The Esparto in Blanca

Located in the Segura valley, the white town is located in a privileged natural environment, surrounded by mountains and sheltered by the river Segura.

The Esparto

The esparto, that plant of the family of the grasses, with very long leaves in filament form and that serves, among other things, for the braided and later elaboration of carpets.

 

This plant has been used since time immemorial, taking a big boom in the nineteenth century, which came to export important figures of ropes, twine and craft production in general of handcrafted esparto that were requested from abroad. It is now when in the region appears very precociously a machine to slaughter esparto, already figuring as the first locality that introduced it. The example spread little by little in all the Valley of Ricote and will go proliferating factories of cords and yarns; fundamentally in Blanca, of carpets, developing a powerful and important manufacturing and manufacturing activity, worked by simple and humble people. It was, therefore, the beginning of a domiciliary and domestic industry that will evolve towards the factory, without that the first facet disappears.

 

Due to problems of shortage in the British paper industries in the second half of the 19th century due to the Succession conflict, the era of greater commercial expansion of this raw fiber begins. The economic boom and the expansive market would produce deterioration to the plant that, once again, would reduce production due to the predatory form of its expansion and as a result the rise in prices, which brought with it the deviation of the purchase of esparto by the British to other places.

 

Economic cycles of recession or boom will live esparto, conditioned by war phenomena on many occasions and in the twentieth century. It would be during the World War when again belligerent countries would look for Spanish esparto for these circumstances. Murcia from then on will become the first producing province. In Blanca, several rope and rope factories andthe so called “espartorerías” businesses were born around the esparto, and export was not significant here.

 

After the international conflict, the demand for foreign esparto was reduced, heading towards colonial markets in search of exotic plants, even the international merchants themselves deviated towards there in search of better prices, and only with protectionist measures will they sustain the production levels at prices competitive In Blanca, the poorest neighbors try to start esparto on their own, taking advantage of the night, and thus increase their income. Many times, they were surprised and reported by the Civil Guard.

 

After the Spanish civil war, Murcia, and within it Blanca, they set in motion a type of esparto economy, as confirmation of the value that this material would acquire in this difficult period of self-sufficiency.

 

As in the rest of the country, everything available that could create general, provincial, local or individual wealth was used.

 

The esparto will benefit in the forties the harvesters of particular farms and the institutions that own them in their mountains. All of them will have in common the security of being bought or sold when there is no competition.

 

Autarchy, now equivalent to a growing market, is a form of development in a period of widespread poverty, but it also means hard work, as is the situation in the country.

 

Blanca will spend that way in those years of the traditional artisan-type-esparto to become an example of town-company, with industries of chopping based on esparto grass, creating an important economic infrastructure before the general conjuncture, whose example is found in IndustriasMagineroso, one of the few that currently remain in our country that is dedicated to this type of manufacturing.

 

The origins of this industry go back to the end of the 19th century, when Don Rafael Molina Cano founded a group of companies, with the name of San Rafael Factory, formed by an ice factory, wire and cotton looms, metal tips (barbs) and a small power station (the first in the region, providing the energy needed to move the looms and other machinery and, with the surplus energy, the public lighting of the town of Blanca, in 1892), factories of chopping esparto and spinning and carpet manufacturing. When this one died, on February 28, 1896, with only 36 years, the company passed to his widow, Mrs. Purificación Fernández, who was forced to get rid of it, transmitting it to Joaquín Payá López.

 

It was in 1919 when his son, Don Generoso Molina Fernández, founded IndustriaMagineroso, based on the vestiges of his father’s factories of crushed esparto grass and the making of carpets with this material. At this time esparto enjoyed one of its best moments, but it is after the postwar period, between 1940 and 1960, when carpets have their greatest demand, exporting to all of Europe, especially to the Netherlands, giving work to use 300 workers (currently has a dozen).

 

When Generoso Molina passed away, in 1953, aged 63, it was his daughter, Antonia Molina Pérez, who took over the industry, and it was from the 1960s when the decline began, due to the importation of carpets of vegetable fibers from Asian countries, above all, much cheaper but of inferior quality. The economic crisis of 1973 affects it and, in 1979, ithas to close, although it continues to sell his stocks; resurge in 1983 after overcoming with little effort the situation, focusing on the handmade manufacture of esparto carpets (crushed and sulfur, with texture different from the natural, which gives it a special charm), corn leaf and sisal. We work, generally, on request, and don José Javier Blanco Molina, son of Antonia Molina, tells us that “the range of colors is very wide, 18 shades and several models that, according to their combination, measures, shapes … makes possible an infinity of different creations “, that can be bought in decoration stores of all Spain and, in our Autonomous Community, in the crafts centers of Murcia, Lorca and Cartagena.

 

The centenary artisan industry has received important prizes and recognitions, of which I quote: Silver Medal in the V National Congress of Irrigation (annexed exhibition), held in Valladolid in October 1934; Medal of Honor in the I International Exhibition of Crafts of 1953; ‘Centenaria company’, recognition of the Official Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Navigation, in 1999; ‘Artisan Master’s Chart’ in favor of Antonia Molina Pérez, in the branch of Esparto Stereicry and Products, in 2000, and Mercury Prize, in 2009.

 

Congratulations to the family that is transmitting from generation to generation this artisan work and to all the women who have dedicated themselves for years to this hard task.

Cultural and historical routes of Blanca

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