The iron lady of Mompox

The iron lady of Mompox

Mompox, officially Santa Cruz de Mompox, sits on an island with the Magdalena River, Colombia’s famous river flowing gracefully at its feet. Once Colombia’s mineral vault, Mompox continues to represent a living exhibition of colonial architecture that has been jealously preserved over time. It doesn’t, however, come as any surprise it earned a UNESCO world heritage status.
Daniel Owona Nonor

Mompox, officially Santa Cruz de Mompox, sits on an island with the Magdalena River, Colombia’s famous river flowing gracefully at its feet.

Once Colombia’s mineral vault, Mompox continues to represent a living exhibition of colonial architecture that has been jealously preserved over time. It doesn’t, however, come as any surprise it earned a UNESCO world heritage status.

So splendid did the artisans make use of wrought metal to grace every building in the city and entrance giving it an expression of that fine instinct of privacy and security. The same is true for the city of Cartagena, except it has more of woodwork than metal.

Along its narrow streets, runs an unending piece of carefully wrought metal: from house to house, gallery to gallery from balcony to balcony. It wreathes the slender street light poles, boarders every window, forms the stands of chairs at every sitting place; borders the tombs in the cemetery, holds the candle sticks in the cathedral and sheathes the crests on every gate.

In a small brick workshop south of the city, an old record player stood by the doorway producing soft salsa. A grease stained apron hanged by a wielder’s mask among small metal tools on the walls. 

A rusty metal stove supported at the base with clay stands at the right entrance of the workshop with and anvil a step away from it.

By the stove stands a Lancaster geared blower which skillfully connects a metal tube and projects onto a fire place on the platform used purposely for heating iron.

Every piece of forged metal found in every home in this city has once felt the heat and the strike of the hammer from a family whose legacy continues to live as the greatest blacksmiths in Mompox.  

From this shop, Glenys Bocha Pupo, 39, continues a family tradition whose handiwork adorn the city of Mompos with such ubiquitous metallurgy.

Glenys , the only girl of three siblings has decided to continue a family vocation that  has been handed down from one generation to the other.

For a vocation that is predominantly a preserve of men in many parts of the world, Glenys the youngest and the only woman  blacksmith Mompox has ever know comes across as unique.

 “It is just a matter of getting used to it”, she said beaming a charming smile.

She is the only child  of her parents who made mastered the art of forging to deserve taking charge of a business that has been handed over from one generation to the other in the family. 

She is however uncertain about the future of the business after her, but an 11-year-old nephew has shown promising potentials and she hopes to hand over to him when she retires.

None of her three children has exhibited the potential of taking over the business. Her two sons have taken interest in their father’s job at the construction site while the younger one only idles about and comes to lend a hand at the shop at will. 

“she gets angry and walks away each time I complain about her behavior”, she said.

Metal works have over the years formed an integral part of every society and culture which enables it not only to respond to its various necessities and satisfy its appetite for luxury but also social differentiation of which Mompox is no exception.

One could easily identify the rich neighborhoods of Mompox with an elaborated and sophisticated forged metal crests on doors or names engraved in metal pieces on its walls. 

“The more important or rich the family is, the more sophisticated the metal work is on its bulding”, Glenys explained.

Genys has no regrets taking up a family business and says her dedication to her work has earned her respect in the town. 

With an art that must come with skills and talent, Glenys has mastered hers with a touch of class to become the artisan of choice in Mompox.

She explains that for artisan to deliver an order on time is something that is rare, a situation she has taken advantage of to win the hearts of her customers in the time.

“Most of the time I surprise my customers by delivering days ahead of the scheduled time and they are happy to bring other jobs”, she said.

Excited about my visit to her shop, Glenny decided to treat me to some detail of her craft.

She quickly put on her apron that hanged on the wall and beckoned me to follow to the metal stove at the entrance of the shop.

She put a few charcoal on the stove and lighted fire to it. She then moved to the blower behind and started winding it. She would occasionally stretch to see if the charcoal had properly caught fire.

 Looking at the ease with which she did the winding, I felt it would be fun to give it a try so I offered to give a helping hand while she tendered the damp charcoal to light.

It was only a few winds when I started wiping sweat off my face with my shoulder feeling so heavy I could hardly move it.

Showing any sign of weakness behind that small machine would have been embarrassing for me  so I continued until the charcoal burst into red flames.

Gennys then picked a piece of metal from the shop and buried it in the fire and waited until it was red hot.

With the help of a forceps she forged herself,  she picked the metal from the furnace and placed it on the anvil which stood right  by the stove.  

Summoning all the strength she could gather, she repeatedly hit the red hot metal in order to turn it into a finished product. With her biceps heaving simultaneously in tandem with the motion of her twitching shoulder muscles, she worked the metal to her desired size and shape.

With the help of a molding block, she coiled her piece beautifully from the tiny tip.

He said working metals is a very difficult and tiring process but she had learned to take is easy and to work at her own pace. 

Blacksmithing like any other work has its own hazards. These include injuries from the hammer, burns and flying metallic debris. In the course of shaping implements, minute metal particles could fly up into the eye and lead to partial or permanent damage to the eye and Genny is not new to the harzards of her job.

“I have hammered my own hands and burned a finger a couple of time “, she said.

Markus Suarez Pupo, Gleny’s Uncle who is well known as Mompox’s specialist in forging small metal works, such as keys and door knobs, is proud of his niece and is happy that she is keeping a family heritage alive for the next generation.

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