I was in the Madrid design studio of Spain’s doyenne d’intérieurs, Isabel López-Quesada, when I spotted the little bronze sculpture on her desk.
I was obsessed.
“Where is it from?” I asked.
Next stop, sculptor José G. Onieva.
I hopped into a cab and gave the driver the address.
Here we are.
I was confused. The address led us to a closed gate on a residential street. No sign of a gallery, or shop, or studio. I had the driver wait while I phoned back to verify the address.
It was, indeed, the correct address. I rang the bell, and walked through a small garden and up a set of steep steps to a pale blue door. The figure of a frog perched atop a bronze doorknob.
Through a curtained door, in a cozy room filled with antique cupboards and a zebra print sofa, was José Onieva’s wonderful world of whimsical sculptures.
Onieva was born in Madrid and studied as an architect before immersing himself in art and sculpture in Italy. When he returned to Madrid, he opened his own studio and established himself as a sculptor.
For the past thirty years, he has produced bronze and steel sculptures of all shapes and sizes, including installations for public areas, architectural projects, and gardens. Recently, his work was on exhibition at Madrid’s famous Parque del Retiro.
He wasn’t there the day I showed up unexpectedly, but I spoke with his wife, Mariana, and admired (okay, coveted) the gorgeous necklace he had made for her as a birthday gift.
I knew I wanted the small sculpture that I had seen at the design studio earlier, but as I scanned the room looking for it, I became captivated by everything.
There were trees, enameled with cobalt blue leaves.
A bronze rose doorknob led to a garden in which a metal palm tree sat amongst real ones.
Look closely at the top of the palm tree and you’ll see the figure of a sunbather, resting on a chair under a leafy umbrella.
Curved arms with shapes on their ends balanced precariously on narrow posts.
My favorites were the ordinary objects cast in bronze. Boxes tied with string, a crushed cigarette packet, a crumbled ball of paper, a paper hat, a wrapped candy. How extraordinary that something so commonplace can become a work of art.
And there it was – the pajarita. Origami cast in bronze.
In Spain, the term “pajarita” means “little bird,” but also refers to the art of paper folding. There’s even an organization dedicated to it.
Even after finding the object I had interrupted my day to come looking for, I was tempted by the abundance of charming sculptures around me.
I took one more look around, and then circled back to my precious pajarita.
It’s home with me now, in a place where I can pick it up, feel its weight, and wonder at the cleverness of crafting an object in a material so vastly different from it’s original paper form.
It’s one of my most treasured objects.