Arts & Crafts
Amiata Documentary Project - Michele Belloni Leica Photographer
To Guido, who keeps his eyes full of glory focused on our eyes full of tears

“Who works with his hands is a worker. Who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. Who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

– San Francesco d’Assisi –


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The Project

In Amiata, a mountain between the Maremma and the Val D’Orcia, in one of the most beautiful Tuscan areas, there are ever more numerous jobs that must give way to productive activities and the abandonment of these ancient crafts produces incalculable cultural damage, depriving the historical centers of traditional references.

I found myself by chance to ask a friend to help me track down characters like that to figure out how that mountain has in effect created a flourishing flow of handicraft tourism to this day.

With the only way I know of communicating directly, I want to protect these ancient professions, avoiding their “musealization“.
The goal is to safeguard and enhance, in particular, traditional crafts that are at risk of extinction but bear high levels of professionalism, possibly stimulating the hope of a generational change through the transfer of skills gained by the craftsmen during their life, offering the stimulus to carry on or start artisan and commercial activities and avoid losing the value of these ancient crafts.

So the hope is to promote a rediscovery (especially by the younger ones) of jobs that risk disappearing due to lack of generational turnover, but still able to create job places. An extinction risk that touches ancient arts now forgotten or lost over time, where the craftsman himself and his manual ability that made the real difference. These figures have an important historical, cultural as well as economic value, given the ever-growing demand for ancient crafts and that, too often, it is lacking the raw material: the artisans.

Ancient crafts represent a cultural, economic and productive field of extraordinary importance for our country. They need visibility and consideration equivalent to the artistic and cultural role they play. Talent, concentration, precision, vocation and dedication: today as yesterday these arts are able to bring satisfaction and personal fulfillment to the craftsman who sees himself engaged in a process of interpretation and realization of a mission entrusted by the customer to transform an abstract idea in a concrete reality.

The excellence of Made in Italy cannot stay alive without the skill of these craftsmen, whose absence within our society is equivalent to compromising the very foundations of this exclusive label that we boast of as a nation, stratified over centuries of work, research, commitment and dedication. So this photographic book began to take shape, made of local characters related to their arts, to their ancient crafts. And as far as possible, I wish they will be always remembered like this: authentic, exclusive, true.

The Wicker

Among the oldest jobs of craftsmanship in the world, the basketry is the art of solving one of the problems of all time: the need for containers to insert the natural collected fruits. Hence the need to weave leaves, shrubs of any kind to build a container. The art of intertwining has been handed down verbally from man to man.

In Italy the most used material is willow, asalix viminalis, commonly called wicker.

Massimo has been working on it for years, teaching art in multiple courses scattered throughout the Amiata area. Baskets, pots, chandeliers, bags and much more are the typical products he creates and shows to local markets.

A medium-sized basket requires eight hours of work, from finding the material to the river, peeling it, drying it and soaking it to finally work it.

The Cobbler

A job of repairs, replacements and creations of shoes, with materials such as leather and rubber.

It’s much more an art rather than a profession, whose origins are lost in stories of medieval guilds, when San Crispino became their patron saint. In the 1950s, the mechanized production of footwear created a serious crisis among artisan producers.

Vladimiro, known by everyone as Biro, has been doing this job since he was a child when he moved to Switzerland to learn it and then returned to Amiata definitively.

The Thatcher

Wicker coverings and padding, olive remnants, straw and “oglia”: this is now a not very widespread trade, given the increasing production of industrial items. An ancient art that undoubtedly leaves all those who watch the work is done fascinated and hypnotized.

A demanding work that can also lasts many days, depending on the product to be made. An ancient art handed down over the years, carried out according to repeated gestures, learned by those who started this profession before him, as Bruno teaches us, a straw-stuffer since long time ago.

The Cheese Maker

The first dairymen date back to the Sumerian civilization, while today the milk is still processed respecting the ancient traditions. Among the skills of the cheesemaker there is the weighing of the milk, the addition of the rennet, and the shaping, the skimming, the buttering.

It can be made traditionally or by carrying out schools and training courses often financed by the regions themselves, but the willingness to pass on it depends on the love and individual vocation towards this profession which certainly is not at risk of extinction to date. And Bernardo and Eleonora are tangible proof of this.

