After the Hostal Venecia, on the Seville/Portugal road, closed its doors to its last guests, I had to look for a house to rent for my visits to Galaroza, in the Sierra de Huelva. I took a house in Calle San Sebastián, in the upper part of the town, and on my adopted street there were neighbours further up, who made and repaired the seats of Sillas Sevillanas, the typical Sevillian chairs that are not only popular in the province of Seville but also here in Huelva. In the Picadero where my horse, Chaparro, is stabled, they have both red and green personalised tables and chairs, so I was familiar with them but hadn’t seen how the seat part was made till I stayed in that street. I would see the van from the carpenter’s workshop come to deliver chairs and the anea, which was tied to the roof of the vehicle. Anea or nea, as it’s known locally, is a kind of bulrush/reedmace (Typha) that grows on the banks of the Guadalquivir River.
Over the last year or so a boy called Ale has been coming to help with out with the horses at Picadero La Suerte. He loves horses and has a grey Andalusian filly, Lluvia (Rain), of whom he is very proud and plans to bring on for riding. I took some photos of Ale and his little mare to make a drawing of him. After his mum had seen the photos she stopped me on the outskirts of the village to say how nice they were. I finally made the connection that my old neighbours, the women who made the seats of the chairs, were Ale’s mum, aunt and granny. (Seems I am still joining the dots even after ten years).
In January I asked Ale if he thought it would be alright to visit the women of his family the next time they were weaving seats. It was, so I popped up to see them one sunny but cold afternoon. The room they work in has large double doors which open out onto the Calle San Sebastián and there was a small electric heater which I don’t think did much to combat the bitter, cold air.
Rosario, Ale’s granny, is retired from making the seats but can’t resist giving a hand. She started making the seats when she was only 9 years of age. Often after a day’s work doing something else, Rosario would come home and start weaving the seats and keep working on them into the night.
It’s now Rosario’s daughters who carry on this work; Fali, Ale’s mum and her sister Mari Loli. They started helping out when they were 13 or 14 years old. It was fascinating to finally get a proper chance to watch them more closely as they worked. They explained that now that the carpenter’s workshop that made the chairs has closed down, they tend to just do repairs for people. The chairs they were working on while I was there were from a client in Valverde del Camino.The seats can take anything from 1- 4 hours to make. The anea material, a kind of papyrus, comes from Coria del Rio in Seville province and costs about 20 euros a bunch.
Most houses in Galaroza have the ubiquitous sillas de anea. As they say, the chairs are “de toda la vida”. Sometimes these are painted and decorated with flowers and pastoral scenes but many are just plain solid colours or simply left unpainted. The chairs come in different sizes, from babies’ high chairs, childrens’ seats, low armless chairs or grander highly decorated and carved chairs. These are the seats of the country towns and villages of Andalusia, the furniture of the casetas of Seville’s April Fair and the chairs favoured by flamenco singers and guitarists.
The flat I rent now when I’m Galaroza is situated in the Avenida de los Carpinteros. Even in the ten years I’ve been coming to this town I have seen a marked decline in the number of carpenters working in this special street. When I first came walking here many years ago with my husband, Paul, we were reminded of the streets of country towns in Guatemala; a long row of practical, low, rustic buildings made from stone and adobe, the walls limewashed, with clay tiled roofs and great chestnut wooden doors.
Although Galaroza is a picturesque serrano town, it has always depended on agriculture and the manufacturing of furniture. That’s changing. Now as Ikea has opened it’s doors in Seville, the doors of the carpenters’ workshops have closed and the surrounding huertas or kitchen gardens tend to be looked after by the older people of the village while more and more people shop at Mercadona and Lidl in Aracena.
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