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Ru Smith | profile | all galleries >> Art of Jan and Cora Gordon >> Jan and Cora Gordon in Spain tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Jan and Cora Gordon in Spain

Cora Gordon wrote, "Jan had conceived a passion for the Spanish guitar during the war and was determined to sample the music of this instrument at source .." and visit Spain they then did. Their first journey (in 1920, often mistakenly stated to be 1921) is described in "Poor Folk in Spain" (1922) and the second in "Misadventures with a Donkey" (1924).

One particular musical instrument features in both tales. "I have an old guitar. It is a unique instrument, none other like it has ever been seen in Spain" said the man who sold the guitar to Jan (Poor Folks in Spain, pg. 233). "The guitar was of a strange form and with a scrolled head, the curve of its shape having some of the beauty to be found in negro sculpture" (pg. 238).

On their second journey the Gordons were influenced towards taking a southern route because it would take them through " .. a town named Vera, at which eighty years ago a Don Gomez Fuentes had made a queer guitar which had fallen into my hands." The instrument was actually made by D. Antonio Gimenez of Vera in 1854. It now resides in the Horniman Museum of Forest Hill, London.

In the summer of 2009 we followed in the footsteps of Cora, Jan and Colonel Geraldine (their donkey). We stayed in Vera and below you will see a photo of the grandson of Jan's godson studying a guitar in a Vera shop window. See the following for an old photograph of a Murcian donkey fair on show in Vera:

During a concert in 2011 (in Muscat, Oman), watching Venezuelan friend Osman playing, I came to realize that the instrument has the pear-shaped body of a bandola central (or mirandina or guariqueña), an instrument still used today in Venezuelan folk music, but long forgotten (or not known) in Spain. Jan's instrument has six strings (and I don't know what the tuning was). Perhaps D. Antonio Gimenez had seen a South American bandola and was inspired to make an instrument with this same pear-shaped form?

I recently came across a reference to a talk given by Cora Gordon on "Misadventures with a Donkey in Spain" given at the Bishopsgate Institute on January 18th 1940. The talk was accompanied by "lantern illustrations". See:

A nice comment on the Gordons as itinerant musicians in Spain is mentioned here:
The journey described in Misadventures with a Donkey (1924) Colonel Geraldine with Cora Gordon. Rambla by Cora Gordon. Author's collection. Posada at Lorca, etching. Author's collection.
Lorca castle Puerto Lumbreras Guitar concert at Puerto Lumbreras. Author's collection. Jan Gordon's unique guitar, made in Vera in 1854, with the body modelled on a South American bandola. Courtesy Horniman Museum.
Vera guitar shop Vera bullring Sorbas Tabernas Desert
Carters in the posada, 1921. Author's collection. Tabernas castle Dwarfs on the road from Almeria. Author's collection. Donkey in posada. I think that must be a watermelon about to be cut on the table.  Author's collection.
A Plaza in Alhama. Author's collection. Jijona street guitar concert. Author's collection. Jan and Cora. Author's collection. Emilio the guitar maker