Artisan in Valsesia
Valsesia is a closed valley with poor soil. Its inhabitants, over the course of the centuries, with many initiatives, learned to work with their hands what the land offered and exported their skills to distant lands.
Emigration has always been a prerogative of the valley artisans since the fifteenth century, and the artistic skills acquired in various fields, from the sixteenth century, led the people of Valsesia all over Europe: Vincenzo Lancia from Fobello founded the automotive company by the same name; the Durio family from Civiasco excelled in the hotel sector in Spain; the Axerio family from Rima founded a flourishing business of artificial marble in Moscow that is still visible today in many palaces; several people from Varallo brought to Lyon the art of weaving and the silk trade and Pietro Rolandi from Quarona opened a bookshop in London attended by intellectuals of the nineteenth century.
If we want to identify a "birth date” of artistic craftsmanship in Valsesia, it can certainly correspond to the end of the fifteenth and the beginning of the sixteenth centuries with the construction of the Sacred Mount of Varallo, the New Jerusalem of the Alps, which saw the involvement of master builders, carpenters, blacksmiths and decorators from these areas.
In 1831, in Varallo the Società d’Incoraggiamento allo Studio del Disegno in Valsesia(Association for the Encouragement of the Design in Valsesia) was founded with the aim of helping the young people of the valley to exploit their artistic skills. Immediately afterward, in 1838, the Barolo School was founded, featuring a woodcarving laboratory.
The Società Operaia di Mutuo Soccorso (Workers’ Mutual Aid Society) is still dedicated to the promotion and valorization of Valsesian artisan products, continuing the work undertaken in 1859 by the historical Association by the same name in Varallo, with the original objective of supporting the material and moral well-being of the workers.
Therefore, the craftsmanship of Valsesia has a long history: the inhabitants of Valsesia, having few easy roads of communication, had to provide independently to their needs, and the "closure” of the valley made it possible to maintain intact the processing without external interferences: handmade furniture and textiles (hemp, linen, silk, and wool), bronze processing (bells of Valduggia and artistic statues), wrought iron processing (Varallo has many hand-crafted artistic balconies), the puncetto, scapin, Alagna soapstone and weaving of baskets.
Today, some of these activities are unfortunately lost, but others are still highly active, and the Bottega dell’Artigianato of Varallo is a good example of this.