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Pitoya Camalich Massieu, Ceramics and Leatherwork

Pitoya Camalich Massieu is an expert ceramic craftswoman and also a specialist in leather goods, a native of Gran Canaria who has lived in Fuerteventura (Tarajalejo) for thirty years and is more than capable of infusing all her work with the strong bond she has with the islands that she lives and breathes. “I feel very, very Canarian: more Canarian than gofio! Potoya declares, and as you speak to her soon realise that her craftsmanship is a matter of identity and contemporary spirit.

Pitoya, a woman of intense creative vision, is always interested in advances in technology, has not hesitated to apply them to her craft, to achieve new textures that evoke primitive aboriginal art just as effectively as they connect with the present. Her work, after passing through the kiln, is sand, malpaís and lava transformed into something new, but something that she does not presume to call art. “Art is something else, although I do feel very creative”, she says, “always positive” She is the daughter of none other than Lola Massieu.

How did a Gran Canarian like you end up on Fuerteventura?

I’ve been here for almost 30 years. I came to give a one-month course at the People’s University in 1988. In 1989, I gave it for three months. And in the end I stayed for three years.  Then I carried on here: I’ve been involved in trade, in business, travelling to Morocco, Thailand and Barcelona.

And always working in the creamics workshop. And now I also produce leather goods. When I arrived the islad had 34,000 inhabitants, and now there are 120,000. Imagine the whole island with 34,000 inhabitants! What I really liked was the relationship between all the people from the North, the South and the Centre. You moved around and everyone knew each oother. Coming from Gran Canaria, it was very striking. Anyway Fuerteventura is still a paradise today.

How did you get started in ceramics?

I started with Justo Cubas  in San Mateo, in Gran Canaria: I spent a summer learning with him. And then I went on to study with Eduardo Andaluz. And I’ve also done some specific things with Ramón Fort at his school in Girona.

Beyond your training, how was your vocation for ceramics and craftsmanship awakened?

I was always aware of craftsmanship because of my family. In my house it was always a way of life, and with my mother as well:the fact is that it was part of our day to day experience. I always had the bug of course, when I discovered clay, it was a total delight to me. It’s very special, because there’s so much you can do with it.

You mention your family. You’re the daughter of a woman who always showed a lot of personality as an artist.

Yes, that’s true. And we have very few women artists in the Canary Islands. Fortunately, she was recognised during her lifetime, although it was very hard for her. Just imagine. At that time, it wasn’t easy for people to come to terms with the idea of a woman devoting herself to art. And she was a fighter when it came to craftsmanship: I remember seeing her protesting on behalf of Canarian women lacemakers, for example. She was a brave woman, with a lot of inner strength, and she reflected this in all her work. And then I have to say that I feel very Canarian: more Canarian than gofio. That’s also something that my mother passed on to me. I come from my roots, my land and my beaches.

 

"I COME FROM MY ROOTS, MY LAND AND MY BEACHES".

Black squared shape box by the ceramic artisan Pitoya

As far as your ceramic products are concerned, it seems to be very important to you to make practical pieces for everyday life.

Yes, I try to produce work that is sensitive, but also useful. I make ceramics: I can do what the material allows you to do. But if I make a little box, I want it to be useful for storing something, even if it’s very small. It’s not an obsession, but I do care about how to go from something that’s merely decorative to something that’s useful. I think that if you can manage that, it’s a plus. Because it’s not just about decorating the home, it’s about being able to use a box to store something in. It’s about giving it a use: just like a necklace, which adorns the neck like a garment and is something we’ve always done.

Is your work art?

It certainly can be art, but to me, talking about art is putting it on a higher echelon. I consider myself a craftswoman, a creative person with a vocation. Art is another level: it’s what you see behind the work. You can play at being an artist, but not everybody becomes one. Do you see what I mean?

You have not hesitated to incorporate new technology into your daily activity. For what purpose?

I like new technology, I like high temperatures, I make the pastes myself, and nowadays I can work with firings at 1,250 degrees centigrade. There’s such a range of possibilities, there are so many different techniques now, and you can do so many things. I think it’s an advantage to be able to use this progress. It enables you to revive elements like beads, which come from long, long ago, in a different way. For me it’s been very interesting to be able to make them in white paste and colour them. We’ve done this with necklaces, earrings and bracelets. If I limit myself to the traditional ways, I’ll have to stay at 900 degrees.

For me it’s been a real experience to discover higher firings; the higher the temperature, the less porous the piece is. It enables me to evoke sand, for example, which is a concept that we islanders carry deep inside us.

What is the intention behind connecting your pieces with aboriginal art and with the islands?

Yes, there is an intention behind the Canarian motifs. When I was a child I was told I couldn’t bathe, but I could go and look for conch shells. I still make that link today. The sands… I can talk about the difference between the colours of the various sands in Fuerteventura. The sand, the lava, the malpaís… they’ve been my medium all my life. That’s what I want to transmit. I like to , to texture them on the outside, and then I want them to look like a volcano, the sand, the sand with the lava. As a Canarian, what I want is to capture all that.

"I ALSO REVIVE THOSE ABORIGINAL MOTIFS. THEIR CERAMICS ARE SO BEAUTIFUL... AND THEY HAVE SHAPES THAT INSPIRE YOU. YOU CAN INCORPORATE THEM INTO A MODERN PIECE OF YOUR OWN. IT’S NOT A MATTER OF REPRODUCING WHAT THEY DID, BUT YOU CAN RECOVER IT. I DO HAVE THAT INFLUENCE".

How do you see the role of the association today?

I think that all being together gives us a great opportunity. Until now, to tell the truth, it’s been very difficult for artisans to get together to do things. The support we’re getting from the Island Council is also important, of course, because without money it’s more difficult to make progress. Perhaps the pandemic also helped, in the sense that we began to feel we had no prospects: everything was cancelled, fairs, markets… It was a really strange time. No matter how much you produce in the workshop, if you can’t market the product you’re in the same situation, or worse, because you can’t sell. I think going through that moment also helped me to move forward.

And after all this crisis, how are things going for you now?

Now I want to make new things, different kinds of boxes, and give all my time to the workshop. We’re also taking part in a new fair that’s being set up in Costa Calma. What we need now is for everything to get back to normal and the hotels to be occupied.

Do you work to order or put your products on sale directly?

Everything I make I put on sale. I don’t get many commissions, in any case, although I do accept them. What was the strangest one? I was once commissioned to make an urn, for a Basque gentleman. I was happy to do it, although I was shocked at first. And the people who commissioned it thanked me and liked it.

Do you want to find out more or get in touch with Pitoya?

Visit her ceramics shop

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