The Art Studio

The two large garages at the far left of Las Salinas looked very menacing with their large regulation ‘Spanish green’ metal doors. As we turned the rusty key in the very small padlock a feeling of trepidation welled up inside as I wondered what might sit behind them. The doors were on rusty runners and were filled with soil suggesting their use to be infrequent. We had to remove the debris before we could pull the doors open just enough for us to squeeze through and into the darkness we went. Trying to adjust our eyesight from the bright sunshine outside, the darkness made it impossible to see anything clearly. As our vision improved we could see a large tractor and various other olive farming implements.

When we became the owners of Las Salinas we discovered that one of the two large garages was used by Anqel, our local farmer, who kept his tractor and other olive picking equipment in there. Being a large space with a high ceiling I knew it would be perfect for me to paint in and hang my work and very early on in our plans this became the Art Studio.

The green doors of the large garage where Anqel kept his equipment
The green doors of the large garage where Anqel kept his equipment

Fina had told me at our first lunch that the body of a still-born baby had been buried under a stone in my art studio many years ago, before it was an art studio and she wondered if anything had ever happened in the room while I was painting. Fina told me the baby was one of the last sons of Nativity and José Maria, her great grand parents, and was still born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. The only way to get to the cemetery in Alcaudete was by donkey, carrying on his back the coffin of the dead baby for maybe 2 days over the mountains and through the roads. It had to remain a secret because if the policemen discovered this, then Nativity and José Maria would have to go to jail.

Well actually, something had happened.

It was a warm day in September and I was in the studio, on the floor, working on a large canvas of the landscape, lost in the creative process. The purple and the yellow of the sky called together as the sunset slowly exploded colour onto my canvas. I sat watching the paint meld together, wishing for the yellow and purple not to argue and become brown, when I was aware, and then out of the corner of my eye could see, a man in my studio. I removed my eyes from the colourful liaison in front of me and looked up, and there, dressed in black with a large hat was a man I did not know. He walked through my studio, looking me in the eye as he went, and within a few seconds had disappeared. My heart raced, although I was not scared, and time froze as I tried to organise my thoughts and distinguish what I had seen. Could this have been José Maria from 100 years or more ago?

I looked back at my canvas, the colours had not argued, but sat happily waiting for me to continue working with them. And as I continued to paint the words of Fina came back to me as she had previously told me a medium who had visited Las Salinas had divulged that the baby was not dead when it had been buried.

Sunset looking towards Dos Hermanas, the balcony of Don Rafael
Sunset looking towards Dos Hermanas, the balcony of Don Rafael

Debris down by San Juan River

Debris Study
Watercolour study of debris down by the San Juan River

Its always nice to walk down to the river and sketch what I see, things are always changing and after a big storm the debris had collected into a pile at the bend in the river taking on a form of its own.

Back at the studio I painted a rather large canvas using the same theme, it’s difficult to say which one I like the best ……………………………

Debris down by the San Juan River
Debris down by the San Juan River using oil and ink on canvas

An Early Legend

The year 1875, and so it began …

Night had fallen on the farm, Cortijo Las Salinas, and a stormy grey sky was overhead.
Candles were burning by the large stone fireplace and in a large clay pot cooked the hare that José Maria had hunted for dinner that afternoon.  Natividad poked the fire and stirred the pot constantly to avoid the meat with almond sauce sticking to the pan, whilst watching the glow of the light that cast strange threatening shadows around her.

A strong wind blew, strong enough to shake the candlelight. Everyone was restless, tired and looking forward to dinner together.  The nine children, Joseph, Maria, Pilar, Nicholas, Gumersinda, Peter, Nati, Victorian, and Doroteo, the smallest, just two years old, patiently waiting with a piece of bread in hand for the desired hare meat to be ready.  Once ready everyone was quick to devour the food greedily with the small slices of bread scraping the soup pot and licking fingers. Victorian looked strange sitting in his father’s lap while he used the utility knife to cut small pieces of meat for himself to eat.  When they had finished dinner the children went to bed reluctantly to the sound of their father’s stern voice, just like every night, after fighting amongst themselves for some trifle.

