Photo by Genevieve Shaw
Jordi Grau, giant maker
Jordi Grau at work on a giant head
Giants really do exist. Anyone who’s been to a festa major has seen the tall kings and queens, country folk and peculiar animals, all supported by humans who ‘wear’ them. Some of these giants (gegants in Catalan) emerge from a workshop in Terrassa, where giant-maker Jordi Grau brings the tall beings to life. Stray arms lie haphazardly on the floor while half-painted heads stare from their shelf space. Watching him talk, Grau gives an impression of genius, not only because of his art but also for his attitude towards life. Eyes sparkling, he jumps between themes that are at once highly technical and strangely childlike. He is a whirlwind of ideas, and for one magical hour Jordi Grau reveals some of the secrets of his unusual profession.
How did you become a giant-maker?
I was asked to repair giants with my dad when I was a boy. He wasn’t a giant-maker but was good with his hands. I began to restore giants in my spare time, and it wasn’t until 10 years later I made my first giant.
How many giant-makers are there in Catalunya?
There are approximately six people who make a legal living from making giants.
What kind of giants do you most like to make?
I love making giants that haven’t been done before. What I really want to do is a dancing couple, ball-room style. Nobody has done that before.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had so far?
I was given the job of creating a three-headed pirate for Girona city. Structurally it was really different from anything I had made, as it needs to be supported by two people.
What are giants made from and how long do they take to make?
Giants are made from moulds, on top of which is stuck a type of cardboard like papier mâché. Once it dries, it is very hard, and can be painted. It takes me approximately a month and a half to make a single giant, and two to two-and-a-half months for a couple.
Who buys giants?
Nearly all my clients are councils or associations [who use the giants to perform dances in town festivals].
How much does a giant sell for?
A small giant sells for €3,000 to €4,000 and a large giant, €5,000 or €6,000. A lot depends on the clothing and hair. A wig [made from real hair] is very expensive, and can cost up to €1,500.
Are giants only bought by Catalan councils or associations?
There are some giants in other areas of Spain, such as Madrid and the Basque country, but they tend to be more basic. In 1997, I was commissioned to make a pair of giants for Sheffield, England.
How often does a town council buy a giant?
It depends really. Once a council has invested in a giant and giantess, they are unlikely to buy new ones for some years. Councils are more likely to commission capgroses [big heads and torsos that people wear in special Catalan dances] at more regular intervals. Every year Terrassa council commissions me to create a new big head—someone noteworthy from city life. Then, at the festa major the new big head takes part in the procession and everyone discovers who has been chosen. Last summer, when the big heads began their dance, I looked up and there was a big head of me dancing in the crowd. Unbeknownst to me, the council had commissioned a Jordi Grau big head while I was busy making a big head of someone else.
Have you ever thought about writing a book?
People always tell me I should write a book. I tell them that the day I have time to do this will be the day I retire, and I don’t see that happening ever…