A ball of yarn, a crochet hook and a hat made by hand. On a cold winters day, I am sitting on a wooden chest, touching a soft fabric, observing its pattern and recalling the smell of my grandmother’s kitchen.
The scent of the typical Italian dishes that taste like Sunday and cakes prepared with love. When she was young my grandmother learned needlework and I remember her saying to me an old Italian proverb: “impara l’arte e mettila da parte” (Learn a craft and save it for the future). Do not worry about when and how you will use it. Learn it and you’ll see that sooner or later it will serve some purpose.
Those were the words that probably Ser Piero told his son Leonardo when he left him when he was still a boy in the workshop of Verrocchio. Leonardo followed his father’s advice. He observed and learned, and eventually became better than his master.
Verrocchio was a highly valued Florentine painter and Leonardo learned from him the craft of painting He did not become a genius straight away. He went through many years of work and study. Then he saved the craft for the future and went on to learn other things until he painted some of the greatest masterpieces of the Renaissance.”.
It was Leonardo himself who wrote this words: “All art has to follow a discipline, because those who are just in love with it, practice it without knowledge and are like a helmsman sailing without a rudder or a compass and never being sure of where the ship is going”
Learning a craft has recently been revamped with an initiative called “la scuola del fare” (The school of making) launched by the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. The idea is to encourage children to spend some time in a craftsman’s workshops, like it happened in the times of Leonardo. The initiative like the proverb my grandmother taught me is, “impara l’arte e mettila da parte”, and it was first introduced in a school of San Casciano, a little town about 15 kilometers away from Florence. Children spend part of their school hours with carpenters, potters and blacksmiths and learn a craft directly from them, and are apparently enjoying the experience.
Meanwhile, as I am holding in my hand a ball of yarn, I close my eyes and think back of the teachings of my grandmother. I grab a crochet hook and, point after point, I knit a soft scarf. As a child, sitting on the floor of a kitchen with its walls covered with an orange-coloured wallpaper, I learnt the craft of knitting and I’m surprised that I haven’t forgotten it. I won’t make a living out of it but it will certainly keep my neck warm in this freezing winter.
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