RENZO “The basket weaver from the Langhe region”
In the past, all the peasants in the Langhe region used baskets for various purposes: for harvesting grain, vegetables and fruit: They held wood, eggs and so much more. Almost everybody would make them during those long and snow-capped winter months for the requirements of the family. Some of these baskets were expressions of the creativity of the weavers and featured an alternation of colours, shapes, decorations and trim but they always remained objects of practical daily use.
I have always loved baskets. I buy them and use them although I’m always sorry when they break or wear out. Then I go looking for more…
I have had the fortune of getting to know Renzo recently. I’ve bought a few items from him and invited him to the Cascina Bricchetto to give a demonstration to us and our guests.
As a child, Renzo would watch his grandfather create willow baskets for his family and wanted to become as good at it as him. But, as his grandfather always said, you needed to weave a lot of them and you also needed to have some kind of artistic inspiration.
Under the guidance of his grandfather, Renzo began to make baskets until a steady job came along that involved travelling around so he had to abandon his weaving. Every once in a while he would look back with some regret and then say to himself that he would hold willows in his hands again one day and resume his basket weaving.
The years flew by. His children grew up and went off on their own and when the time came for Renzo to retire at last, he decided to dedicate his time to basket making. Fortunately he was in excellent physical condition and his wife was willing to collaborate with him.
That next January Renzo and his wife Silvana started roaming through the Langhe region in search of willows in different shades of yellow, green and brown. Branches of different diameters were needed for the different parts of the basket. Likewise, different lengths were needed for baskets in different sizes.
The branches had to be conserved in a place that provided the appropriate moisture in order for them to work well. If they got too dry, they were no longer pliable and they had to be thrown out and a portion of the barks needed to be peeled to provide the colour white…
Our friends Renzo and Silvana loved their outdoor walks in the beautiful Langhe region. They would stop in local taverns to enjoy traditional dishes. At home they tried and tried again to conserve what they had gathered – the “raw material”. Renzo drew upon his childhood memories and tried to weave his first baskets after so many years but he wasn’t able to. He wondered if he had forgotten something or if his fingers were too stiff to weave those unmanageable willows. Perhaps he didn’t have the right tools…
After asking around, Renzo and Silvana found some elderly men who made baskets. They also thought that these old-timers would be happy to teach the “art of basket weaving” so that the tradition could be passed down to the younger generations instead of dying out. The initial contacts were disappointing. The men said “No”. But our friends didn’t give up. The experience made them more cautious so they would limit themselves to quietly watching the old artisans at their craft. Once they got home, they would try to duplicate what they had seen – over and over again. Sometimes the basket was completed and other times they would get stuck at some point so they would go back to the elderly artists and watch what needed to be done at that particular point very carefully. It was then that Silvana realized that a certain amount of strength was needed and that she wasn’t strong enough. She continued working with Renzo, though, and discovered a passion for nature photography which she cultivated every time they went out walking in search of willow branches.
Renzo and Silvana are still working together today. Now Renzo has both the artistic inspiration and the technique. Each basket is unique – as I tried to convey through the photographs I took during the session with him that we hosted here at Cascina Bricchetto.
Renzo would be happy to show you his creations here at our place.