The traditional artisan’s think tank lifestyle
Two representatives from the Michelangelo Foundation in Spain discuss the institution’s work on an artisanal design revival and the pursuit of excellence.
Do you want to work with cordovan leather, or the silk used to upholster the best homes in Flanders? How about locating the workshop that belonged to the espadrille maker who once knew Yves Saint Laurent? Or maybe the people who embroidered bullfighters’ costumes or who walked the streets of the Córdoba Jewish quarter to get to the filigree workshops? All of these Spanish workshops are still active today: we follow in the footsteps of the artisans and talk to Spain’s representatives of the Michelangelo Foundation about their activities in this regard.
The best teachers in Europe
Belén Ferrier Llamas has an old picture framing workshop in Geneva, visited by some of the most renowned collectors. Three years ago, she saw an article in How to Spend It about the first Homo Faber, an exhibition of master craftsmanship to be held in Venice, organised by the Michelangelo Foundation. It was 2019, and she didn’t want to miss it. When she arrived and saw what they had set up on the Island of San Giorgio, with no expense spared, showing the best workshops and teachers in Europe all with their unique pieces, she wanted to cry with gratitude.
Belén says that “the story began when Franco Cologni, a professor from Milan who was part of the Cartier house, together with Johann Rupert, CEO and founder of the Richemont Group, took on the task of doing everything they could to recover the knowledge, workshops and mastery of certain trades that were – frankly – not doing well. They set up the Michelangelo Foundation to provide support and communicate the excellence of European craftsmanship, to safeguard all the small workshops that were on the brink of extinction. As a strong group in the artisan world’s leading industry – watchmaking – they set about forming a strong think tank. The problem and solution were clear to them: to set up a group equivalent to the ones that protect the fashion and luxury goods industries, but related to craftsmanship. It would have the goal of not letting this sector – and with it all the wisdom of our civilisation – disappear. Without hesitation, they made significant investment to position it at the level it deserved. They set up a powerful online platform with a comprehensive interactive guide on excellence in Europe. For them, “craftsmanship is craft, tradition and dexterity, and it takes a number of years to train good teachers” Ferrier explains.
Belén returned to Spain, and soon after the Michelangelo Foundation contacted her and formed, with a group of key people, a team inside the Spanish artisan world.
Tomas Alía and the universalisation of Talavera ceramics
One of the cogs of the Spanish team at the Michelangelo Foundation: Designer, interior designer and from a family with a long-standing artisan tradition, he was elected Cultural Ambassador for Talavera Ceramics five years ago. As a result of his work, he gained recognition for Talavera and Puente ceramics by the United Nations as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. “I was appointed as representative of the Michelangelo Foundation for Spain. Specifically, to produce the recently published Homo Faber Guide for Madrid. Michelangelo has two very important initiatives: one is Homo Faber, the great meeting of artisans and designers in San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice; and the second is Doppia Firma, a project that brings together designers and master artisans to design a piece of furniture and display it in Il Salone Milano, which will take place this year”, says Alía.
“We’re trawling the length and breadth of Spain, workshop by workshop, so we can find, get to know, and select the best. And we’ve found absolute gems, such as Fajalauza… A childless 90-year old who inherited an ancient Andalusian tradition, who has no money to set anything up – the risk is that all that knowledge would be lost – we simply can’t allow it. What about my own mother, Pepita Alía, and her knowledge of Largartera embroidery? How can we put a value on this?”, asks the designer.
On 17 March, a major conference is due to be held at the Thyssen Museum, called Craft, Design and Sustainability. There will be a discussion of the need to bring craft into design, the current situation, and how important it is to recognise excellence. It will also see the launch of the new Contemporary Association of Arts and Crafts and “what’s more, to help with sales in these times of crisis, we’ve set up an online shop called Casa Alía to represent artisans across Spain, where artisans can not only sell their works at their own prices to the public, but also allocate 10% for their training”, he adds.
“Craftsmanship is a buzzword right now” confirms the interior designer confirms, who defines it as “the rebirth of new humanism”. And the European Union, with Úrsula van der Layen at the helm, wants to set up a large platform, a New Bauhaus which we have a lot of hope in, given it’s the most sustainable movement in the world. It’s eco-friendly, it’s helping to fill empty Spain – we need to make the most of it or it’ll pass us by”, he says.
Belén Ferrier Llamas insists that three essential elements are required: culture, industry and education. And awareness raising of support from private companies. The design is fundamental, but it must be publicised.