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In Italy (too) artisanal is the new black

Published in the US immediately following the 2008 crisis, the book by Matthew Crawford "Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work" is launching a trend in Italy

In Italy (too) artisanal is the new black

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by Gianmaria Padovani

 

Awaking one morning from a career dream, Ignazio Signorelli - 40, the last fifteen years spent climbing the hierarchical rungs of a couple of multinationals to become financial manager - found himself transformed into a "maker".

This little word in English, which you can bet will become increasingly common in the months to come, refers to someone who embraces the philosophy of life in which you produce something with your own hands.

For Signorelli, the myriad repairs required to restore a 1981 Comet 850 sailboat moored in the marina of Bocca di Magra on the border between Liguria and Tuscany.

"For me, today, it is fundamental to get down there," he tells us, as he continues to work in Milan as a financial manager, but now part-time four days a week with three days off.

"Using my hands is important.

It allows me to find sense once again in what I do," he says.

What The Economist has ventured to call "a third industrial revolution" is a phenomenon partly the result of the crisis, especially career prospects for millions of white collar workers, and partly of this moment in history in which the technology and connection opportunities offered by the net make it possible for someone with an idea to realize it with their own hands.

The cradle of this artisan movement is the hippest neighborhood of that metropolis par excellence: Brooklyn, New  York. The eastern side of the East River today is not the home of legal practices or market traders, but an incredible number of businesses, such as that of Rick and Michael Mast of Mast Brothers Chocolate, producers of sophisticated chocolate bars made from cacao beans shipped on a cargo sailboat from the Dominican Republic right to Williamsburg pier.

 

The monthly New York Magazine dedicated a cover story to this "artisanal delirium" that has driven thousands of Brooklyn's inhabitants to take up production of jams, cosmetic oils, candy, ricotta, sausage, artisan beer and bourbon.

All in limited production much sought-after in wealthy Manhattan and the rest of the US.

In Italy, caught in the vise of the crisis, artisan activity also represents a resource. It is one of the few sectors experiencing growth.

For example, at the end of 2011, the food sector had grown by 1.4 percent and some niches, such as workshops for musical instrument repair, whose activity doubled between 2009 and 2011.

The idea that producing something unique with your own hands is "cool" has begun to create the first "makers" in Italy who, until very recently, didn't even know they were.

A small festival dedicated to them, Mencraft, opened in Rome on June 12. Among the stands people such as Davide Caforio, 35, a designer graduate of Brera Academy, who for the last seven years has been customizing motorcycles, particularly Guzzi bikes. "I don't do it for the money," he swears, and to-date he has produced just six fantastic bikes. "I still don't have the courage to invest all my time in it."

His colleague from Italy's Romagna region, Roberto Bacchereti, 32, runs a hotel in Bellaria and in his spare time produces a vintage line of surfboards, from 5 to 11.5 feet in length, the best for the Mediterranean's small waves. Sander, paint and resin are the tools he uses to express his creativity.

"It's like doing a painting," he says. "I work by eye. Each board is unique." The business end (each piece costs between 200 and 400 euros) is secondary.

"In fact, I like to involve the customer and sometimes I push them to make the board themselves."

His passion can carry him away for ten hours a day, or keep him out of the workshop for days. But when he doesn't use his hands for awhile, he is overcome with a sense of nostalgia that only passes when he returns to his role of maker.

Currently, he is taking his time restoring a Mercedes Unimog truck from WWII. And when it's finished, he'll hook up a camper, load up his surfboards and set off for Mauritania on a surf expedition.

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