Knowledge in Their Hands

A journey around traditional Galician crafts, seen through the workshops of the Camino.

By Regional Government of Galicia

Elaboration of a piece of Bonxe ceramics (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Knowledge handed down from generation to generation lies in the hands of artisans. This knowledge comes from a time that predates digitization and industrialization, when every product was unique.

Sancosmeiro, handmade hat (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

This is still the case when it comes to handcrafted products: unique pieces made with centuries-old knowledge. Some of these items are made using traditional techniques, while others are made using updated methods, finishes, or patterns that have been adapted to new needs and uses.

Artisan products of the brand Artesanía de Galicia (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Handcrafted products made by over 700 studios, each producing different craft items, are sold under the Artesanía de Galicia (Crafts of Galicia) trademark. Many of them have close ties with the Camino, either because they provided a service to pilgrims in days gone by, or because their workshops are located in places traditionally associated with this pilgrimage.

Tenda Fina, elaboration of traditional bread figures (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Our next journey is a tour of 10 of these traditional crafts, and is just a small sample of this inherited wisdom.

Shoe making by Laia Zapateiros (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Leather on the French Way (Camino Francés)

Laia Zapateiros (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Leather played an important part in pilgrims' clothing, in items such as leather pouches and footwear. Xosé Ramón Laia makes handmade boots, ankle boots, and shoes. He uses additive-free cow leather, sheepskin linings, and natural soles. Each pair is unique, and can be purchased by pilgrims from his studio-store in the heart of Melide.

Roe Deer Crafts (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

When it comes to kitting out their horses, pilgrims on horseback have an essential need for leather. Arzúa, a place with close ties to the Camino, has two traditional saddlery and harness makers' workshops: Hermanos Gómez and Corzo Artesanía, which have been adorning the equine world for generations.

Craftsman working in the forge (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Foundries and forges on the Original Way (Camino Primitivo)

Celso Ferreiro's pieces (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

There is a longstanding tradition of knife making in towns in both Galicia and Asturias. One of these towns is A Fonsagrada, on the Primitive Way.

Celso ferreiro (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

The town is home to Celso Ferreiro's workshop, and his business of the same name. His forge produces kitchen utensils that are both functional and attractive, with wooden handles and steel blades. His minimalist style draws heavily on the local knife making tradition.

Traditional Galician costume of Traxandaina Traxe Traditional (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Traditional dress on the Camino Primitivo

Traditional Galician costume of Traxandaina Traxe Traditional (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Galician traditional dress has a wide variety of styles and uses. It was mainly worn in rural areas until well into the 20th century. Several dressmakers still produce this type of clothing, which is now mainly worn by folk music groups. Traxandaina is a dressmakers' studio in Lugo, and is engaged in research into the province's traditional dress.

Traxandaina Traxe Traditional (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

In their studio, Teresa Astorgano and Antón Sanjurjo weave, embroider, and sew … all by hand. They produce unique garments that are faithful reproductions of the costumes that were worn in local villages on feast days. One of their garments, a cape given the name Tesouro Aldeán, won them the Premio Artesanía de Galicia (Galician Crafts Award) in 2020.

Bobbin lace (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Bobbin lace on the Finisterre-Muxía Way (Camino a Fisterra y Muxía)

Bobbin lace (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Bobbin lace is lace worked on a pillow, with the threads twisted around bobbins. One of Europe's main centers for bobbin lace production is Galicia's Costa da Morte (Death Coast), the final destination on the Finisterre-Muxía Way. Bobbin lace has been made here since the 15th century. The golden age of lace making was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when it was exported to the Americas on a large scale.

Bobbin lace (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Galician lace is still produced today by hundreds of lace makers, known as palilleiras. They apply their work to a variety of different items, such as cloths, sheets, tablecloths, clothing, and wedding dresses. Places like Camariñas and Muxía are filled with the sound of wooden bobbins tapping against one another, and the chatter of the palilleiras, their hands working at a furious speed.

Marina Álvarez, from the Atalaia Redeiras Association (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Netmakers on the Costal Portuguese Way (Camino Portugués de la Costa)

Rederas of the Association of Redeiras Atalaia (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Threads are not just used for dresses and lace, but also for fishing nets. The art of netmaking has been largely invisible over the years, although in recent times it has gained more prominence. Hundreds of women, mainly from fishing towns and villages, work on making and repairing nets. The Atalaia association was set up by women netmakers from A Guarda.

Mª Concepción Rodríguez V., from the Atalaia Redeiras Association (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

While other trades have been replaced by industrial or mechanized processes, the work of these netmakers is still as necessary as ever. They make the nets that fishing boats use for different fishing methods: longline fishing, angling, creels for catching crustaceans and octopus, gillnets, and large fishing gear used by purse seiners and trawlers.

