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   Date: 9/13/11 Bookmark and Share

Smith JYA Students Get to Know Florentine Artisans

By Alexandra Ghiz '12

Last May, at the historic Giardino Corsini, Smith students on their Junior Year Abroad in Florence cleared the way for future Smithies and American students studying in the renaissance city.

The occasion was the 17th annual exhibition of Artigianato e Palazzo, an open-air exhibition of real artisans and their crafts, featuring the works of some 80 artisans, some from different trades. The exhibition was the culminating event of the Smith JYA students’ work studying, interviewing, and getting to know the participating artisans and their crafts on a personal level as part of the students’ course, Fashion and Costume. The students also led tours throughout the weekend for other student groups.

JYA students lead a tour of the historic Giardino Corsini.

A Florentine artisan displays his work during Artigianato e Palazzo.

Smith JYA students pose in their pink shirts, the costume they wore as tour guides for Artigianato e Palazzo.

The three-day Artigianato e Palazzo exhibition was first held in 1995, an idea conceived by Neri Torrigiani and the Princess Giorgiana Corsini as a way to bring the artisan trades out of their workshops—where it was unknown to all but a few dedicated customers—and to create a relationship between the public and the craftsmen, in a way that keeps their art alive.

Led by Costume and Fashion Professor Costanza Menchi, the class of 10 Smith students formed the pioneering group in the latest initiative to expose foreign students to a rich Florentine tradition unparalleled in other parts of the world. The project, developed by Menchi and her colleague, Debora Chellini, is titled “Let’s work Artisans! Learning through Experience,” and draws upon the broad base of American students in Florence, as well as the city’s unique artisan background, which dates back to the guilds of the middle ages.

It is a tradition that runs the risk of being lost in today’s consumerist world. True artisanship takes time, patience, quality materials, and an appreciative audience, all elements that fall scarce from time to time in the advent of Internet shopping, big superstores, knockoffs, and synthetic material.

Each Smith participant was paired with a different artisan, who would be present at the mostra. Leading up to the exhibition, the students visited their assigned artisans at their bottega (workshops), to develop a relationship with them, see their work environment, and learn more about their craft. In addition, many students wrote final papers on the topic of their artisan’s craft, further integrating the material into the classroom.

Olivia Cifrino ’12 visited the bottega of Emme.Ti.Erre, a mother-daughter team that produces hand-embroidered goods, such as fine linens, baptismal gowns and tablecloths made of silk. “They were very welcoming and eager to show me all the different facets of what they do,” said Cifrino of her artisans. “I feel like, when people show you something they are really passionate and you automatically feel closer to them.”

Adorned in artisanal straw hats and pink shirts, the Smith students offered tours to groups of other students from design schools at mostly American universities. The groups would wind through the garden and the lemon houses (in which many artisans had their stands), stopping to visit their individual artisans. Crafts on display ranged from the artisan perfume shop of Lorenzo Villoresi to the delicate yet elaborate feathered creations of N. Mazzanti, a favorite stop for the Smithies.

“Everything was just so unique and fun,” said Cifrino of the exhibition. “I loved watching the artisans work and show people their work. I went a little overboard with buying gifts there.”

Though the exhibition lasts for just three days, it is an important part of conserving the craftsmanship, an important Florentine tradition. With the growing new partnership between Smith College and Artigianato e Palazzo, this tradition will live on.

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