From Madrid we flew to Bilbao and caught a bus through the mountains to Oña where there is a monastery nearly 1000 years old.
The production of rosin was the base of the local economy for many generations and with its mountains behind it, the town marked a northern frontier beyond which the Moors did not advance.
Dorien Jongsma and her 7 year old son Edo met us at the bus and drove us to La Aldea del Portillo de Busto where they live at El Hacedor – Imagenes y Palabras. Dorien and her late husband Jorge Baldassera moved here around the same time that we moved to Wells and it was remarkable to discover some of the synchronicities in our lives. The village is smaller than Wells, but of course, much, much older; most of the neighbours are weekenders or summer people.
Dorien grew up in Holland; Jorge in Argentina. They bought some old buildings that were falling down in this tiny village and embarked on a lengthy renovation process. I thought working with old Douglas Fir was hard work – they were dealing with stone!
At a certain point they formed a collaborative workshop for visiting artists who have come to produce art, help with the renovations and work in the gardens – similar to the WOOFer network, except it’s a cultural experience. Any of our Spanish-speaking friends would enjoy an experience here! There’s lots to do; magical to hear cuckoos from early morning on.
One of their primary projects has been a series of scarecrow contests, but instead of calling them espantapajaros, they call them “encantapajaros” which loosely translated means enchanted scarecrows. We thought “darecrows” might make an interesting equivalent in English 😉
El Hacedor now has a beautiful gallery for exhibitions plus a workshop with an etching press, welding equipment, etc. There are sculptures all over the village, which transforms the place & helps fulfil their mandate of introducing people to art. What I most appreciated was the incredible atmosphere of creativity which seemed to come from being outside of the official art world, and the inclusion of so many intergenerational activities. No artspeak here!
Dorien exudes warmth and energy, and it’s clear that Jorge was an amazing dynamo. Many of his kinetic sculptures are on display: very Dadaistic, humourous and political. I kept thinking of the most benign scenes in the film “Jonah who will be 25 in the year 2000.”
While we were there, Claire demonstrated how to make collographs with cardboard and scrounged materials in the etching press; some of her encantapajaro images turned out beautifully.
I printed a big batch of multicolour T-shirts with a pre-existing encantapajaro design that Dorien can sell for fundraising, and gave her a compressed silkscreen refresher course in the process.
One day we went to visit Dorien’s friends Rosario & José who work incredibly hard raising goats and making a wonderful organic cheese; they just got their certification. Our bags got a bit heavier.
We felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time with Dorien and Edo at their place, and really appreciated their hospitality.