Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rapallo! (Italy Part III)

Ancient Map of Northern Italy, (with rough indications of towns)

I haven’t really talked about the different kinds of laces I saw yet. Who would have thought there were so many types! We have, here in Ireland, a number of laces, eg Carrickmacross, Kenmare, Youghal etc.  All needlepoint laces, and one crochet lace. Yet the dominant lace abroad, both in the symposium, the museums and with the people I met was bobbin lace. Until now, I have heard about bobbin lace, I even bought some bobbins in an auction a few months back, but I’ve never seen it in action. Now I can say I most definitely have. I can’t get over how popular it is! In fact, Angharad said it was one of the reasons she was delighted both myself and Emer could travel over, because along with Guillermo and his tatting, we were the only ones who were not talking about bobbin lace. I think I was the only person there who has never tried bobbin lace. I’m intrigued!!

Day 2 of the excursions brought us to Rapallo. I had only been inland for a few days, and I missed the sea already. There is something about sea air that just seems so much fresher than inland air. It’s why I ended up coming back to Dingle to settle. You can’t get more coastal than a peninsula. So, it was nice to see the sea again, however brief.

Lace, poverty, and fishing seem to go hand in hand. Natural and fishing disasters, whether it was bad weather or simply lack of fish, meant other sources of income must be found. Around the world, it seemed to be lace-making, or other crafts with small tools, that saved the day. This was true in Ireland, where lace became the most successful of the famine relief schemes. It was true in Brittany, where they brought in Irish Crochet lace during the Sardine Crisis. This is also true of the fishing towns we were to visit, Rapallo and Venice. Though on opposite sides of Northern Italy, both fishing communities depended on lacemaking for extra income. That the greatest beauty can come from extreme poverty, is a theme throughout our human history, and its a theme, I'd like to delve into a lot more. But not now..

Rapallo is situated on the west coast of Northern Italy. It had a long troubled history, and was conquered many times, thought now, it seems a more affluent town, part of the Italian Riviera. Rapallo has been known for its textile skills for centuries.  Archaeologists have discovered bits and pieces from as early as the 13th century.  A shop inventory from Genoa in 1600 mentions articles made from ‘filo di Rapallo’ (thread of Rapallo), suggesting that the ornate handwork was well known and appreciated outside the town. We arrived in Rapallo by bus, but the bus wasn’t allowed into the town. Who knows why? So we had a brisk walk to the funivia (cable car), to travel up to our first port of call, the Sanctuary of Nostra Signora di Montallegro.

Stunning views from this church, and the weather cleared for the first time since I had arrived in Italy. (Hence few outdoor photos of Pavia and Gandino). 

(You know I love my stories so, heres the story about this Sanctuary. On 2nd July 1557 the Virgin miraculously appeared to the farmer Chichizola, who tried to survive on a dry and hostile mountain. Thanks to the Virgin Mary’s intervention, he saw among those desolated areas a spring that would make the mountain fertile, and precisely “Allegro” - cheerful).

Many ex-voto offerings cover the sanctuary walls. Again, the ‘living’ church as opposed to Irish tombs. Angharad had told me about people who make the pilgrimage up to the sanctuary, to say prayer, and when the prayer was answered, they would return to the church with an offering. Silver hearts were the predominant offering. Which is a lovely idea, keeping the silversmiths trade going as well. 

I was surprised to see paintings of boats in the church, but on my return home, I read up about ex-voto offerings, and apparently paintings of boats weren’t uncommon! A ship safely returned home, or cargoes delivered. 

After (yet another) another delicious lunch, we headed over to the Museo del Merletto which has a huge collection of lace, with over 1400 items. 

"...such as clothing, furnishing objects, laces and bobbin laces of the XVIII and XIX century and about 5000 preparatory drawings and cardboards used to realise laces". Amazingly lacemaking continued in Rapallo on a commercial scale even in the 1920s! Below is a reconstruction piece.

