Alligator, Ostrich, and Deer, Oh My!

Today was our visit to the Florence Leather School, the site visit that my group Team Squadra presented on back in Benedum. I was looking forward to seeing the artisans craft fine leather goods in front of us.

At the leather school, I was very impressed at how seriously they take preserving the art of leather making. The school offers both three- and six-month courses for anyone interested, from any starting skill level. Students are taught the art so that they can call themselves actual artisans as opposed to workers. The difference, we learned, is that artisans know the entire process of creating a leather good inside and out, while workers may know just a single phase in a process.

Our guide, Benedetta, explained that only the most talented students at the school are invited into the upper level to work on unique purse, coaster, and other leather designs. This upper level actually used to be the dormitory hall when the building was a monastery. I admire the leather school because it was founded for a socially beneficial cause: to teach young orphan boys a useful trade.

We watched “the last guilder” Francesco create a leather coaster with a 24 karat gold design. He has this title because at the moment, he is the final student who knows how to complete this process. This makes sense because he was in school for fifteen years to acquire the skill. I appreciated how the school really strives to keep the leather-crafting art alive by refusing to speed up their process. Their focus on quality sets them apart. This is supported by the fact that they literally take up to 60 days maximum from conception to shipping for any given product. However, I can completely understand why this is the case after observing the artisans painstakingly focusing on their craft.

Another factor in the leather-crafting process that “raises the stakes” is that the precious animal skins used to make the leather are often expensive. For instance, the most costly part of an alligator skin comes from the belly. The price for this part can be as high as 20 euros per centimeter! So clearly, mistakes are expensive. Benedetta said that one mistake may cost a lot of money, while a second may cost an artisan his or her job.

As far as sustainability goes, the leather school keeps the cotton pieces used to rub away excess sheets of gold from the leather and gives them to a center for recycling once a year. There, up to 20-25% of the gold can be salvaged for reuse.

Toward the end of the visit, we went to the workshop of the school. We met the oldest craftsman at the school, who began working there at age 15 and is now 82. I think this speaks to the pride Florence, and the school, places on its artisans and the fulfillment the artisans themselves must feel about their craft.

The other visits for today were the Gucci Museum and the Galileo Museum. The most fascinating takeaway I got from the Gucci Museum was that for Gucci, they are not focused as much on whether a piece of clothing is feminine or masculine as much as they are on self-expression and personality shining through a piece. I think this is cool because at its core, fashion should be more about individuality than catering to what we view as being typical for a certain gender. I enjoyed observing the great legacy and cultural impact Gucci has maintained as far back as the 1930s.

Lastly, at the Galileo Museum I was interested to observe some early scientific discoveries that honestly, I take for granted. For example, we saw how a nocturna operates. This is an instrument which tells time based on the placement of the last two stars of the Big Dipper constellation in relation to the stationary Polaris star. We also observed various instruments that indirectly espoused geocentric, and then heliocentric, theories about the universe. I was reminded how greatly science has advanced and how facts that are common knowledge today took years to be proven.

Today, I saw a lot more that Florence has to offer, but my feet are tired. Needless to say I am thankful that tomorrow will be laid back with more free time.




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