A ceramic treasure trove tucked away in the Axarquía

Anne-Barbara Lenzin with one of her iconic ceramic clay heads at her house near Cajiz.
Anne-Barbara Lenzin with one of her iconic ceramic clay heads at her house near Cajiz. / J. Rhodes
  • Anne-Barbara Lenzin spent the lockdown creating art and contemplating opening a sculpture garden

Visiting Anne-Barbara Lenzin's garden and studio is a tonic for the soul during these exceptional times.

Perched on a hillside just outside the small hamlet of Cajiz, which belongs to Vélez-Málaga, Anne-Barbara's terraced garden has spectacular views over the Mediterranean sea, but that's not all there is to see there.

Here the visitor will find a veritable sculpture garden in the making and a ceramic treasure trove. Anne-Barbara works away in her outdoor studio and is gradually adding to her collection.

Colourful totem poles, African masks and female heads, with long eyelashes the most beauty-conscious could only dream of having, and a collection of eye-catching ceramic bugs adorn both the outside of the house and garden.

In fact it was one of those bugs that led to my meeting with Anne-Barbara. Nerja Arts Society Chair Helen Sijsling had recently shown me a photo of what she'd bought with the money she received from the Marsh Award she won earlier this year for volunteer work with the society.

It was one of Anne-Barbara's giant ceramic insects, which she'd seen at an exhibition at Anne-Barbara's sister's house (Cornelia Lenzin, who owns El Molino de Cajiz). "Do you know Anne-Barbara?" Helen asked me. I wasted no time in getting in touch.

Anne-Barbara, 61, still lives between Basel in Switzerland, and Spain. When in Spain she is in the house she bought just under two years ago.

Casa el Ventorrillo is an old inn which was once a resting and watering place used by farmers walking up to Benamocarra from the coast with their animals, according to the artist.

Early inspiration

Anne-Barbara explains that her aunt was a ceramist and that from the age of six, she was always at her house eager to make things. "I was always asking her things. She was a big influence in my life. I remember the first time I touched the clay and it was so organic. I loved it."

One of Anne-Barbara’s ceramic insects. “I can appreciate their beauty when you look at them close-up.”

One of Anne-Barbara’s ceramic insects. “I can appreciate their beauty when you look at them close-up.”

However, Anne-Barbara's creativity eventually led her into fashion design, a field she worked in for 20 years in Switzerland. She also worked for IBM for a period of time. "I had to survive with two kids," she admits.

The artist explains that she started to work with clay again about 25 years ago, "as a hobby".

It is a "natural antidepressant" she says, adding, "It makes me really happy to do something creative. To see how things grow and take shape."

Anne-Barbara's influences come from an exhibition of African art she once went to, which "made a big impression" on her. She says that she "fell in love with the earthy colours and beauty", although she admits she has never visited the continent.

"Maybe one day when this [coronavirus] is all over and we can travel again," she reflects.

The long eyelashes came about as an experiment, and ended up being an iconic feature on the female heads. "I like working with wire and I decided to experiment with clay and wire one day," the ceramist explains.

As for the insects, she laughs, "Don't ask me why I started making them. I prefer the ceramic ones on my walls than to see them crawling around, but I can appreciate their beauty when you look at them close-up."

The lockdown gave Anne-Barbara plenty of time to work as well as start to think about the idea of creating a sculpture garden to open to the public.

"It is a work in progress, I started to do a lot of work to the garden during the quarantine, but there would be a lot more to do if I am going to turn it into a sculpture garden," the artist admits.

In the meantime, she has a semi-permanent exhibition at El Molino de Cajiz and she will be exhibiting at Frigiliana's Ruta del Arte which is on from today until Sunday.

Visitors can make appointments to see the garden and studio, where they can choose individual pieces to create their own totem poles and buy the ceramic heads, insects and poppies, as well as see the sculptures in situ in Anne-Barbara's extensive garden.