New Generation's handicraft in Sardinia - from tradition to innovation

FEATURED Updated on Jul 08, 2016 by Veronica Marras

Blog > New Generation's handicraft in Sardinia - from tradition to innovation

Veronica showcases the traditions and techniques of Sardinian handicrafts which, today, are quickly beginning to make a comeback in Central Sardinia.

Handicraft is still one of the leading sectors of Sardinian economy. The origin of its tradition gets lost in the history of Sardinian people. Being predominantly linked to other economic subsistence activities such as breeding and agriculture, shapes and styles of craft products are closely linked to their function.

For this reason, the handicraft has seen a period of low productivity due to changes in the needs of local communities and the advent of globalization, which made objects and tools typical of the tradition superfluous.

In a time of economic difficulties, high competition and demographic desertification, some Sardinian craftspeople have managed to stand out for their originality and talent in Sardinian sectors that seemed destined to extinction. These enterprising young artists managed to make a name for themselves in many different areas: from weaving to goldsmiths’ art.
 

Ceramics - Artes by Giovannina Coinu
 

Weaving and tailoring

The traditional textile production in Sardinia is closely linked to those activities that over the centuries have been the most productive: breeding and agriculture. The main raw material used in weaving is sheep's wool. Textile fibres of plant origin are flax, hemp and cotton. The weaving of silk and marine fine linen constitutes a special case. Until the early twentieth century, yarns’ dyeing was made by using the dyeing properties of local plants.
The Sardinian textile tradition has perhaps most strongly retained its role over time, entering firmly in the modern economic environment.
 

Dyeing of silk with natural colours - La Robbia by Maurizio Savoldo
 

A young and forward businessman, Maurizio Savoldo, has decided to take back the old tradition of dyeing with natural colours and start a business in his hometown, Atzara (Nuoro).
The craftsman has chosen his own region, today in strong depopulation index, as head office of its business for several reasons: all the spontaneous dyeing plants, his raw materials, have to develop in a particular environment and in a special atmosphere, and at the same time, a new business enriches the local economy and encourages tourism in an authentic Central Sardinia village. Through complex procedures he extracts a wide variety of colours to dye wool and silk. The company also produces various crafts such as bags in orbace, scarves, caps and home decor products adorned with the Sardinian custom embroidery and always enriched with symbols that are part of the autochthonous popular culture.
 

Color samples – La Robbia by Maurizio Savoldo


Although deeply rooted in the Sardinian handicraft sector, Modolo Couture still challenges the subtle borderline between tradition and innovation. This tailor’s shop, founded by a miner with a passion for sewing, has succeeded in resisting globalization, developing at the same time the ability to project itself beyond its own borders. The piece de resistance of the Modolo collection is the velvet suit, inspired by the traditional male costume and appreciated all over the world for the impeccable tailoring. Coarse wool or orbace, a fabric made with the traditional method of spinning the Sardinian sheep's wool to achieve durability and impermeability, is the second main character of Modolo’s work. This durable fabric was formerly used to manufacture coats, blankets and saddlebags that would accompany the shepherds during the transhumance period.
 

Sartoria Modolo – Accessories made of orbace and velvet.

 

Basket weaving

The local productions of woven baskets is also linked to the need of preserving and storing goods, and the knowledge of making them is handed down within the families. Baskets are both precious containers and everyday objects. The tradition distinguishes two types of manufacture: the first is masculine, solid and conform to the rural life, whereas the second one is feminine, more refined and garnished, destined to the house. Local vegetation, characterized by the Mediterranean macchia, offers excellent raw materials. The shapes vary, depending on their function: canistreddos, corbulas, corbulettas, canistreddas and parenittas, are all of a kind. Deep baskets, called corbulas, were used to store goods, especially bread, and were designed to allow women to carry them on their heads.
 

Sa Parenitta display of different colourful crafts by Salvatore Sechi


The shapes, the decorations, and often the different functions are repeated nowadays with the same craftsmanship, and sometimes these everyday objects become real pieces of art, thanks to the work of those who reproduce them in the traditional way, and above all, thanks to the people who re-elaborate tradition with a hint of modernity.

One of these artists is Salvatore Sechi, who decided to continue to weave baskets. He named his business after Sa Parenitta, a type of deep basket used for daily storage. In his opinion, this is the most functional shape and size that could be of any use nowadays. Literally, parenitta means bread box, but it was also used for cakes. His parenittas are all made of vegetal raw material, and especially palm which Salvatore grows in his garden, since the wild palm trees are protected, and reed. The raffia he uses for the pattern is also vegetal. What is new in his work are the designs that sometimes differ from the traditional ones and commit to more modern tastes.
 

Sa Parenitta basket by Salvatore Sechi: Su Ballu Tundu

 

Metal handicraft

Handcrafting of metals is now a sought-after production that combines artisan excellence, new functional and aesthetic design, as well as technological innovations applied to the use of different tools and materials. Sardinia’s long tradition in the field has been carried forward by multigenerational businesses that managed to enhance the teachings of ancient masters by catapulting this art to the present age.

The tradition focused on wrought iron and malleable metals, such as copper and tin, to forge tools functional to domestic activities. These techniques are now mixed and re-used in decorative form to get results that are evocative of great scenic impact. The productions range from functional crafts in the field of design, such as pieces of furniture and architecture, to ornaments and pieces of art. Among the craft sectors, Metal Processing is at present the most innovative and adaptable to a new design concept that values handwork and quality of raw materials, while allowing the experimentation of different materials’ combinations, such as iron and cork.
 

