La Bisbal d'Empordà (Spain)
La Bisbal d’Empordà has a renowned artistic character and is known for its creative spirit. The city has traditionally welcomed and inspired ceramic artists, nurtured new currents and styles, and it now promotes novel trends for the modern age.
The small city of La Bisbal d’Empordà, with a population of 11,159 inhabitants, is widely known as the ceramics capital as it creates a wide variety of ceramic products. The city landscape is punctuated by the thin silhouettes of old industrial chimneys, boasts a commercial area linked to a variety of ceramic products that bring colour to the streets while its tourist attractions offer direct contact between tourists and artisans through guided visits and workshop sessions.
1. Craftsmanship in the city, region and surroundings:
La Bisbal is and has always been a city with a long ceramic-making tradition. In fact, many of La Bisbal’s residents have dedicated their work to the more artisan, artistic and creative aspects of the ceramic craft.
The city’s ceramics tradition dates back to the year 1502 and is intimately linked to the high quality varieties of clay found in the area. This tradition has remained steady over the centuries and has allowed La Bisbal to become an international point of reference for ceramics.
Today, the city’s products now bear the Ceràmica de La Bisbal brand, a distinction of origin and quality that customises, personalises and distinguishes the products made in La Bisbal.
La Bisbal is synonymous with ceramic making and the ceramic trade, creation and craftsmanship, and our close contact with the land, water and fire, all the while creating both utilitarian and more artistic ceramic pieces, as well as other products intended for both the construction and gardening sectors.
The ceramics of La Bisbal have been declared a Unique Trade by the Government of Catalonia, an initiative by the Commerce, Craft and Fashion Consortium created in order to identify and promote a series of traditional trades located in specific areas within Catalonia. These unique trades and products are closely connected to the people or the county they originally come from.
The city works tirelessly on implementing projects to spur innovation and improve the quality of the local craftsmanship. The local government spreads the word and raises awareness of the city’s activities, providing support to well-established ceramic artists and entrepreneurs alike in order to promote the transition from one generation to the next to ensure that the ceramic trade and tradition so closely identified with the city stays alive and vibrant.
Along with its neighbouring towns, La Bisbal d’Empordà is home to the largest number of artisans in Catalonia outside the metropolitan area of Barcelona. Apart from ceramic artists, the city boasts blacksmiths, jewellers, carpenters, stonemasons, sculptors, and others who grace the town with an artisan spirit that makes it so unique. More than 50 artisans accredited with the artisan license call La Bisbal home.
Beyond this fact, yet still in line with the city’s artistic and artisan spirit, the city's unique antiques and second-hand dealers have made La Bisbal an ideal destination for antiques and design enthusiasts, thanks in large part to the efforts of the local craftsman and the interest in antique furniture from the Empordà. Considering this specialisation in crafts and artistic heritage, we can rightfully say that La Bisbal is a city with a strong creative and traditional streak, nestled between the Costa Brava and Girona, with enviable surroundings that make a wide variety of resources available to its citizens.
The La Bisbal ceramics brand, a denomination of origin.
The Ceràmica de la Bisbal brand, a protected denomination of origin in the European Union, recognises, personalises and distinguishes the ceramic products created in La Bisbal. The brand was created in 2010 and was promoted by the City Government with the support of the Ceramic Artists Association of La Bisbal in order to highlight local products and set them apart from the competition.
Currently, a total of twenty members produce the high-quality products that La Bisbal is known for. These products feature the brand’s logo, which is also visible on the label and packaging. The brand graces both artistic as well as decorative ceramic products along with materials dedicated to pottery, tiles, brickyards, siding and flooring. A regulatory board made up of municipal and business representatives ensures that the brand is put to good use.
2. Craft training:
Many artisans from the area have learned the art of ceramics through family tradition. However, artisans are increasingly coming together to form studios to be able to progress in their trade and become accredited as artisans. In order to continue strengthening the city’s ceramic sector and promote the transition from one generation of ceramic artists to the next, the city started offering the specialised ceramics educational programme in 2016. This programme was created through an agreement between four institutions and public agencies: the City Government of La Bisbal d’Empordà, the Department of Education, the Ceramic Artists Association of La Bisbal and the Terracotta Museum. The programme requires students to carry out many hours of hands-on work in the ceramic workshops. The programme allows students to earn the distinction of specialist in plastic arts and pottery design, an important aspect for adding new professionals to the job market and creating new local businesses.
The Ceramics School of La Bisbal has a strong tradition as a private centre for creation, education and research in the art of ceramics, deeply rooted in the land. Since it was founded in 1972, the school has trained more than 15,000 students from all over in different specialities: ceramics, sculpture, drawing and painting, thereby making an important contribution to nurturing the ceramic-making process.
