Stefania, restorer

Your story in ten lines


I was born in Venezuela in 1976 in a family of immigrants from the Veneto region; I was second to my sister, my father’s elder brother was already involved there in construction work and I remained until the age of nine. My father, suffering from nostalgia, decided then to return to Italy. I attended the liceo classico (classical high school). The art history teacher said I was talented and suggested I take up restoration work. The year I received my high school diploma I won a scholarship from the European Union and went to apprentice at a decorations and restoration cooperative in Treviso where I worked on paintings (we also painted frescos on the aqueduct). Afterwards I decided not to go to university but instead to attend a school of restoration in Padova. During this period I won another scholarship thanks to the Leonardo project and went to Jerez de La Frontera where I worked on wooden sculptures for religious processions at the archeological museum (those with drapesand golden brocades) as well as some Archeological finds (ceramics). After school I was offered my first contract in one of the most important workshops in this field in Venice: I restored Giotto, the Scrovegni, Carpaccio, Bellini, San Donato (attributed to Paolo Veneziano) and the San Giobbe church. The last Tiepolo to be restored was given to them: the supervising restorer, with experience spanning over 50 years, applied the lining(or framing)in Venetian style.

I was then employed fulltime by a Venetian company where I worked for eleven years. In the meantime I was diagnosed with my illness. I can still remember, it happened during a job at a marvelous villa in Mantova (owned by entrepreneur Colaninno), Fuksas was the architect. A pyromaniac burnt all our work in the end. It caused us restorers great suffering.

During that commission I was away from home and worked long hours, I started to feel aches in my arms; I thought they were due to the uncomfortable mattress. I was twenty-nine. I couldn’t tell the difference between a screwdriver and a cotton ear-bud in my pockets. I went back home and saw the doctor. They examined me and kept the spine as the last part to be examined. Actually, I already had the first signs(when working on the Scrovegni): my trigeminalnerve became paralyzed.

The diagnosis: multiple sclerosis. I had to think about myself, about the illness and I left a prestigious job and a prestigious fulltime contract. However I didn’t stop working as a restorer.


Considering I’ve been ill for over ten years now, as you can see I’m very well. I manage to work and I’m very busy. Then the crisis arrives, very much felt in our field and so I had to do my best to find work with my level of competence. The work sites are full of unskilled foreigners that tell you they use “bastard mortar” because it dries faster. The beauty in Italy comes from not using cement but instead employing beautiful materials, unrivalled in their aging and elasticity qualities. That’s why they all envy us. The Roman bridges in Sardinia are still standing while the new ones have collapsed one by one with the flooding. This world, unfortunately want only to run fast and employs ready prepared mixes which are a far call from the ones described in the Cennino Cennini treatise (1300’s) which instead is the inspiration for professional restoration firms. We use to use nerves, parchments, rabbit glue, fish, and ox – all natural materials that are now disappearing.

Unable to find work, I recently helped a friend in Venice to paint a sailing boat on which he had already worked with another guy, applying the wrong product. It was like spreading polenta on velvet. The master boat builder at the boat yard noticed me and asked me to work with him. Between staying home doing nothing and a craft (which is not my own but similar) I preferred to accept.

A boat must be brought back to look new: the newer it is, the better and the shinier it, is the better (they must sail the waters fast light and smooth). An old painting on the contrary, must be preserved with all the signs of passing time – the story must emerge in the work of art.

I deal with all kinds of boats, also aluminum.



What do they say when they see you at the boat yard knowing you come from the arts world?


Besides the fact I’m a woman (and this in a boat yard is bewildering), when they witness what I’m able to do, they are happy. I dilute, as in restoration (50%, 70%: the more it’s diluted, the further it penetrates) whereas they paint it straight on just as it comes in from the shop. I make things easier introducing steel wool besides paint remover – and other techniques that come to me naturally.



What sort of encounters do you have when you work amongst the boats besides boat builders?


The boat yard I work in is in a small marina. There are boats coming from other countries. A traveler, who was sailing around the world starting from Corsica, stopped over in Venice because of a problem with the motor and the old guys couldn’t understand what he was on about. I helped by translating from the French. The ship owner owned a catamaran that not many people could have afforded, believe me. I’m still in contact with the skipper, Joef, who keeps me updated on the various stops of their journey. He asked for some advice on the restoration of a teak boat. He sent me the photographs of the work carried out. The sailing boat world is fantastic.



What does society do for you and what do you do for society?


Society at the moment doesn’t do much for me, but I’m hopeful because in the end we are society. Everyone is always blaming the politicians. How many can there be in charge in our country ? 300, 400 among millions of citizens? I live in Venice; I’m a person blessed by life. Although it may be difficult to live here, I’m part of the purest beauty there is in the world and having studied art it is even more important to live here and not elsewhere.

