Valuable Textile Stories

There is a museum in Como, within one of the oldest silk/weaving enterprise clusters in Italy, that tells the story, illustrates manufacturing processes, highlights the epic of this industry in the 20th century, and above all, someway prevents the “genius loci” of Italian manufacture from being consigned to oblivion. It’s the Educational Silk Museum

A while ago, we used to say that Italy was the land of industrial enterprise clusters. Born from scratch in the early 20th century and even earlier, without a dedicated planning, operating in different manufacture segments, they were just an efficient response to the need for production pools within an area, able to support each other and create a winning product. It was an obvious measure, which we now call a “network of enterprises”. Actually, enterprise clusters – particularly in the textile industry – wrote the history of manufacture in Italy. Unfortunately, today, because of a decline trend, short historical memory, globalisation and the like, we tend to consign them to oblivion. The Como enterprise cluster has its roots as long ago as in the 17th century, almost two centuries before the San Leucio enterprise cluster, not far from Caserta, planned by the Borbone family. Apart from the birth primacy, what really counts is the role the Como enterprise cluster played in the 19th and 20th century, driving the local economy with some examples of excellence well known in the world and still undisputedly leading this industry. An enterprise cluster is a network of craftsmen, industrial plants as well as culture and education on the territory. Not by chance, the Educational Silk Design was created in 1990 on the initiative of Classe ’27 in association with the former students at the Setificio institute (Ex Allievi del Setificio), two Como based associations that work to gather finds, records and materials from silk mills in Como. And still not by chance, the Istituto Tecnico di Setificio and the Museum are located in the same building.

Telling stories and textile culture experience

The word “educational” is important to Mr. Luciano Guggiari, president of the Associazione per il Museo della Seta (Educational Silk Museum Association): «The museum’s task is to illustrate, tell, preserve the memory, the manufacturing process in a silk mill, from the silk farm to the finished fabric. It is a knowledge dissemination task we mainly carry out towards schools as well as the general public. It is not just the fact of telling them the industrial process, but also of recovering and highlighting the craftsmanship of this territory. Let’s take, e.g., machinery: we see some manufacturing systems entirely made of wood by excellent craftsmen in the textile enterprise cluster, we saved from oblivion and recycling as fuel wood. The genius loci of this cluster is magnified by the finished product as well as through every component of the supply chain, including those excellent textile machine manufacturers, and their products, that used to stay under the radar».

As a matter of fact, the Museum, on an area of approximately a thousand square metres, offers a walk along the whole silk making process, with original equipment, both mechanical and hand operated, recovered from local companies, going back to the time between the late 19th and the early 20th century. A multimedia support with an interactive video shows a few stages that could not be reproduced in a limited space. «The museum heritage – says Mr. Guggiari – is really very large. It allows a historical-educational compilation of silk manufacture: not only the manufacturing process as such, but also each single stage of the process. Every machine exhibited has been donated and restored introducing the original moving parts. However, we only show part of the large heritage of our Museum, that gathers thousands of historical exhibits. Among them some interesting pieces and instruments in the story of the textile/silk making technique and machinery, drawing archives, designs on paper, test papers, colour swatches, set of samples, print references, collections or sets of objects, textile products, silk cloths for religious and non religious use, clothing from the 20th century, laces and embroideries, weave exercise books, pictures, films. All what makes the history of this industry. To this aim – say within 2015 – we want to extend the exhibiting space and walk including the finished product, i.e. garments and fabrics, passing through samples and collections. The first example of an extended exhibiting concept was Silk Reloaded, a project lead by Anna Della Torre, which involved the museum space from December 2013 to January 2014. The event aimed at drawing the attention to this segment of the industry, while promoting Como and its specific manufacturing ability in the area, and developing a synergy among school, business, professionals, government agencies and cultural agencies. A “pact” of solidarity to support this industry and its culture that needs to be revitalised. The event included three complementary moments: a multimedia, interactive exhibition, meetings and conferences before, during and after the exhibition, some activities with the audience and educational laboratories».

A culture space that reaches the international audience

The Educational Silk Museum in Como is not just a local event, its performance is excellent on the international market: «We are satisfied with it – Mr. Guggiari adds – in 2013, apart from initiatives for schools, we registered 7200 visitors, half of them from abroad. Considering that this is the result of by word of mouth mechanism, of our Website and Facebook page, we are happy with it. However, we aim at raising the number of international visitors. In our opinion, this is the only way to preserve the culture of this area and to help the industry as well».