In the early 19th century we saw the rise of Fordism, assembly lines and generic mass production. At the time, this was indeed a feat of ingenuity and profound efficiency, however, perhaps what Henry Ford and his productivity-minded predecessors failed to notice, was that the introduction of mass production inherently drains everything that is human from the crafting process.
Artigianato e Palazzo serves as a celebration for everything that is lost on the assembly lines of today’s world. A presentation of craftsmanship that is evidently full of creator’s passion and that takes place with no corners cut. It is not until you observe the experts exerting their blood, sweat, and tears into the smallest component of their final masterpiece, that you really appreciate what it is to be an artisan.
As a 21-year-old student, lacking in an eye for the arts, to say the least, it was safe to say I arrived to the event with cynicism coursing through my veins, as usual. To be candid, I will admit that I was expecting an equivalent of macaroni pictures and seashell lampshades to greet me. Fortunately, though, I was pleasantly surprised after scouring through the various stalls.
What sets aside the artisans from the high-street companies is that they are indeed people, rather than faceless corporations. When approaching a stall, you are not met by a clerk, but instead by the creators of the products themselves. This very personal element of the artisanal exhibition is further accentuated by watching the masters demonstrate their methods, in action. Carpentry, glassblowing, sculpting, jewellery making, stitching, weaving, leatherwork and painting are just a few of the professions that you can see for yourself at the event.
It becomes even more inspiring when you come to realise that not only do these people craft the goods themselves, but they also source their own supplies, sell the goods themselves and, all in all, take on the bulk of responsibility throughout the production process. Compare this to a modern day business, whereby the process is broken down into remedial tasks performed by persons with no appreciation or perspective of the final result.
The Artigianato e Palazzo event not only provides insight to the artisan world, but also access to one of the most beautiful gardens in Florence. The Corsini Gardens are closed off from public view for 362 days of the year. The three days they are open are during this event. It provides a picturesque setting, full of greenery, fruit trees, ancient statues and secret passages, all of which make you understand why the event has been running here for 20 years.
It is hard to describe the lengths that the artisan men and women go to in order to achieve the intense detail in their work. It would perhaps be better to highlight this through examples of pieces that can be found at Artigianato e Palazzo.
1) Maison de Maistre
At a first glance, this stall appears to behold items that one can find at many high-street home stores; plates and cushions adorned with sketches of flora and fauna. Upon closer inspection the reality of the situation becomes apparent. A quiet artist is sat in the corner, hand-drawing every stencil for the plates. She takes inspiration form various books and prints, and brings the components together to make her own personal design. She then hands her drawings to her partner who uploads them on to his computer to create the graphic design. The gentleman’s father then etches the images onto a zinc plate, used for printing directly onto the dish. After a blast in a kiln at 800 degrees C, the plate is finally ready for sale. This process can take up to 2 months, from design to completion. It is attention to detail such as this that makes each piece so much more meaningful than any of the printed dishes that you will find on the high street.
2) Maghi e Maci
Maghi e Maci are experts in one of the most classic artisan crafts: knitting. And, just like grandma used to, they specialise in knitting for kids. They have everything from little dresses to baby shoes for newborns. The little shoes are knitted by hand and take around 2 hours to complete, despite them only measuring a couple of inches in length.
3) Il Torchio Firenze
Il Torchio Firenze has been specialising in leather-bound books since 1980. Each journal is personally hand crafted using locally sourced leather and paper of the highest quality. Due to this process, Il Torchio can take completely customised orders for that extra personal touch. This little grass roots organisation also regularly pairs up with local artists to create some collaboration product ranges that are particularly beautiful.
4) Crizu Folded Books/ Barely Necessary Papers
This stall caught my eye from quite a distance away, perhaps as I have a penchant for quirky trinkets. The aged paper and dull lettering from unwanted books is transformed into beautiful chandeliers and jewellery that grace the tabletops. Each of the items is handmade from old literature, and hence, each piece is completely unique. This gives the goods a certain aura of originality – something that you would not be able to get from any high street offerings.
5) Studiozero – Vetro
Pretty glass necklaces and jewellery adorn this table. They bare a look of beautiful simplicity and yet, at the same time, they strike attention with their bold colours. However, it may easy to take for granted the work hours put into each item. Beside the stall, one can see the artisan at work, tirelessly creating each glass bead one by one via a method of glassblowing. The expert meticulously crafts each spherical component before they are put together as a final piece. It is craftsmanship such as this that is often lost on today’s accessories.