The Horseshoer

The success of cars and the mechanization of the countryside afterwards the Second World War had relegated the horse to representative tasks as it was no longer convenient. Bred for racing, to produce meat or to extract wood from the forests, it has recently had a flourishing use in excursions to rediscover the beauty of nature. In Amiata there are places dedicated exclusively to these activities.

Being a blacksmith today, like yesterday, is a work of skill and experience that takes shape in shaping the iron, forging it according to the “needs” of each individual animal, so as not to cause physical problems to the animal itself and people in first place.

Fabio has such a strong passion that he decided to teach this art and put it into practice even in the most famous equine event in Italy: the Palio di Siena.

The Alpaca Breeders

Domesticated and bred camelids for the production of wool: these are the Alpacas, animals of uncertain origin that are bred in South America up to 5000 meters which on Amiata area, thanks to Rossella and Riccardo guarantee their wool to anyone who wants to give themselves creations craft.

It is in fact the most precious quality whool for its brightness and lightness, it does not contain lanolin, it does not felts and does not give allergies. It can take twenty-two different natural colors.

Rossella and Riccardo, a Florentine couple who moved to the ancient volcano, sensed their fate one Sunday morning, casually, watching a documentary on television and today they are carrying on in complete autonomy, not without effort, an ancient craft like that of breeders.

The Carver

The olive tree is present throughout the history of our Mediterranean area as a symbol of peace and brotherhood. Today the craft of the carver allows to create bowls, trays, candlesticks, vases from this tree while after the passage to the band saw, the roughed piece of olive turns on the lathe and other objects are produced with skilful manual processing.

Despite the value of this wood, it is still little used today for furniture of high artistic value but the market for furnishings, musical objects, sculptures, letter openers, kitchen utensils and more remains interesting.

A profession to devote a lot of time and have a profound vocation: its handing down is a concrete commitment. Alessandro shows us that with his brother and father has been running a specialized company for many years.

The Distiller

The term “distillation” means “drop by drop separation”. Distillation is a technique known since the Middle Ages, initially applied only to the production of alcoholic beverages.

Merit of the alchemists who, through it, sought the “fifth essence”, a substance which by composition was not part of terrestrial things and was not attributable to the four known elements: earth, fire, air and water. As early as 4000 B.C. the Egyptians distilled wine and cider to make other alcoholic drinks.

To date it is still carried out by hand, in rare cases, for the own production of distillates for family use. Or as the quiet Giancarlo says: “to give it to friends who come to visit me“. On the other hand, to create a liter of grappa, it can be take over three hours and fifty liters of wine.

The Stonecutter

Called a sculptor without art, it is instead a fascinating and hard craft, undervalued and full of anecdotes.

We continually pass in front of carved stone portals, with reliefs or with columns with finely chiseled capitals, on which sculpted lintels rest: they are artifacts that not only embellish but determine the harmony and beauty of the urban complex.

Just think of the windowsills, the window frames, the door sills, the steps, the balustrades. The work of the stonecutter is everywhere, under the eyes and often under the feet of all of us. It is necessary to know how to grasp more carefully the greatness of this craft that has surrounded us for centuries.

Today there are few left and are satisfied with small commissions, but Alessandro works incessantly with the municipalities of Amiata and is proud of the mountain stone with which he is in love.

The Blacksmith

The blacksmith is a very old trade but still offers excellent job opportunities today. The blacksmith creates objects by shaping the metal when it is in a non-liquid state, heating it until it becomes incandescent, and subsequently forging it.

Before the industrial revolution, the forge was at the base of every city but mass production techniques reduced the presence of blacksmiths so this character resists where traditional craftsmanship is still required.

Duilio, now close to retirement, admits that today the customer is no longer willing to spend important amounts of money for a unique and artisanal realization, preferring in fact mass-produced products without a real soul.

The Chimney Sweep

Chimney sweep is a profession that has a long history and has evolved a lot over time.

This craft born a few centuries ago, it was carried out mostly by children and young people, beggars or orphans, who had to be slender and agile to easily enter the chimney and clean it.

