TidBits 009: Papier machè, the life of the party at Las Fallas

Papier machè, cardboard and other flammable materials become the “life of the party” during the Las Fallas festivities in Valencia, Spain.

The festivities are full of different, beautiful and unique activities, but one of the most important and spectacular events is without a doubt La Cremá or burning of las fallas: artistic monuments formed through the union of figures called ninots.

These compositions have the purpose of transmitting a message and are burned as a symbol of purification on the night of the 19th of March, giving a dramatic closure to the festivities in honor of Saint Joseph. The centuries-old tradition of local carpenters commencing a new cycle by lighting fires to get rid of junk and waste material on this day slowly gained importance, first evolving into the symbolic cleansing of social ills by burning human figures made of rags and straw, representing real life people brought to public embarrassment. Then, with time, developing into artistic monuments that satirize and ridicule public figures and expose issues of general concern and current events.

The word falla comes from the Latin facula, meaning torch. Today, it refers to the bonfires lit onthis holiday. Las Fallas however are not simple bonfires but gigantic monuments that attract viewers worldwide. The ninots and other elements are constructed with combustible materials suchas papier machè, wax, cardboard and wood. Newspaper is used to level irregularities in the faces and paper paste to model expressions. Painting makes completes these works of art.

Replacing cardboard by low-weight, easy-to-handle materials that facilitate the development of the ninots has had little success. Even though these materials permit greater freedom of creation,the benefits are reduced during la cremá as falleros artists notice that the burning of traditional material is slower and produces beautiful, constant, colored flames as well as a nicer smell, while these other materials burn quickly and create black, foul-smelling smoke.

Time has proven that paper is indispensable for making the best of the San José festivities.

  • Fairy inspired ninot from artist Maria Valero Perez, conserved because of its beauty and exhibited at the Fallas Museum.
  • A ninot in one of Valencia’s streets.
  • A beautiful falla
  • The close-up of one of its ninots at the moment of La Cremá (the burning).
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