Catoira Shipyards - Heirs of Manuel Collazo Dieste (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Boat building on the Sea Route of Arousa (Ruta del Mar de Arousa)

Ship under construction at Astilleros Catoira - Herederos de Manuel Collazo Dieste (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Another trade closely linked to the sea is boat building. The Arousa Estuary is home to several boat builders, making Galicia one of the last regions in Europe to retain the knowledge of this trade, with its close ties to the region and its people.

Garrido Shipyards (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Wood is now a secondary material in boat building. These boat builders mainly build vessels for aquaculture and purse seine fishing, as well as pleasure craft and historic replicas. It is important that the legacy of the techniques they use is preserved, in this era dominated by steel and polyester.

Bell of Campanas Ocampo (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Bellfounding on the Camino Portugués

Ocampo Bell Workshop (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

What does a bell sound like when it has been made recently, using a 500-year-old technique? The Ocampo family, keepers of another historical legacy, have the answer. Generations of this family have been making bells since the 15th century. Their bell foundry in Caldas de Reis is the only one in Spain that still makes bells using completely traditional methods.

Ocampo Bell Workshop (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

It is a fascinating process: first, they use a mold made of mud bricks and covered in ash, followed by another mold made of mud and wax-coated oakum, and then a third made of mud, oakum, and wire. The bronze is applied in the casting pit, after which it is left for a few days below ground level until it has cooled completely. The tempering of the metal, its durability, and its sound are reliant on the patience and precision involved in the manufacturing process.

Sanín Traditional Percussion (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Traditional musical instruments on the Camino Francés

Tambourines of Sanín Traditional Percussion (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Finding the right pitch is an essential part of the work of an instrument maker. Arxemil in Sarria, and Sanín in A Lavacolla, are two such soundsmiths located along the French Way. José Sanín has earned a reputation as a leading maker of traditional percussion instruments. His studio produces hundreds of tambourines every month, all with innovative designs. His other interests have led him to diversify into making jewelry and accessories too.

Arxemil Luthier (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Arxemil is Germán Arias' studio, specializing in stringed instruments and instruments for Baroque and medieval music. This includes the fascinating hurdy-gurdy, which is the legacy of minstrels and troubadours. The original hurdy-gurdy was the organistrum, a 12th-century musical instrument that is depicted on the Portico of Glory, on the Camino.

Pantalla, traditional mask of the Xinzo de Limia carnival, by Arte Arrebol (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Maskmaking on the Via de la Plata

Arte Arrebol (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

The Silver Way crosses several places in which Galicia's carnival, known as the Entroido, is a longstanding, lively event. Aurora and Santi of Arte Arrebol have been making pantallas for years. These are the masks traditionally worn at the carnival in Xinzo de Limia, and they make between 20 and 25 of them every year. The masks are mainly purchased by locals, who wear them on Domingo Corredoiro (the Sunday a week before the Entroido starts), although some are bought by collectors across the globe.

Pantalla, traditional mask of the Xinzo de Limia carnival, by Arte Arrebol (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Every mask is made using paper, flour, water, cardboard, wood, felt, and cloth, and each one takes around 60 hours to make. The process has not changed much over time, and the designs are faithful to those made in the past. Featuring celestial patterns on the spectacular hat, every last detail is carefully crafted. The result is a beautiful mask that can be worn at every carnival for decades to come.

Susi Gesto Ourive (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Precious metals in Santiago de Compostela

Ricardo Rivas working a piece of jet (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Jet is a material that has been closely linked to the city of Santiago de Compostela and the Camino for centuries. It was used in religious iconography, and many pilgrims used to wear a figure sculpted from this material as a memento of their pilgrimage. The importance of the professional guild for this trade in the city is reflected in the name of one of the squares surrounding the cathedral: Acibechería (from the Spanish word for the jet jewelers' guild).

Ricardo Rivas (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Ricardo Rivas' jewelry workshop is one of the few left in Santiago de Compostela to specialize in jet carving. He has been working with this unique material, with its characteristic, intense black color, for over 50 years. He was awarded the Galician Crafts Award in 2020 in recognition of his achievements.

Susi Gesto Ourive piece (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Another of the squares next to the Cathedral of Santiago is called Praterías, meaning silversmiths. The professional guild of silversmiths is also of enormous importance in the city's history, and Susi Gesto represents the city’s next generation of this craft. She combines silver with jet, copper, and other materials, moving away from Galicia's classical jewelry tradition to create unique pieces.

Firing a ceramic piece (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

And much more

Craftsman making a piece of basketry (2021)Original Source: Fundación Pública Artesanía de Galicia

Basket making, woodturning, stonemasonry, flower arranging, graphic arts, candle making, pyrotechnics, restoration, glass blowing, migajon-made decorations … the list goes on. These crafts are in the hands of local artisans, who are keeping alive an essential part of Galician heritage.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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