In every city I find friends and people that help me out. For example this boat builder is a great person. He teaches me everything, with no hesitanceand shares everything with me. Had you asked me this question two months ago I would have probably given you a desperate answer. Things are better now.


On the other hand when I was younger I volunteered for the elderly. Now for society I volunteer with children; in the past two years after losing my job, I have also followed a Steiner course. Besides the love for children – I have a little niece –, I wanted to learn what a growing human being is, I’ve learnt about the different natures and how we differ – which makes us beautiful as the flowers of this planet although the economy tries to uniform us. The value of a man is his uniqueness.

One more thing I do willingly is to go and clean up, especially in Pallestrina. They know me well on the island; I leave Venice and get there with garbage bags and not with a bathing suit. It is waste that falls (or is thrown) from the ships.

Throwing a cigarette in the Canal Grande is like swallowing it: you cannot imagine how desperate it makes me seeing hundreds of taxi drivers, gondoliers and carriers doing this daily and using this place like their trash, also emptying their rubbish from their bins. Absurd! I don’t want the world to be so polluted because we are the world!

We reach the future if we take care of the thousand years old past (nature) and if we look after the present. You see I don’t pretend to be able to do everything (for example, in Pallestrina I often find abandoned buoys heavier than myself which I’m unable to move) nevertheless I do what I can.

All the simplest archetypes are dying: turtles, wales. Steiner’s anthroposophy helps me very much in understanding these events.



Remarkable things, which have occurred recently?


I have generally a happy heart. At a friend’s wedding near the Certosa di Pavia there were many animals. It made me happy to be surrounded by many small goats; it gave me peace. I stayed there for a long time.


The person I work with on boats is very concerned about my health. The other day I had an issue with my eye and he called me up to see how I was doing. In my last job I didn’t have all this attention and it makes me think: A better world is possible.

I look at what is beautiful; the ugly, I try to forget.


And lastly a meeting I had with a young man who has taught me the alchemic history of the world. I avidly drink knowledge from him.


I look at things differently thanks to the Steiner school. Unscrupulously I go and I try. That is why I have also been able to start a new life in restoration.



A book accompanying you at the moment?


Yesterday I finished reading La Pantera by Stefano benni. Every day I read sometimes even several pages from La Leggenda Aurea, a book of the 1300s that talks about the life of the saints. I have many books and don’t own a TV set. I’m reading once again Don Chisciotte, which I began some years ago but never managed to finish. I now think it’s beautiful.



A talent you have and one you’re missing?


The ones I have: words and irony. I speak a lot, at times I can be annoying but sometimes I can help. Maybe I comfort people. Also when I’m in the hospital after one of my crisis, I’m always there laughing and joking and when I leave, they are all sad. Life is pain, Schopenhauer has already said it, let’s joke about it at least!

I would like to know how to draw better. Also with the spoken word, I would like to be more careful, considering that the spoken word carries with it energy, my teachers have also told me. Finally I would like to speak better English, I can speak it, but without ever being taught (besides Italian I also speak French, Spanish and a little Russian). I learnt Russian thanks to a free course for the unemployed. I really like it. It’s hard to apply it when restoring the icons, which employ a very archaic pre-Cyrillic language.



Your culinary passions and drinks, keeping in mind you are taking care of multiple sclerosis through a revolution in your diet.


I’ve always been a good cook. Cooking represents the apex of sociability. It’s a selfless act and it doesn’t surprise me we are the best: Italy is a country of shorelines that has naturally welcomed foreigners across the centuries.

My grandmother ran a trattoria in Treviso, bombed and destroyed during the war. To each one of us she taught how to prepare a dish and she once said to me: you’re one for gnocchi! She first sent me on a bicycle to buy the right potato (old, floury and full of earth) and then she taught me to make them with little flour.

To care for the illness, I’ve discovered many new things to eat, such as gluten free food. I make superb pizzas without tomatoes and mozzarella; I use millet flour with artificial yeast and dress them with squash and smoked goat’s ricotta cheese.

Although I can’t drink them anymore, I love red wines: our best ones are raboso and cabernet franc.

My father planted up to two rows of prosecco vinesnext to the red ones. It isn’t made with yeast, it’s bottled between five and seven times depending on the moon: you can drink a whole case without having a headache for the sparkling is natural.



What strategy do you have to live a “slow” life?


I’m an extremely slow being.

Life doesn’t belong to the calendar but to the stars. I’d easily stay within the cosmic rhythms. To slow down my life, I live in Venice; I walk a lot on foot. Those who choose to live here choose a laid-back place and need to be aware of it.

With my illness, I’ve been told to change my way of life and sleeping habits. Lately I go to bed as early as possible and I sleep a lot.



What have you learnt until now from life?


Everything that happens to us has a meaning; it means we must go under that door. Although I felt previously angry about my illness, I’m not anymore.

Hardships help us to structure ourselves. In addition, I have learnt that you must love others, all of them.


Translation by Paolo Witte




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