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
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
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
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
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.
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.