The High Price of Valencian Mud

My experience with ceramics began at my first job in high school, scraping baked mozzarella and burnt tomato sauce while washing dishes at our hometown pizzeria. Here in Valencia, one of Spain’s principal ceramic centers, I found out that much more than pots and pans can be made of clay.

Picasso Plate

Ceramic Plate by Pablo Picasso, National Ceramics Museum, Valencia

In Valencia, the National Ceramics Museum documents its storied history of tile, pottery, and porcelain production. Housed in an opulent 15th century palace, the museum’s important collection spans primitive prehistoric wares through contemporary works of art. The museum also includes a representative collection of traditional ceramics from nearby factory towns.

Manises Industry Tiles

Tile Pictorial of the Ceramic Factory Town of Manises

To visit one of these production hubs, we rode the Valencia Metro to the suburb of Manises. Known for its quality clay deposits, Manises was developed for ceramic production by the Moors in the early 14th century. Over the ensuing centuries, Manises produced some of the most elaborate and luxurious ceramic objects in Europe.

Manises Tourist Office

Tourist Information Office, Manises

Our first stop in Manises was the tourist office, which is stationed in a former ceramics factory. Appropriately, the building façade was plastered with deep blue tiles, a signature color of Manises pottery. Following the self-guided walking tour, we were pleased to find that Manises itself was like an outdoor ceramics museum.

Gemino Table

Factory of La Cerámica Valenciana, José Gimeno Martinez, Manises

The oldest local factory still in operation is the workshop of José Gimeno Martinez, one of Manises’ 20th century masters. With potter’s wheels spinning and kilns firing on the ground floor, we went upstairs to admire a large display of the artist’s creations and purchase a small representative piece in the reasonably priced gift shop.

Lladro Entrance

Entrance to Lladró Factory

Amidst the tiger nut fields on the northern edge of Valencia, we found another renowned Valencian ceramic center. Founded by the three resident Lladró brothers in 1953, Lladró porcelain has become an iconic Spanish brand now sold in upscale boutiques in 120 countries.

Lladro Locomotive

“The Grand Adventure”, Lladró

From Madison Avenue to Rodeo Drive, collectors pay big bucks for the high-quality figurines with characteristic soft pastel tones, smooth finishes, and detailed floral compositions. We registered for a free English language factory tour, and made the short Metro ride to the Lladró City of Porcelain.

Lladro Strings

“Summertime Symphony”, Lladró

Observing the skilled Lladró artists in their workspaces assemble the recognizable forms, we learned that each figurine is made of multiple parts that are “glued” together with liquid porcelain. One eminently experienced artist works solely on anatomically reduced flowers of various sizes and species.

Lladro Venice

“Carnival in Venice”, Lladró’s largest and most expensive

As in all factory tours, the last stop is the gift shop. Here, at Lladró there was nothing we could afford. In the high porcelain room, reserved for masterpieces of extraordinary artistic and technical quality, Lladró’s largest creation to date, “Carnival in Venice” was listed at a mere €186,000 (US$211,000)!

Horchata

Horchata and Fartons

Glazed by Lladró sticker shock, we exited the factory for a refreshing horchata and an order of fartons. Dipping the spongy confectionary into the ice-cold tiger nut milk, we reflected on the remarkable transformation of soft humble clay into so many artistic ceramic creations, as well as utilitarian items that are both durable and dishwasher-safe.

 

Feature Image: “Flamenco Dancers” by Lladró

17 thoughts on “The High Price of Valencian Mud

  1. Joe, expensive and absolutely exquisite. Unfortunately not for my pocket either, I could not afford it even if I sold the motorhome hahaha. I would have loved to visit the Museum of Ceramics in Valencia and this factory, but grateful that you have so now I can tour it vicariously. Love your photos, particularly the “Venice Carnival ” …stunning work 😄

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    • Thank you, Gilda. Es and I considered emptying our retirement account for a downpayment on “Carnival in Venice”. It was tempting, but then we realized we would have to carry it on the Metro back to our rental apartment. The Ceramics Museum in Valencia was excellent, but the pottery was really overshadowed by the lavish decorations and furniture of the palace. Manises was especially interesting and more to our taste and budget. Continued happy and safe travels to you and Brian!

