometimes realized as decorative objects, famously lovely tiles, or colorful usable objects such as table ware.
Another of my most valued memories from that year is our visits to the many historic meccas around the country, among the most enjoyable to the town of Granada, site of The Alhambra. Spain was once a colony of the Muslim world; the North African Arabs and Berbers who occupied much of the Iberian peninsula are referred to as Moors. Moorish culture dominated the Andalusian region from 711 until 1492, and left its aesthetic and cultural marks in many ways. Granada's Alhambra, the massive and stunningly beautiful fortress-palace left by the Moors, is an overwhelming do-not miss should you find yourself in Spain. Although this photo of my mother taken there (doubtless by me, already in those days a camera-toter) is badly faded it is possible still to make out the incredible lively and romantic architecture and decorative style. Many of the fine details are in fact the written word from the Koran. It's truly extraordinary
Modern takes on this decorative and symbolic tradition are used in the locally produced ceramic wares, known as the "Andalusian" style. On that visit we bought a set of eight plates of varying designs made by Granada's Cerámicas San Isidro that take great advantage of the local symbology. Granada means pomegranate, and the fruit's image is everywhere, as in the middle of this San Isidro plate.What is most interesting about this design (and the starred plate above) is that the star is six-sided, like the Jewish Star of David. The Muslim star is five-sided. Intentional or not, I'll never know.  
It's hard to photograph pleasingly embossed texture of these 8.5-inch plates, but the designs come through well.
And here are the plates in a celebratory bon voyage slumber party for my classmates heading out for a school-sponsored trek to England, June, 1967.
I don't use them to serve food anymore -- who knows how much lead is in the glaze? But they're quite nice arrayed in a small group on my living room wall, and allow me to reminisce about that wonderful long-ago year in Spain.

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