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Slow Masters - Introduction

Letizia Mattiacci (Madona del Piatto)

Sometimes I wonder why shopping while on holidays is so much fun. I mean, most of us live in worlds where there are shopping opportunities at every corner.

The thrill of something new and exotic is irresistible though. In addition, that object you buy will become a reminder of the sights and colors and emotions of a special time and place.

Hand painted Umbrian ceramics: a wonderful plate by Franco Mari in Deruta

Hand painted Umbrian ceramics: a wonderful plate by Franco Mari in Deruta

There are endless ways to pursue the perfect souvenir.

I tend to go to department stores for purely utilitarian reasons. With globalization they all look the same down to the potpourri deodorizers and the focaccia/sushi bars. Only rarely have I found there something that had a link to a country and its people.

On the other hand, visiting colorful markets, quaint little boutiques and artisan workshops can be as valuable a cultural experience as the next monument.

This is particularly true in Italy. If you look beyond the glitzy made-in-China international brands, you will find a wealth of small artisans. Splendid ceramics, jewelry, textiles, iron, leather, wood and glass work, everything is there. And food, lots of special foods and drinks produced often by a single family or man.

Artisan food is widely available in Italy

Artisan food is widely available in Italy

Italian artisans might use modern technology and materials but they produce the same beauty, quality, and individual character of each object as centuries ago.

Theirs is no romantic life, really. They need to pay their bills. They are chased out of prime shopping areas by said international brands. They might not know how to use the Internet or speak foreign languages. There is no time for marketing when you run the business by yourself and need most hours to actually produce the merchandise, often by hand or with limited machinery.

Buying from an artisan, it's not only a gesture of appreciation of beauty, it is also a contribution to the tradition, to the preservation of knowledge and to the local economy.

Here are my tips for a successful craft hunt:

  • Research: all good guidebooks and many travel websites have information about arts and crafts in a specific area or region.
  • Go to the source: when possible buy from the maker. Not only will you have a chance of a better price but you might gain interesting insights into the history of the artisan and his craft and see how it is made.
  • Compare: good crafts are plagued by imitations which might not be cheaper. When I am not sure how to tell one from another, I visit a reputable workshop or the local craft museum to get acquainted with the best. Then I visit different shops and compare prices and quality until I fall in love with something that looks typical and unique at the same time.

Back home you will have a little piece of Italy, our strange country, a country full of contrast and complexity, a country of extremes. A country where so much beauty can be found even behind a metal door.

The fabulous Brozzetti workshop in Perugia producing textiles on 100 years old looms

The fabulous Brozzetti workshop in Perugia producing textiles on 100 years old looms


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Letizia Mattiacci lives in Assisi, Umbria with husband Ruurd, daughter Tea and dog Google. Together they run Agriturismo and Cooking school Alla Madonna del Piatto.

©Alla Madonna del Piatto , 2010

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