Every year I go to Florence in search of miracles. Everywhere I look there is so much to see and feel - centuries-old art, Medici creations, architecture, the sounds of bell towers, the aroma of coffee, truffles and the taste of "finocchiona" (a type of sausage - salami), the enthusiastic "bonjour" resounding from all countries early in the morning… But I find real miracles behind the green shutters of windows and carved doors of houses, shops, homes and studios, where I come across people with a rich soul and way of life, colorful and winding like the frescoes on the walls outside.
Such a door for me was on Santo Spirito Street, 8, which, through a modest corridor, leads to a hidden patio, a garden, and enters the magical workshop of Giuliano Ritchie and Gianni Britz, masters of metal.
The two go into the craft as boys at the age of 14-15. Gianni was unable to go to school (after World War II) and began apprenticing apparel at one of the workshops at that time. Juliano has been involved in metal crafting since he was a kid. They share a two-story workshop that serves them both as a working space, as a design studio, as a manufacturing site, and as a sales and customer service store. The two have worked together for more than 50 years, making jewelry, brooches, boxes, jewelry, key chains, ornaments and more, for fashion names like Christian Dior, Neiman Marcus, Saks, Bloomingdales, Farmacia Santa Maria Novella, and boutiques Paris, Rome, Milan and New York.
Each visitor has the opportunity to walk through and see the whole workshop, and Giuliano demonstrates the fabrication process, starting from the casting, then melting the metal and reaching the final fine polishing. The first floor is Gianni's place, where with the help of a burner, a rough stone and an old sink, she cuts the metal into strips and surgically transforms it into lovely photo frames, candlesticks, bottle racks or mirror boxes. The underground floor is where the heavy presses have been for more than 100 years. Gianni still remembers the devastating flood of 1966 that flooded the underground floor to the ceiling. It took eight people to pump the water with hand pumps for three days. Because there was no electricity, they ran an electric cable from the building of the current Gucci headquarters.
These giant old blocks of metal give birth to exquisite flowers, fine prints, delicate fish, stars, water horses, mussels, leaves, ladybugs, sunflowers, figurines of Duomoto, Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Vecchio. When asked, "What happens when the machines get damaged?" Gianni shrugs and says, "We repair them." Maria, Giuliano's wife, is the one who greets customers as they enter the workshop and sends them in beautifully wrapped packages. Being their customer is like being their special guest at home. They treat each visitor as an episode of their life and if you have the time you find yourself in a situation where you spend hours talking about life, love, politics and whatever else excites you.
I asked Giuliano and Gianni if they considered their work an art or just a craft. Giuliano modestly replied that it was more a craft, art was something else, and Gianni said it was more a skill than an art (I disagree with them).
My euphoria from being in this magical world faded away when it came to the topic of its continuity and continuation. Like many other artisan workshops in Florence, this studio is a lifelong experience. There are no apprentices interested in learning and continuing the tradition of this living art. Young people prefer worldly computer work in sterile offices for a fixed salary rather than burning and cutting their hands, working on a full day's foot. Sometimes I get angry that I'm not a man, and that day I felt more than ever. I imagined how quickly I would abandon the Excel spreadsheets and go to cast, anchor and merge with these two adult masters.
I showed up at the workshop with a long list of questions and the intention of filming and interviewing Giuliano and Gianni.
I practically did not ask a single question from the preliminary list. It was enough for me to sit down and watch their creativity, until their life was revealed to me as a surreal picture. Spending one morning at their company, seeing their mastery live, listening to their modesty and dedication to the "craft" was a complete miracle for me. I remember all these times when I went through the huge shops in New York, where the bracelets, boxes, and candlesticks of Giuliano and Gianni were waiting to be bought by people at lunchtime seeking relief from a busy day job, or from shiny pairs coming out of luxury cars , either by the old ladies at Bergdorf lunch, or by wealthy tourists eager to fill up their credit cards. After all, all the money in the world cannot replace the contentment of creativity for 50 years, without the feeling of superiority, or even a drop of vanity. Giuliano and Gianni have never been to New York or other places where their creations have reached. But their door has always been open to every customer, whoever he is, wherever he comes from. And it will be as long as the workshop remains open.