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  2. The more I read your blog, the more I realize just how much I have to learn about the world. I never realized that ceramics and pottery was so big in Spain! Those are beautiful pieces, and some of them are true works of art. Thanks for sharing this….I learned something again!

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    • I am so pleased that you enjoyed the post, Ann. I like to write about things that interest me, and I am very happy that you find them interesting too. So many cultures throughout history have dug clay out of the ground, and then molded, dried, decorated, and heated it into some incredible objects of utility and art. The artistic Lladró brothers took their clay to a whole new level.

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    • Thanks for taking the tour, WD! Even though I have a couple of very small and relatively inexpensive pieces of Lladró at home, I too have much simpler taste in ceramics. To visit the Lladró factory and watch the artists renewed my appreciation for the work and skill involved in the production process. Don’t forget to check-out the gift shop on your way out.

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  3. I know what you mean, Christi. I had to keep my hands in my pockets during the tour and gift shop visit. I felt like a bona fide bull (toro) in a china shop, terrified of touching a figurine and having its arm fall off. Horchata made from tiger nuts originated here in Valencia. It was brought to the New World by thirsty conquistadors, who now sell it at state fairs all over the the American Southwest. I’m sure it was a refreshing treat on those hot Arizona summer days of your youth.

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  4. That’s some elaborate porcelain – no wonder it’s so pricy. I didn’t realize Spain did decorative tile too, I tend to think Portugal when I see that. And I haven’t heard of horchata from tiger nuts. (Actually I haven’t heard of tiger nuts.) I always thought it was made from rice, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. Maybe that’s just Mexican style.

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    • Hey Dave, I think the entire Iberian Peninsula might be covered in decorative tile. I especially like the blue and white azulejo tiles in southern Spain and Portugal. I didn’t know about tiger nuts either. After trying a handful recently, I heard that they are considered some kind of super food. As you can imagine, the Valencian horchata has a distinctively nutty taste compared to the sweeter and milkier Mexican version. It is probably healthier too.

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  5. Man, I’d be afraid to even enter a place like that for fear I’d knock something over. But those pieces really are beautiful; who am I to judge if they’re not worth what they’re asking? Still, though, whew! And okay, no one is mentioning this, so leave it to the immature and imbecilic blogger to make the following comment: you’re eating a pastry called a Farton. That’s funny! 🙂 – Marty

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    • Thanks for mentioning it, Marty! I had trouble ordering my farton without laughing out loud. The waitress probably thought I was some sort of idiot. When it arrived at the table, I cracked a joke, but my wife said it stunk. I’m glad you liked the porcelain pictures. I actually asked the tour guide if the pieces were breakable. She said only if you throw them on the floor. Either she doesn’t know how clumsy I am or something was lost in translation. – Joe

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    • I can relate, Michaela! If you broke her Lladró, you might still be grounded. Haha. My grandmother had a couple pieces too. I can still hear her yelling, “Joey, no playing ball in the house!” Fortunately, I didn’t break anything at the Lladró factory. I did bring along some super glue; however, just in case.

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  6. Joe, I’m not a particularly creative type, but years ago I tried my hand at ceramics. And while my stuff was basic and not very good, it instilled in me a healthy respect for artisans who do it well. Obviously, every piece in this post fits into that category. Valencia is on our list, and this post will be a big help when we visit. Thanks. ~James

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    • I too marvel at the talents of these skilled artists, James. It also takes a lot of experience and dedication to throw and paint pottery in a commercial operation like Lladró. In the six months we spent in Spain this past year, Valencia and the Basque Country were our two favorites. I hope you have the chance to visit in the not-too-distant future. ~ Joe

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