Near Barcelona there is a small group of artists called BenSu that still decorate tiles by hand using the Majolica Method. This technique came to Spain with the Moors and started in their community in Andalucia. Later it migrated north to Valencia, Aragon and Catalonia; and these areas became the major locations for its development. Today this is seen in the concentration of commercial tile manufacturers around Castellon, a short drive north of Valencia.
At BenSu, however, the whole process is still done by hand. In this atelier, tiles are decorated by paint brush, using many different colours onto a crude opaque glaze-base. When the design is finished, the base and glaze decoration are fired together.
BenSu not only reproduces many antique designs but also creates new ones to the specific requirements of customers. BenSu valuable store of knowledge is now publicly available via a free web Ceramic Dictionary. This is an encyclopedia that explains BenSu’s methods of working step-by-step. It has many photos and is translated into three languages.
The key players at BenSu are Natalia Galera, Technical Ceramist, Xavi Reñaga Comercial Manager, and Susan Mussi, Master Craftswoman. Together they have developed great expertise in the Majolica method. This involves decorating fired clay blanks, known as bisque. BenSu then coat the bisque blanks with an opaque glaze-base, decorate them and then fire the glazed tile at 980ºC.
Three different types of bisque are used; each in a range of sizes. Bisbal is a hand-made bisque from Empordà. This is used in 75 by 75, 100 by 100, 150 by 150, 200 by 200 and 140 by 280mm: all 10mm thick. Industrial is a factory-made bisque from Castellón. This is used in 70 by 70, 70 by 150, 150 by 150 and 200 by 200mm; all 65mm thick. Finally, Rustic is a Old Red Clay bisque from Teruel in Aragón. This hand-made bisque is used in 140 by 140, and 185 by 185mm; both 15mm thick.
If you want to know more about BenSu, the company’s website offers a range of downloadable literature including a General catalogue, plus 18 subject-specific catalogues on Still Life, Hunters, Occupations, Ceramics, Bread, Oil, Wine, Bakery, Cava, Don Quixote, Boats, Flowers & Herbs, Pilaster, Tiles, Catalan Tradition, St. George, Virgins and Saints, and Stations of the Cross.
A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, June 2017.