To date, the increasingly frequent use of heating systems such as fireplaces, stoves and boilers fueled by wood biomass unexpectedly creates a return of this figure which in our imagination remains romantic and nostalgic.

Claudio is a living example of how such an ancient job manages to survive today, as he says, “out of necessity, virtue“.

The Chiseller

Embossed and chiseled art, a noble and ancient one, already practiced by Egyptians, Cretans, Greeks and Romans.

Each chiseller builds his own tools, by the need of the moment, which remain so personal and unique. A good chiseller must first of all be a good drawer so that the possibilities of realization with the overhang and chisel technique become infinite.

Art therefore becomes a means of interior expression to give shape to the beauty and harmony that everyone brings within themselves. Tiring profession, despite its indispensability in the goldsmith context, which Erminio, meticulous and trained artist, carries on with extremely contagious passion.

The Goldsmith

A profession that is lost in the mists of time that has come down to us for reasons not only practical, but often linked to vanity and the ostentation of one’s wealth. The processing of gold, which was one of the first metals to be used for its qualities of indestructibility and malleability, is mostly identical to the ancient one.

Even goldsmiths are affected by the epochal change and today no longer produces for a niche of people, but seeks massification in an attempt to guarantee its exclusive craftsmanship.

Simonetta believes that “we must fight with beauty“, that “the world needs beautiful things“, thus untying a precious raw material from an opulent concept, bringing it within everyone’s reach. Almost.

The Miners

We got up at six and went back home at four.” “There was more brotherhood and involvement, because your life is tied to me and mine to you.” So Guido, Pietro and Giuseppe tell us about a life spent in the mine, between elevators, a sun that was not there and acetylene.

For about a century, in fact, intense industrial extraction of cinnabar, the sulphide from which mercury was obtained, was present in the Amiata area.

An infamous job, today certainly changed compared to the past, but still not without dangers.

The Ceramist

What you have inside reflects on what you do. What we are is reflected in the ceramics“. This is how Barbara, a professional ceramist and, above all, passionate for years, tells herself.

Ceramics have very distant origins and a very long history and are distinguished from terracotta because the latter is not painted: this difference highlights the evolution of ceramics. The object ceases to be only a practical tool to also become an object of decorum, capable of representing a social status and telling a story.

Over time, new and better processes were discovered and the quality of the decorations began to intensify, up to the very elaborate artifacts of today. And it is this constant evolution that keeps the ancient profession of the ceramist still alive.

The Restorer

To restore means to return splendor to the works that have spanned the centuries and bear their marks. The restorer is a skilled craftsman who takes care of the ancient works and restores their original aesthetic aspect respecting their historical location and artistic values.

It is a fascinating profession that requires great passion for art and antiquity, but also good manual skills, artistic sense and a deep knowledge of art and different materials.

Carlo, who has been practicing this profession for fifty years and has passed it on to his daughters, loves to use natural products as much as possible, even producing shellac in total autonomy.

The Decorator

Painting was the practice of expression most used from prehistory to the contemporary world. His tools are brushes, its vocation is called patience: so Manila, returned to its homeland after a long absence, decorates its ornamental artistic ceramics, linked to the territory of Amiata and Val D’Orcia, an area that loves deeply because “you don’t appreciate things when you have an eye on them like when you go away“.

The Donkey Breeder

The “Amiatino” donkey is an ancient breed, recognizable by the coat bearing a scapular cross. In the area of Mount Amiata from which it takes its name, it was used as a pack, draft and mount beast until it was declared an endangered breed: in the eighties there were just two samples of this “Ciuco Amiatino”.

Luciano took the burden of keeping the breed alive and today he has repopulated Monte Amiata with the presence in the territory of over sixty animals, giving it value and importance as it is bred for hike, to practice onotherapy and more generally for the pet therapy.

Even today, despite the efforts of the locals, the Amiata donkey is not out of danger of extinction.

The Clockmaker

The character of clockmaker was born contextually to the origins of the mechanical watch, approximately in the Middle Ages.

Working today with the hands means above all “repair”. Craft of ancient tradition, but technical sector for a long time underestimated with shop masters who dispersed the trade, closed activities and no one to succeed.

