On October 29, 2021, the Spanish Ministry of Culture announced that the National Prize for the Restoration and Conservation of Cultural Assets 2021 had been awarded to María Pía Timón Tiemblo, coordinator until her retirement last September of the National Plan for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage and the National Plan for Traditional Architecture, in recognition of her effort to make all living yet endangered Spanish cultural traditions and crafts more visible. “In Spain a lot of crafts were lost, but we had the advantage that we kept using them until the 1970s, so that fewer less were lost than in other countries like France,” she explains. “Now Spain is the only country in Europe with a law to Safeguard its Intangible Cultural Heritage,” she adds, referring to the 2015 law to which María Pía very much contributed.
Both María Pía’s father’s and mother’s families are from La Vera, and she grew up in Madrigal de la Vera, a town she left at age 14 to study Bachelor’s degree in Navalmoral de la Mata. At the age of 17, she moved to Madrid to study Archeology, although she says that “what I really liked was anthropology, I had no doubt about that.” She was lucky enough to receive some classes in Cultural Anthropology that encouraged her to write a paper based on the field study of goatherds, for which she spent a month and a half living with a well-known family of La Vera goatherds, “Los Negros”. “There was a before and after this experience in terms of my education, I realized that I learned much more from these people, who had such enormous wisdom and knowledge, who knew from the flight of the birds if it was going to rain, had incredible knowledge about plants and their uses, they knew how to play the guitar, they knew all the legends…”
At university she met the cultural anthropologist Julio Caro Baroja, who became her tutor for her end of studies project about handlooms in Extremadura, and with which she won the Marqués de Lozoya Cultural Research Award. It was this award that around 1980 opened the doors for her at the Ministry of Culture,
where they were looking for an ethnologist to create an inventory of all living but vulnerable intangible cultural assets. She combined this work with the publication of specialized books, research articles in the Narria magazine of the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions associated with the Autonomous University of Madrid, and teaching.
After a long and intense professional career, María Pía has just retired. What she is most excited about is to be able to spend more time in her childhood villages, where she has restored a beautiful old town house, and to reconnect with its people. Hopefully, after a well-deserved rest, she will share her extensive knowledge with us so we can better understand and preserve La Vera’s Intangible Cultural Heritage!