 Drawing for lace panel

a section of the lace panel

It also housed a huge panel of lace that, has to be a world record. Commissioned for an ocean liner, it was made in 1960s by the set designer and painter Lele Luzzati, representing the “Commedia dell’Arte”. This work portrays the main techniques to realise a bobbin lace, and was mostly made up of old pieces of lace. Above is a photo of the drawing for the lace panel, below it is ta part of the lace panel itself.

We didn't get to see the whole museum unfortunately, as we had spent so much time at the Sanctuary and at lunch, and we had just enough time to visit some Italian ladies at work.

"In 1871, 3,098 workers were recorded in Rapallo the pillow. The Cultural Association "Bella Nina bobbin lace in Rapallo", was born in 2004 by a group of interested persons to carry on the tradition of over one bobbin lace. It became a gathering place for the purpose of organizing courses teaching to win younger people, retrieve ancient material (maps, stands, old photos) historical documents and oral testimony on this tradition that is part of the history of Rapallo".

We got to pop our heads into 'Bella Nina'. A group of ladies carrying on the tradition of bobbin lace in Rapallo. They were so delighted to have foreign visitors, lacemakers besides, that the local press were there to record our visit. It was lovely to see these ladies at work. And how I envy their ability to work outside! Lace-making, when it wasn't in control of the church or wealthy, was a very social craft, done among women, indoors and outdoors, when there was no fishing to be done. When the men were out at sea, they would make lace, and then when they came home, the lace was put aside and the gutting, cleaning and selling of fish was done. Considering these crafts are extremely hard on the eye, they suit being done outdoors. I can't imagine what it is like to be able to work outdoors. Jeez, even being about to hang your washing out is considered a great day now, here in Ireland.

I'll finish this part of the post about Rapallo, by telling you a lovely story I came across online about how 'Bella Nina', bobbin lace of Rapallo, got its name. It has pirates in it, so I have to tell you...  

In the 1500′s the dreaded pirate Dragut made a raid on Rapallo.  All the townspeople fled in terror. But upon entering the home of a fisherman, one of the pirates who had stayed behind found two women poorly hidden behind a pile of nets.  One was very old and couldn’t move; one was young and beautiful, and was working lace on a pillow.‘Why didn’t you leave with the others?’ he asked.  The young woman replied that her grandmother was paralyzed and she did not wish to abandon her. When asked their names, the young woman replied they were both called Nina, as women’s names were handed down from mother to daughter. The pirate asked what the young woman was doing, and she showed him her delicate handwork.  When asked what it was called, Nina said that it had no name, it was just the work that women of Rapallo did.  The pirate was so impressed with Nina’s beauty and fidelity that he said he would not harm either of the women and that henceforth the work she was doing should be known as ‘Bella Nina.’


I was well aware, at all times, that in the audience of the Symposium, were some expert lacemakers. Luckily few of them do Irish Crochet, so I didn’t feel too much the eejit talking about my lace to experts. I’ll fully acknowledge I’m newish to lacemaking, having only taken it up in the last 5 years. I don’t spend all my time making lace, well, haven't until recently. But I’ve been sucked into this fantastic little cult. And a cult it is! I always said the patchwork/quilting crowd were like a cult, they are renowned for their devotion and fervour to their cause. I suppose being someone who is fascinated with all kinds of textiles, I always felt an outsider to these zealots, and my magpie approach to textiles was my downfall. But chatting to some of the ladies over the course of the week, I’ve come to see its potential as my strong point. I’m not trying to break out of tradition, turn contemporary in the face of die-hard traditionalists, (and there are many of them!). Neither did I have to fight with tutors and professors in college, to be able to use lace-making skills in my work.  It was an underlying thread throughout the symposium. Are we lacemakers, or not? Are we crafts people, or makers, or the latest buzzword to describe people who craft art, or art craft. What are the terms of reference for what we do? So many questions.

