Curso de Ventura & Hosta
For the past week, it was my pleasure to take a course in cap grosso making at the workshop of Ventura & Hosta. Tucked away in the small town of Navata in the Catalan region of Spain, David Ventura and Neus Hosta have been keeping the traditional art of papier mache sculptures thriving for the past 35 years. They specialize in cap grossos (“big heads”) and gigantes worn at festivals and also make smaller replicas, so I wanted to learn from these masters.
I came with a project in mind: riffing off of Jose Guadalupe Posada’s “Calavera Catrina,” a popular image seen during Dia de los Muertes in Mexico, and also Tibetan demon masks that are crowned by miniature skulls, I wanted to create a “Calavera Katarina.”
The course was an intensive week in their workshop, but within five days, I had my own cap grosso.
The first day — and in my case, day and a half — was devoted to creating a clay form that will be cast in plaster on the second day. The third day was spent pressing paper coated in a special paste into the molds. The technique requires three different layers of paper, starting with a finer paper and ending with thicker pieces.
After a night near a heater, the paper forms were dry enough to be removed from the molds, pasted and stapled together. It’s then left to dry some more, before the edges are cleaned up and any seams or imperfections are patched with pasted newsprint.
The fifth day was spent painting. Using basic acrylic paints, I gave my self-portrait a deathly-white skin and painted the face as a decorated skull. I crowned myself with five mini-skulls – three human ones, a rabbit and a cat skull wreathed in roses and leaves, elements that recur in my paintings and sculpture.
David and Neus are exceptionally generous teachers. They’ve been invited to teach this technique in universities in the US, as well as in Europe and at their studio. By offering these courses to artists and non-artists, Ventura & Hosta are not only keeping the tradition alive, but are also helping it spread to other regions and countries.
A couple of other notes about the summer workshops: Ventura & Hosta supplies all the materials and also offer a lovely place to stay within a short walk of the studio. While the days can be long (10am-2pm, break for lunch, then work again from 4-8pm or later), the course is set within a lively atelier, with visitors frequently popping in to see the workshop and examples of their work. David, Neus and their small team of artisans are there working on a wide-variety of pieces, from productions of miniatures to repairing gigates or creating commissioned pieces. Anyone who attends one of these courses is truly immersed in their world.