Alessandro brings us in front of the clock that for years has marked the tolls of the life of an Amiata town and confesses to us that as things go today “he prefers to quit rather than consume these traditions”.

The Taylor

The tailor, today as yesterday, is a skilled craftsman in all respects and in Italy it has been a profession that has marked the history of costume and fashion. Sensitivity, aesthetic taste, manual skill and artistic flair are the qualities necessary to become tailors.

The need of the human race at its dawn to cover the body has therefore ancient origins: we can trace it back to the Paleolithic.

Our desire for beauty, value and the need to represent these things makes tailoring a contemporary art and Nedra, born in 1939, loves sewing but also “making socks” and has been doing it for seventy-five years.

The Upholsterer

The origin of the use of upholsterers dates back to the Temple of Jerusalem, the first century after Christ. But if we want to find an era in which curtains, blankets and pillows begin to flourish in the houses of the wealthy bourgeois, it is certainly the fifteenth century.

The fantasy of the upholsterers represented the real added value in the decoration of the houses, creating situations of absolute prestige.

According to Guido, upholsterer for forty years, this craft will always be there but some kinds of workmanship will vanish due to the trend of “disposable items”, consumerism to be clear, which does not allow long life to upholstered wooden furniture, preferring a modern style and industrialized to the unique and personal work.

The Herbalist

Herbal knowledge was transmitted orally from one generation to another: it is an ancient science, which has its roots in past millennia.

A craft that mixes its hands in the extraordinary variety of herbs and spontaneous plants found everywhere on the planet.

Even today herbs play a vital role in the tobacco and beer industries, in the production of wines and spirits, as dyes and flavoring in confectionery and in the preparation of tinctures. They are used to prepare essences, natural oils, perfumes and cosmetics.

And Aurelio teaches us that precisely in distillates, herbs can give unique sensations, such as the Stilla, typical wine of Monte Amiata and based on ancient recipes of the Cistercian monks. Because the Amiata territory is unique for the biodiversity present in it.

The Beekeeper

Beekeeping is an activity that has been practiced by man for at least twelve thousand years and the work of the beekeeper basically involves the recreation of the perfect living conditions of bees in the wild.

Honey was gradually supplanted as a sweetening agent especially after the introduction of refined sugar, but today beekeeping is an activity that enjoys good health and the craft continues to be handed down from generation to generation.

Massimo, twenty-three years of this activity, tell us the satisfaction of creating bee families and seeing them grow, then collecting their product.

The dignity of the artist lies in his duty to keep the sense of wonder in the world alive.

– GK Chesterton –

Thanks

The realization of a photographic project, which then turns into a book, a site, an event, is always thanks to a group of people who share their time, economic resources and patience for a common destination. And it really took a lot of patience.

A year and a half for all weekends or almost, kilometers of road and phone calls, emails and meetings, many shutters open and closed to take pictures.

And this thanks to the strength of two women: Nicole Rozzi and Nicole Rossi.

Without them, nothing could have happened. Thank you.

Other thanks go to (in alphabetical order): Luciano Bindi (Donkey Breeder), Giancarlo Calvani (Distiller), Massimo Cartocci (Beekeper), Barbara Contri (Ceramist), Simonetta Giardina (Goldsmith), Claudio Gorelli (Chimney sweep), Manila Guerrini (Decorator), Alessandro Marchini (Carver), Guido Nandesi (Upholsterer), Bruno Porcelloni (Thatcher), Eleonora and Bernardo Puggioninu (Cheese Makers), Duilio Raffi (Blacksmith), Alessandro Renai (Clockmaker), Erminio Pizzetti (Chiseller), Giuseppe Santelli (Miner), Massimo Scapigliati (Wicker), Guido Stolzi (Miner), Pietro Stolzi (Miner), Fabio Tascone (Horseshoer), Rossella and Riccardo Testi (Alpaca Breeders), Vladimiro Tondi (Cobbler), Nedra Vichi (Taylor), Alessandro Vinciarelli (Stonecutter), Aurelio Visconti (Herbalist).

The Book

Two years of work, twenty-five characters, almost two thousand hours of photos, videos and interviews, a camera around my neck.

74 pages. 20x25cm Landscape Format.

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