Our new series of models are a reflection of the current dimensions of the abbey after the expansion of the hotel and spa. Behind them lie a formidable work of craftsmanship whose origin, coincidentally, is also related to a monastery.
In addition to their beauty and decorative value, the models allow us to show at a glance what the abbey is like, the history of the building, the distribution of the spaces and their adaptation to the uses of the hotel. In particular, the one at The Craft club, our Madrid headquarters, is perfect to explain Abadía Retuerta in the distance.
From monastery to monastery
An enormous amount of craftsmanship is required to build these models. Ours have been made by Ornamentos Arquitéctónicos, a company that is part of the Santa María la Real Foundation. It is significant that the origins of this foundation can be traced to the Association of Friends of the Monastery —created in 1976 to restore the old Santa María La Real abbey, erected in Aguilar de Campoo (Palencia) between the 12th and 13th centuries by the same pre-monstratensian order that built Retuerta.
The joint efforts of a large number of artisans and specialists during the restoration resulted in the creation of different workshops to preserve and revive traditional crafts. The model-making workshop was transformed into a company in 1992 focused on designing, manufacturing and marketing scale replicas of the main Romanesque churches in the province. The foundation’s commitment to Romanesque architecture is very strong and, in fact, the monastery houses a research centre and a museum focused on this period.
Working to scale
César Valle, historian and coordinator of the Romanesque Museum (ROM) and Architectural Ornaments, says that the workshop’s current services consist mainly of “a catalogue of pieces for sale to the general public and private commissions”. If on your last tourist visit you bought a miniature of the Sagrada Familia or the Cathedral of Burgos, it is highly likely that it was made here.
Although orders for large scale models are accepted, the most common are pieces ranging from five to 40 centimetres. The dimensions are always set to scale and the models are made by three people who work all year round at the workshop.
How models are made
Workshop director Rosa Martin, 58, has been in this trade since she was in her twenties. Her day-to-day life is surrounded by brushes, plaster, plasticine and a lot of imagination. The initial model serves as the base for the mould with which the rest of the replicas will be made. It is the most laborious piece and the one that gives more headaches -it can take up to two months of work.
“We tend to use alabastrine to reproduce the buildings,” Rosa explains. “Similar to plaster, it can be molded easily, but it is also hard enough for the mold to capture every detail.” She still remembers the efforts to reproduce the famous Casa Batlló back in the days when they used modeling clay: “Gaudí is always difficult because of the curves and with clay it was even more complicated”.
The size of the model (“the bigger, the more complicated the handling”) and specially the richness of the details are also a challenge. To overcome these difficulties, the workshop in Aguilar de Campoo has developed a whole series of techniques and gadgets that are of great help like scalpels, watchmakers’ screwdrivers and old dentist tools (“they are made of high quality surgical steel”).
Pieces are built separately and later assembled. For the basic model, in addition to alabastrine, they employ plasticine, modeling plastics and anything that can be useful, including lollipop sticks to make the columns.
Like the mould, the replicas that are sent to the clients are also made with alabastrine. But before they are dispatched, the piece is painted by hand and all the finishing touches are applied. The work is completely manual. There is just one machine in sight and it is employed to remove the air bubbles when making the mould.
Rosa has a hard time choosing a favourite model. The same things happens to winemakers with their wines: “Each one has its own history,” she says. And the list is very long: monasteries such as Retuerta, Silos or Ripoll; and even Mecca and the Esplanade of the Mosques.
A month to reproduce the abbey in detail
The Abadía Retuerta model that you see in the photos is the second replica that we have commissioned from the Architectural Ornaments workshop. Measuring 26 x 35 cm, it is an up-to-date version of the first one, and includes the hotel and spa, as well as the new orchard.
Rosa spent just a month working on it —she was able to use part of the first mould and only had to rebuild the new part. You can see how it is taking shape in the photos accompanying this piece. We are particularly proud of the craftsmanship behind it.