The Ceramic Artists Association of La Bisbal d’Empordà is also a pillar of this artisanal discipline. The association brings together suppliers and manufacturers, professional and amateur ceramic artists, and collectors and ceramic enthusiasts to a single meeting point. The association’s goals focus on promoting, coordinating and intensifying their joint efforts to study and improve the quality of the local ceramics and enhance their recognition. At present, a total of thirty workshops and ceramics factories are members of the
The Chamber of Commerce of La Bisbal d’Empordà brings together La Bisbal’s business associations to oversee the city’s commerce and organizes actions to encourage commercial development in the city. The Chamber connects a variety of commercial establishments that highlight the local trade within in the old town and also features many partners in the craft, ceramic and antique business, most located on carrer de l’Aigüeta.
Els Petits Plaers, or Life’s Little Pleasures, is the Chamber’s slogan to define the city as an outdoor commercial centre, known for its warm, personal treatment small family-run shops, far away from the big crowds, as well as also the quantity and variety of its products and services. The Chamber and city are closely linked, and they always forge synergies to promote commerce and local ceramics. Local events in La Bisbal highlight the ceramic trade’s importance to the city. La Bisbal d’Empordà currently organises two fairs focused on ceramics and other events where ceramics play a key role:
Crafts Fair: The craft and ceramic fair of La Bisbal d’Empordà.
The Craft Fair is a well-known fair and market in the Catalan craft sector promoted by the City Government of La Bisbal d’Empordà which is held every two years. The fair and market welcome representatives from industrial ceramic producers and companies linked to the city’s ceramics sector, in addition to artisans from other local trades.
Terracotta Biennial: The Biennial is a cultural, artistic, craft and ceramic exhibition event. La Bisbal d’Empordà, the ceramics capital, organises this event in order to exhibit the art of ceramics all over. The event aims to showcase the diversity of ceramic arts and highlight their most interesting aspects as a way to attract gallery owners, collectors and ceramic enthusiasts.
Tastaolletes: Tastaolletes offers up a culinary journey where ceramics blend together with local cuisine. During this month-long event, visitors can taste the food made by local bars and restaurants taking part in the campaign served on authentic ceramics made in La Bisbal.
Parant Taula: The Parant Taula collective exhibition features ceramic dishes made in La Bisbal. This initiative raises awareness and promotes the local ceramics that the Terracotta Museum showcases in its installations. The project relies on the participation of the City Government, the Terracotta Museum and the Ceramic Artists Association.
Carrer de l’Aigüeta is the street that hosts the vast majority of the ceramic craft and trade. Currently, the city is promoting the Aigüeta Market project to encourage more ceramic artisans to set up shop in spaces meant for boutiques and workshops.
3. Information about the local artisans:
Artisans who ply their trade in La Bisbal d’Empordà have received their training from a variety of artistic studios or have had the family tradition handed down over generations. The sector is committed to on-going training on innovation, different techniques and advancing the art of ceramics. They regularly collaborate across a variety of educational and innovative fields and contribute to expanding and improving the discipline.
To comply with labour regulations, artisans are registered as self-employed artists or under other tax structures, while employees are registered with Social Security, paying social security contributions and receiving a decent wage and working in dignified conditions. Increasingly, ceramics professionals are taking environmental impacts into account, applying measures to improve waste management and safe working conditions.
4. Opportunities for creative association and collaborative
In terms of education and culture, La Bisbal d’Empordà boasts its famed Terracotta Museum. The museum is a top-tier representation of the ceramics industry in La Bisbal, highlighting the city’s traditional values. The museum is undoubtedly La Bisbal’s best-known cultural landmark and one of the country’s most important ceramics museums, dedicated to preserving, conserving and raising awareness of the material and cultural heritage linked to ceramics. The museum is located in an old ceramics factory and preserves certain characteristic architectural elements that have been incorporated into the museum itself. The museum boasts a Fab-Lab workshop to welcome ceramicists who want to experiment and work in groups on new projects. As a result of the recent activity,
the space has recently added a 3D printer thanks to a European project.
Visit Empordanet was created to promote and spread the word about local crafts. The City Government of La Bisbal d’Empordà promoted a Strategic Plan together with other local governments with clear strategic lines dedicated to craftsmanship. Currently, this Strategic Plan features a joint tourist campaign between all the municipalities focused on craft activities and spreading the word about the region: artisans open the doors to their companies and offer guided visits to tourists who want to learn about their manufacturing processes, while workshops open for those who want to make their own ceramic piece following the tips provided by local artisans. Along with the neighbouring towns of Forallac, Cruïlles, Monells i Sant Sadurní de l’Heura, Corçà and Ullastret, La Bisbal d’Empordà created the Visit Empordanet brand to structure and jointly raise visibility of what the region has to offer for tourists. The region is naturally linked to crafts and tourism. In 2017 these five towns collectively received accreditation as a Creative Tourism Destination from the international Creative Tourism Network, becoming the third destination in Spain to earn this recognition.
La Bisbal's ceramics are known worldwide, in particular throughout the French market. The city is a member of the COOP’ART-POCTEFA programme (INTERREG V-A Programme between Spain, France and Andorra), jointly with other Catalan and Occitan members. This European regional cooperation programme aims to promote sustainable local craft development along the French-Spanish border. The programme has also created a cross-border tourist route.
In short, La Bisbal is and aims to continue to be not only the ceramic capital of Catalonia, but also to have a significant impact worldwide.