I’d like to acknowledge some of the attendees, though all the attendees played a major role in the success of the symposium. The Symposium was entirely self-funded, a very brave undertaking by Angharad! I cant repeat enough what a wonderful event she put together. But it was because of the presence of the attendees, that this event was a success. They supported the event financially by simply attending, and wholeheartedly showed their support the next generation of lacemakers. I got to know these ladies better, through the long bus trips, dinners and lunches we all shared on our excursions. And I have to say, they made the trip for me. These women were incredible! The wealth of their knowledge on history, heritage, and of course lace.  I was humbled by their presence, by their eagerness and passion, to openly support the next generation. Unfortunately, there is a generation gap, and I don't mean physical age. I'm talking about attitude. The ability to learn and respect the work of our elders, be it traditional or not. There is a place for traditionalists, without them all the skills would have died out long ago. Some textile arts, such as metal laces and braiding, were mens work, and these techniques have floundered disastrously because men failed to keep the tradition alive. We need traditionalist to keep the old ways, but we need new ways of working, to keep it a part of the modern world. I'd be more likely to call myself an interpreter, than an artist. I use very traditional skills, and interpret them my own way. Somewhere in limbo land between craft and art.Sometimes I felt an interpreter between the generations. Though in my soul, I've always been an 'old dear'. I'm quite happy with that despite all my sisters slagging.

I cant mention all of the people I met, some names I've forgotten already! I'm writing as much as I can so I can remember them. Also, something happened in Venice, to make us feel more united, but that’s for another post.

Mariña Regueiro, a wonderful lady from Galicia, in Spain. Mariña is an expert in all kinds of bobbin lace, and runs a summer school for lace in her home town. She has published books on lace, including the one pictured above. We bonded over Galician cheese sandwiches, which she made for our breakfast, and through the wonderful chats we had over the week. We talked about everything from lace and kids to gardening. Our homelands are linked, mentally and spiritually. Galicia and Kerry both, were once nations of fishermen, sailors and pirates, and now are tourist and surf destinations!  A lecture I went to last year, as part of our new Maritime Festival on pirates and prostitutes, brought home the Spanish maritime connection with the west coast of Ireland. We talked about the El Camino de Santiago, and indeed our own Kerry Camino!  A lot of folk from Dingle have done some of the Camino walk, and I had been talking with a friend about possibly walking some of it in the next year. So I’m taking it as a sign! They have a lace festival every Easter, which sounds great as well. Maybe next years trip....

Leslie and Tamara. I have to admit, I ended up chatting the these 2 English ladies a lot. I just loved their wit, their knowledge, and their outlook on life. Both members of OIDFA, the International bobbin Lace and Needle Lace Association, they travel regularly to lace events around the world! Leslie volunteers at the Norwich Costume and Textiles Study Centre,  and has really become an expert on their textile collection. I never got to see any lace made by these two lovely ladies, but hopefully I’ll meet them again, and get to see their work. Bother were very interested in contemporary lacemaking, and talked about the stanch traditionalists of the lacemaking guilds, and its attitude to contemporary lacemaking.

Jane Atkinson, a queen of contemporary lace. She been hammering at the edges of the traditional lace world for some time now, making an easier path for us younger lacemakers.  She has written books, her latest being the one pictured above. She travels the world teaching and talking about lace. It was wonderful to be in the company of women who are professional makers, and hear about their trials and tribulations in the craft world.

Hanne Behrens  didn’t come on all the excursions but attended the same two workshops I had. An incredible jeweller from Denmark, who has won numerous awards, and has showed her work around the world. She was a student of Arline Fisch and Mary Lee Hu, two names repeated at the Symposium with awe. I've been looking more into the work of tactile jewellers, for want of a better word. It seems by working in metal lace, you could cross that road from ‘handicrafts’ to crafts easier and get the best of both worlds. I loved her technique of making metal bobbin lace, working with metal wire freehand, without the aid of bobbins at all.

I'll have a few more to talk about in the next post, which will hopefully be the last post on the Italy trip!


Deirdre said...

Facinating stuff! I made an exvoto, back in 2007 I think, when a group of us boarded the tall ship Jeannie Johnston in Dingle and headed off on our Camino! I made it a 3d model of the ship, and sure enough it must have done some good, we had a beautiful passage through the bay of Biscay which has a bit of a reputation for nasty storms. It was on the altar of the church when we headed off. It's in the Dingle library now for all to see.

Stitchlily said...

Brilliant! I've seen it, but never looked closely at it. Must have a proper look next time I go in.