FOLK ART: The Spanish Tradition

By Oettinger, Marion, Jr.; Baker-White, Tracy | USA TODAY, March 1999 | Go to article overview

FOLK ART: The Spanish Tradition


Oettinger, Marion, Jr., Baker-White, Tracy, USA TODAY


"The unique blending of cultural traditions that have played a part in Spain's history--Celtic, Roman, Germanic, Moorish, French, and American--gives it an unusually rich variety of folk styles."

Spain's long tradition of producing folk art continues to play an important role in the life and culture of its people today. Frequently, these folkways are woven so tightly into the fabric of Spanish life that they are hardly recognizable to those who use them on a daily basis.

The unique blending of cultural traditions that have played a part in Spain's history--Celtic, Roman, Germanic, Moorish, French, and American--gives it an unusually rich variety of folk styles.

Folk art is everywhere. It is rural and urban, secular and religious. It is made by Spaniards for Spaniards and is integrated into virtually every aspect of daily life. For hundreds of years, folk art has been used to court lovers, amuse children, and honor ancestors. It is an expression of a people's fears and dreams. In modern times, folk art continues to be an important device for relating to the physical, social, and spiritual worlds.

Utilitarian. Most utilitarian folk art in Spain, as elsewhere in the world, is made to satisfy the daily practical needs of those who produce it. Examples include ceramic vessels to hold wine or olive oil, chairs for resting, wooden trunks to store prized textiles, and thousands of other items in the Spanish home. Few folk artists, however, are content to limit their craft to satisfying just the practical need. Most embellish their objects in special ways, using symbols, decorative patterns, and imagery. The particular usage of decorative motifs is the artist's "signature," though variations occur at the community level, as seen in regional textiles and ceramics.

Ceremonial folk art, which can be either religious or secular, is a highly visible and dramatic form of folk expression. It is used to communicate with the saints, maintain the continuity between the living and dead, celebrate the passage of the seasons, acknowledge life's stages, and strengthen ties with family, community, and nation. Most religious folk art from Spain and Latin America is related to the ceremonies and ritual celebrations of the Catholic church. Religious celebrations are tied to the annual ritual calendar as well as to each particular community's history and circumstance. Some events, like the pilgrimage to the shrine of Santiago at Compostela, draw millions of people from all over Spain and elsewhere. Other celebrations are more local or personal in nature.

Popular graphics. Examples of 18th-20th century graphics include book illustrations, praise poems or aleluyas, programs for theatrical skits to be done between acts of a larger drama (called entremeses), lyrics for songs, and "broadsides" or fliers meant to be passed out at fairs and festivals or pasted on building exteriors. …

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