Saturday, 18 February 2017

Onda's must see attraction: The Tile Museum

Tiles by Francisco Dasi 
I would highly recommend a visit to the Tile Museum (Museo del Azulejo / Museu del Taulell) in Onda for anyone who has a passing interest or more in history, art or local culture. There are over 20,000 tiles in the collection - although not all are on show at once! - which gives a fascinating illustration of technological advances and changes fashions in this region since Roman times. We learned that the combination of the right type of earth for firing, dense forests to provide firewood and the proximity of the ocean trade routes meant that this area, and Onda in particular, was perfectly suited for tile manufacture. Therefore this has been one of the main industries here for over two millennia. The Tile Museum does have examples of very early Roman and Visigoth tiles on display.

The Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) of Onda has recognised this history and its importance to tourism by building a fantastic new museum-conservation facility not far from the centre of Onda. Amazingly it is absolutely free to enter and we also received a nicely printed guide. Items in the gift shop are very reasonably priced too! Opened in 2004 I think, the museum not only displays important historic tiles and works by significant local and national artists, but also engages in conservation and restoration work, as well as holding workshops and events.

I loved walking through the aisles of tiles in the large permanent exhibition space. They are all arranged by age so we could easily see the evolution from pink sandstone coloured Roman tiles to brightly decorated 1970s to present day examples. We both loved the musicians tile mural pictured above, but I completely forgot to take a note of the artist's name. Please comment if you know!

Modernist tiles from the early 20th century 
A second permanent exhibition area is dedicated to tile manufacture. It includes various vintage machines and tools as well as a wonderful collection of black and white photographs of former tile factory workers. A nice touch is that as many as possible of these workers have actually been identified and their names are shown alongside each picture. I was fascinated to learn how tiles are both made and decorated. I was already aware that unique tile pictures would be artist-painted by hand, but had never given much thought to early methods of mass production. It turned out that the firing of blank tiles was a man's job, whereas women were employed as stencil painters. Several of the old photos shows rooms seating a couple of dozen women, each with a high stack of tiles, a paper stencil and a wide brush to paint a single colour. The photo below hows a series of tiles illustrating how these stencilled shapes build up to the finished design.

Finally we took a short walk outside, down the side of the museum building, to where a number of antique tiled public benches are on display. Designs ranged from a simple maroon and white check pattern to ornate pictures and I especially liked this yellow and green example with its repeating owl motif.

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