Meryan is a family owned and run shop in the heart of the Southern Spanish city Cordoba. They are exclusively dedicated to the handcrafted products of the traditional Cordobán Leathers, Cordobanes and Guadameciles...
Some of the regular product seen at Meryan’s are decorative panels, heraldic coats of arms, genealogical trees, mirror frames, ornamental hangings, chairs, professional emblems, jewelry caskets, national and municipal coat of arms, screens, book covers, large chest, tobacco-boxes, tables, maps and headboards. At Meryan’s they are also happy to assist you with any restoration of deteriorated leather.
Cordovan vs “Guadameci”
Cordovan has a functional character. This can be a decretive piece or not. Cordovan was traditionally applied to a verity of furniture pieces, never possessing the silver or gold leaf. This is because the leafing would be worn away with use. “Guadameci” is always worked with the metal leafing and color, particularly more artistic and ornamental.
The making of Guadamecí also known as Guadamecil
Known as an artistic work over tanned leather, the artisan uses a fine sheet of silver, gold or other metals to prepare the surface for embellishment. The leather used, is most often from rams and sheep. The leather chosen for this process must be in perfect condition, without blemish, to allow for an excellent result. Guadamecí has a purely aesthetic function originally for adorning interior walls, through the years the technique has been applied to adorning furniture and other lightly used pieces for additional decorative options.
This technique is original to the Iberian Peninsula and began under the Arab dominion in Southern Spain. During this time the Arabis introduced much of the elaborated techniques of tanned leather to most of the Peninsula.
The word Guadamací is of Arabic organ from the word Wad’almasir meaning decorated or worked leather. The tradition was deeply rooted in the North African city Ghadamés where in the Medieval times was famous for leatherwork.
In Spain you can find different artistic styles that incorporate geometric patterns and shapes dating back to the XII and XV centuries also from the baroque and neoclassical times. A small handful of examples still exist from the XIV and XV showing clear Arab tradition. In the centuries XVI through XVIII was a thriving time for the Guadamací artisan. Considered an aristocrat in the realm of artisans, Guadamací quickly become a symbol of riches and status. This tradition of leather working was dominant until the end of the XVIII century. The tradition was greatly affected and almost lost from the industrialism of leather. Quality pieces became more scarce and where greatly affected by the importation of a similar technique used in Japan. These Japanese pieces of work became popular do to their similarity to the Guadamací style though where more economic do to their application over paper as a substitute for leather.
The making of Cordobán
Cordobán is tanned leather from male and female goats of great quality. Tanning is achieved with a dye extracted from the Sumac plant family. Over leather, this dye gives a vibrant finish. Other vegetable dyes such as Pine and Holm Oak are used in the cordobán process though may not achieve the same quality as the Sumac. Cordobán may also be embossed and decorated with paints. Cordobán is valued for its great flexibility, resilience and durability which determined its prestige. Traditionally used for functional pieces and can withstand heavier use then Guadamací. Since the Medieval age, Cordobán has been used for the making of trunks, bags, luxurious shoes and gloves.
Leather Working Techniques
Todays techniques have been handed down through the centuries making them essentially the same as was used in the past with the exception of some social influences.
To begin a work, the artist or craftsmen draws a design on paper. This gives the artist the flexibility of transferring the chosen design to the desired piece of leather at a later time. The drawing is considered both the most important and difficult part of the process. The intricacy of the chosen pattern, demands both consistency and accuracy. This drawing is then traced onto onion-skin paper and intern used to re-trace the pattern on the grain side of the leather. The leather must first be properly dampened with water to give it the needed flexibility. To transfer the pattern to the leather, a graver or tracer is used. To proceed, the artist makes a series of incisions with a small knife to cut a shallow groove, which can be opened later in the process. He then creates planes of slightly different depths by pressing the leather on the grained side with a spatula, preparing the leather for the embossing process. Embossing is comprised of making relief-work which protrudes higher then the thickness of the leather. To do this the artist works on both the grain side of the leather as well as the underside. He uses a type of clay and a ball-embosser which allows him, to an extent, sculpt the leather until the desired relief is obtained. Artist then uses a method of work called “Gophering”.
This is closer to a principle of work rather then a technique. To achieve this method the artist uses iron punchers possessing small geometric patterns engraved on the face. These irons leave a shallow impression on the leather smooth leather. In some cases the artist will apply mosaic pattern usually by juxtaposition a classical method of Roman mosaics. This is achieved with fragments of leather placed strategically, giving the design more body and shape. In some cases the leather is left natural or may be colored to give it a greater vibrancy. Monochrome or polychrome may be achieved with several dyes. Such dyes are obtained from chemical solutions such as iron sulphate, potash, caustic soda, picric acid, or walnut-stain, anilines and contemporary alcohol dyes. In some cases oil paints may also be used. Another finishing method that may be used is metallization. This is applied to the surface of the piece. Silver or gold leaf which is adhered to the grain of the leather with a special mixture. This is called “bitting” taking several hours to complete. Burnishing is done and the colors are applied with varnish, oil or wax on the metabolized surface, to obtain the final gloss.