Natividad again in late pregnancy, was finally able to sit down and rest awhile in front of the fireplace with her husband but he was preoccupied, thinking of another child he would have to feed.  They heard a loud clap of thunder overhead and a little scared, went to the window where a hinge had come loose and the shutters flapped threateningly.  The raging wind struck the window that had swung open and a gust of wind and rain whipped in as José Maria held his breath with a surprised expression as suddenly a  piece of wall broke off  the left side of the chimney. They were surprised that the gap had been exposed and José Maria began to carefully remove the rock and earth to discover the gap in its entirety.  They discovered a decayed wood cupboard, and inside two small jars badly damaged by the passing of time. Some chunks of mud remained in their hands and fell before the eyes of Natividad, who looked stunned as she looked at her hands.  They completely forgot about the rain and thunder as they looked at their discovery.  This finding had left them stunned as the objects were filled with ancient scrolls littered with phrases that are repeated over and over again.
They read “In the year of the lights and crosses” but did not understand what it meant but they were farmers and had a strong inclination towards superstition.  It was as if José Maria had uncovered a secret that should remain sealed forever as since that night the dreams and premonitions started.  It was as if an evil darkness had been exposed through the gap in the fireplace.

It had been just a few days since that night when Natividad was alone in the farmhouse. José Maria had left with the donkey to go to Sabariego to buy some furniture.  It was a cold night as Natividad lit the fire and was pleasant to feel the crackle of the fire while preparing dinner.
Through the small window the full moon loomed.  An urgent knock on the door startled her thoughts.   She left the clay pot on the table, while a bad omen comes to mind as she walks towards the door, smoothing the wrinkles from her apron with one hand and with the other she picks up a candle that stood in that great soot-stained stone fireplace.

Not without caution, she removed the large piece of wood that barred the door, and opened the door without asking who it is.  In the dark doorway the candlelight projected strange shadows that surround a dense, dark mist. Waiting expectantly she looked back and forth, she spun around to hear her name called behind her but saw there was nobody there. She stayed holding the candle in hand anxious and frightened. The sigh of the wind whistled around again as she thought she heard her name once again. Struggling to control this primitive fear trapped in her throat, she went to the horse corral. The door creaked loudly as it opened and further increased her fear.

She went quietly to see the oxen, mules, goats, hens and the donkey sleeping … everything seemed to be in order, nothing seemed troubled and all was quiet.  In the hall were some plows and farming implements and on a pile of hay the dogs dozed and being startled by the intrusion looked up restlessly.

A sound barely audible behind Natividad left her almost breathless and she could feel an invisible hand touch her as cold as steel.  A shiver of dread almost paralyzed her. The candle suddenly went out and she could see the face of fear in that black darkness.
Hurriedly, she turned around and ran out of the pen, not turning her head as if the devil himself was in pursuit.  It seemed an endless distance to the safety of the farm, when there she hurriedly bolted the door, trembling with terror.  She cursed a thousand times to José Maria for not being there with her!

She went straight to the stove with the fire burning and to her astonishment saw that the clay pot in which she was making the food was not on the table where she had left it when she heard a knock on the door.  She looked to either side of the room and suddenly her eyes are riveted on the window sill that is to the right of the fireplace in disbelief.  She could see the gazpacho was now on the table, she jumped back and almost fell to the ground, just missing the black and white cat.  His tail bristled as he meowed piteously.
‘Nati, open the door to me!’ José Maria’s voice rang in her ears like a godsend.  Stumbling to open the door with trembling hands and crying like a baby she threw herself into his arms, and quickly tried to explain what had happened.   He told Nati, that she spent too much time alone and has many fantasies …!  She looked at him in disbelief, hurt … as he did not believe her.

But this was only the beginning of the many legends to be told from Cortijo Las Salinas.

Many thanks to Fina Larom for the original writing of this legend.  Translated from Spanish to English.

The Ruin Before the Renovation