Catholicism is not without its raucous holidays and celebrations, with quite a few of them being largely local affairs. The most prominent one in the U.S. is Mardi Gras, which has an analog in Brazil’s Carnaval. Both are festivals of decadence and indulgence leading up to the weeks of fasting and austerity called Lent, and there are similar events throughout the realms of Catholicism. Although celebrated around the same time, the Valencian holiday of Falles, which officially begins on March 15th (that’s right, it starts in only a few days) and ends on March 19th, is not associated with this cycle.
Basically, Falles (a Valencian word meaning ‘torches’) is a five-day-long outdoor party held in honor of St. Joseph in which each successive day is given over to progressively bigger and more involved pyrotechnic displays, culminating on the last evening, the Night of Fire, with La Cremà. This final spectacle is where the holiday gets its name, for during La Cremà immense wood, paper, wire and paint constructions–the falles themselves–are set alight in the streets and squares of Valencia. What makes this so fascinating, I think, is that the falles aren’t the sloppily built towers of cheap wood you would expect them to be; no, they are in fact elaborately and carefully crafted sculptures planned, designed and constructed for months prior to Falles. In fact, the appreciation of these disposable artworks has become an affair unto itself, with the casal fallers competing to be recognized for the best falla.
These sculptures are more often than not satirical or humorous in nature, sometimes even bawdy. Nudity is not unusual, nor is ripping off famous or distinguished sources, which is where the satire comes in. Keep in mind that, although there are toned-down versions of these for small children, called falles infantil, which are burnt earlier in the evening, children attend the burning of the falles major as well.
In 2013 one of the falles submitted for judgment was created by artist Manuel Algarra; it was titled Futuro a la vista! (Future in Sight!) and was a giant sculpture-in-the-round featuring toddlers engaged in a variety of occupations. Although it was never identified as the inspiration for the piece, I immediately recognized one of the toddler figures as based on a J.C. Leyendecker-illustrated cover for the Saturday Evening Post.
I have since encountered another cover with one of the other babies–the boy with the cuckoo clock–as the central figure, and I discern, based on the consistency of their style, that all of them are actually based on Leyendecker’s work. The final falles design can be seen in a flat conceptual form (I couldn’t find a larger version of this image, so if anyone out there has this just a bit bigger, it would be appreciated):
And here are photographs of the actual falles taken from a variety of angles:
Although the following image focuses on a boy, I am sharing it because it really demonstrates the amount of detail that goes into the creation of these pieces.
One can see in the background of this next photo, just behind the rocking horse, the standing pigtailed girl. I tried to find a close-up image showing her from the front but was unable to locate one on the web.