Bukau: hand fretworked sheet plate with various finishes – BAM Design by Vittorio and Andrea Bruno
​Image Credit: Gianluca Vassallo
 

In the philosophy of BAM (Bottega Artigiana Metalli) the metal interacts with other materials and captures value through its interaction with actions and elements. Vittorio and Andrea Bruno are the youngest generation in this family activity. The innovation they bring is based on the craft recovery while respecting tradition. The metal begins to melt with the wood, cork, glass and ceramics. Forms become essential, tend to an idea rather than an obsessive search for perfection, creating objects to look at, touch and feel, stimulating the interaction of the senses through colour differences and irregularities of surfaces. The project becomes a product: from the single object to the entire series, the enterprising smiths range over the field of interior design.
 

Berta: lacquered iron structure chair with black and ivory cotton cushion – BAM Design by Vittorio and Andrea Bruno
​Image Credit: Gianluca Vassallo

 

Goldsmith’s Art

Gold working, and jewellery in general, have always had a special place in tradition and society costumes, and every creation has a clear and definite role in representing a moment of life or a wish of growth. Every bride, for example, used to receive a pair of traditional buttons in the shape of a breast, called Sos buttones, to be pinned to the bride's dress before the wedding as a wish of prosperity. An exchange of gifts sealed the marriage: a wedding ring made of filigree for the bride and a knife with a horn handle for the groom; a symbol of protection and dedication to work. The legend tells that, in old times, little fairies known as the Janas, used to weave thin wires made of gold and silver. Their enchanted houses, the Domus the Janas, would have been the place where the ancient art of Filigrana sarda was born. The filigree is a jewellery metalwork in which the artist makes tiny beads and threads of gold and silver, and combines and welds them to a surface, often made of the same material of the decorations. The majesty of the artist is both technical and artistic. The elements are so tiny that the manufactures can only be produced with the same tools of the tradition, and this leads to an authentic production of artisanal pieces of art.
 

Corbula: filigree jewel representing the traditional basket - by Creazioni Antonello


This fine art has been handed down to Antonello Delogu, who founded Creazioni Antonello in 1980. He studied the art of filigree and decided to contaminate it with modern ideas. The first of his collections to use the filigree for new ideas is the Corbula collection, where he represented the traditional baskets made of gold as a jewel, connecting the old of the baskets and of the filigree to make a new concept of jewels. Other collections connect tradition and modernity, linking materials and objects, but giving them the aim of decoration: the Titile collection is inspired by the rolled-up handkerchief placed by Sardinian women over their head to support and carry weights such as corbulas full of almonds or other gifts, or jugs filled with water.
 

Titile: jewel representing the headgear to carry baskets and jugs - by Creazioni Antonello

 

Rocchetto: pendant from the collection IS - by L'Etoile


Another workshop in Nuoro is Laboratorio Etoile, by Alessandra Mascia and Maurizio Secchi. Their main techniques are filigree, repoussé, fretwork, etching and others. These adapt really well to the fantasy of the artisans who create their jewels thinking of a possible connection between modernity and Sardinian culture. Important projects of the Etoile are the Modus Auri collection, where they give great importance to the golden thread, and the IS project, in collaboration with Sardinian embroiderers and weavers, with which the Etoile celebrate the art of weaving, creating pendants in the shape of spools, looms and embroidery frames.
The curiosity to experiment led them to use the tissues of the traditional costumes to reinterpret the buttone that maintains its shape but becomes modern and fashionable.
 



Bottone: pendant representing Su Buttone - by L'Etoile

 

Ceramics

The history of Ceramics in Sardinia has its roots in the remotest antiquity. Museums and Sardinian archaeological sites preserved within them the memory of this tradition thanks to the many artefacts that date back to prehistory. The rural and pastoral context requires objects that support daily activities, transportation and water conservation, making bread, pastries and cooking. Ceramic production of everyday utensils normally starts with the first settlements and evolves into type and decoration over time, from Nuragic Age to Middle Ages. In the last century, thanks to prominent figures such as Ciusa, Fancello and Biasi, the transition to a production of "artistic" type takes place, getting closer to the concept of design.
 

Ceramics depicting the traditional lapwing - Artes by Giovannina Coinu


Contaminations between different arts are evident in the work of Sinzos, by Laura Puggioni. Sa Franda is a line of decorative panels and small pendants inspired by the female costume apron in the Sardinian tradition. Shapes and designs incorporate skillfully embroidered motifs on the traditional costume of countries such as Samugheo and Orgosolo.
The de-contextualization of an object that from tissue becomes jewellery, a decorative panel, headboards, is the main idea of this artist’s work.
 

Sa Franda – Clay representation of Orgosolo’s traditional costume apron, by Sinzos – Laura Puggioni


Also Giovannina Coinu’s work is inspired by local history, culture and tradition. Ceramics under the name of Artes have a scent of the ancient, magic atmosphere of Sardinian archeology. Her crafts depict the symbols of the island's economy and society, such as the famous lapwing and the geometries of the traditional costumes.
 

Ceramics inspired by the colours and motives of Sardinian traditional costume - Artes by Giovannina Coinu


Sardinian craftspeople's work ranges over countless art fields and techniques. The growth of this economical sector over the last years is encouraging; handicraft helps maintaing Sardinian traditions and culture by supporting its inhabitants and enhancing tourism.

If you want to know more about handicraft in Sardinia don't miss the 55o edition of Fiera dell'Artigianato Artistico della Sardegna, that will be held in Mogoro from the 30th of July to the 4th of September.

 

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