Entering Josep’s workshop is like going back in time. We can see the previous generations (his grandfather, his father) on the walls as dried clay. Other times… other ways of working that have been preserved, but not the means, because, luckily, some movements have been automated.
He does the clay himself; he makes a mix of refractory clay from Pinell de Brai and clay from Tortosa. Before, they took the clay directly from the river, but now “it doesn’t go down the river like before, and it contains a lot of dirt” according to what he tells us. He shows us the two materials that he has outside in two piles, and he tells us that, in order to make the clay that he uses, he takes half of each material, and then he puts them in a mixer which stirs them. The mixture is taken out through a tube, it is filtered, and it fills the pools. It takes him 9 hours to fill each pool, and another day to go over, which means stirring and filling again, because otherwise it would solidify, and it could not be used. From the two pools, he produces around 17 or 18000 kg that he must take himself to the workshop, little by little. Carrying weight up and down, “you end up clumsy” he tells us.
Back at his workshop, we visit first a room full of towers of different size ready to be fired. He works for wholesalers, and while we are with him, he prepares an order for a client related to gardening. The time it takes to the pieces to be dried depends on the weather and their size, “now it takes a week, and in winter it takes a month” he tells us. He only works with big pieces, the 7th generation of potters who work with big pieces. He has worked with clay since he was 14 years old, but his parents made him use the potter’s wheel when he was 6 or 7 years old while his sisters were in the pool.
He gets ready to turn. He puts on his apron, and he takes a piece which is already started to continue working on it. Big pieces are not made at one time, because the clay would not stand the weight and it would get flattened. His turn is bent because, as he works with big pieces, he cannot put them in front of him. The truth is that it is not a very comfortable position, but on the contrary… “the times I go to see my physiotherapist” he remarks, smiling.
He works… And it seems easy when you see him. Strong but delicate hands at the same time working the clay, making the piece bigger and finer. He says that, sometimes, it falls, and he must start again. He cannot leave it half done, once he starts working on a piece, he must finish it. This means that he must work every day until it is finished. Clay ignores the concept of holidays or working days.
And the saddest thing is that he does not have anyone to replace him. In his case, he does not have any apprentice, there is not anyone after him, he is the last member of his family. And apart from two other young workshops in the village, the remaining workshops in Miravet are in danger. It is a trade which is disappearing. A local tradition which finishes.