I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. How could I know? I could die right now, or maybe I’ll die tomorrow. When will it be? In the meantime, I’ll keep making bowls for as long as I can. And the day I can’t — well, I’ll bear my lot.Perico
Not long ago, a friend lent me his DVD of a film called Perico the Bowlmaker. Filmed in 1970 (and published in 1987) by Jerome Mintz, it provides a fascinating window into the life of an Andalusian craftsman living and working in the city of Casas Viejas in Franco’s Spain. Throughout the film, Perico reflects on his life, his family, tradition, and the bowls that are a constant for him amid many changes.
As seen in the preview above, the camera captured many of Perico’s techniques, taught to him by his father. He says his sons had no interest in learning the craft and he won’t teach outside the family because the students would then compete with him for business. And yet he doesn’t hold back in demonstrating his skill for the camera. He may not be intending to teach, and this is not meant to be an instructional video, but there is much to learn.
For example, the technique seen in the preview for hollowing the bowl employs a thin-bitted axe with a deep curve to the edge. This curvature allows Perico to come remarkably close to the final form of his round bowls as he works across the grain. He demonstrates incredible control of the depth of cut and precisely placed swings. The same axe is used for hewing the outer form.
He uses a couple different adzes. One can be seen in the preview clip. It has a flat, or very slightly curved, blade that is held to the handle with an iron strap something along the lines of this one:
Elsewhere in the film, we see Perico using an adze with a deeply curved head to patiently refine the inner surface of the bowl. And he gets down and dirty, literally using soil for storage of bowl blanks and for darkening the split surface before striking the circles with dividers.
The story of anarchy that brought Professor Jerome Mintz to Andalusia, the rediscovery of his prolific work, and the enduring impact his efforts have made in Casas Viejas is a remarkable tale in itself. Mintz ended up making six films, including the 45 minute gem that is Perico the Bowlmaker. The DVD is $45 (Change the license option to “home use” to see that price.) Or maybe your library has a copy. I ended up buying one myself, so if you’re ever in the neighborhood…