*Featured photo: Fortunato Depero tapestry microaspiration
I only met Nicoletta Vicenzi recently but I was immediately fascinated by her work as a restorer of textile art. Born in Rome in 1979, Nicoletta confesses that since she was a child she has shown a propensity for manual skills developed through the pleasure of playing with fixing and transforming objects. A passion that has accompanied her all her life and which has quickly focused on fabrics to become her profession. She told me about both in this long ‘chat’ for ArteMorbida.
What are the reasons behind your career choice?
I think there has never been a conscious reason. More than anything else, I feel like saying that it was a set of dreams, passions, an emotional drive that has led me over the years to realize what I wanted to do in my life.
How did you become a restorer of textile art works?
It was a long and tortuous journey but one that I managed to achieve in the end.
After the classical high school diploma I already had this dream in the drawer and I had a moment of uncertainty whether to undertake a path in a Restoration Institute or to start university studies; I opted for this second choice. I enrolled in the Faculty of Conservation of Cultural Heritage trying to focus as much as possible my course of study on restoration and knowledge of the subject.
This is why I collaborated for several years with the “Michele Cordaro” Diagnostic Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration. After graduation followed internships, post-graduate training and a regional course in Cataloging Textile Works of Art . From that moment I understood that my dream, my passion was to take care of the restoration of textile artifacts and so I concentrated my energies, I followed internships and I trained “in the workshop”, undertaking study-work trips to Italy, Turkey and Morocco.
Today I am a Restorer qualified to exercise the profession of restorer of cultural heritage with a sector of expertise: textile, organic and leather materials and artifacts.
What are the types of works you work on? And what is the most common type of intervention?
In this job I deal with the widest variety of textile types, ranging from everyday artifacts to works of art. I dealt with the restoration of clothes, furnishing articles (armchairs, sofas, tapestries), liturgical vestments and furnishing accessories, flags, military uniforms, ancient fabrics, carpets, textile fragments, contemporary works of art and much more.
Each restoration is a case in itself and must be analyzed and designed in its singularity but I can certainly talk about some interventions that are carried out in the vast majority of cases. When a new product arrives in the laboratory, the first action is to collect information regarding the object and its state of decay, also thanks to detailed graphic / photographic documentation. Subsequently, one of the first and most important steps is the micro-aspiration of the fabric: the cleaning of textiles is always a delicate process and the methods that are applied must strictly take into account the type of product, the composition of the materials and the state of conservation.
To do this I perform cleaning tests that take place through a physical method, with the use of suction devices with moderate suction flow.
The dusting by suction is able to remove small particles, and also removes, with the most harmless fluid medium – air – the most superficial part of the dirt which forms a sort of greyish patina.
In the event that a more thorough cleaning is required (which therefore requires the presence of water), yarn stability tests are carried out and in the event of a positive result, a washing is carried out (but honestly the products that need and above all allow to withstand washing stress are a small percentage).
On the other hand, an procedure that is almost always performed is cold vaporization which allows to cushion the deformations present on the surface of the fabric: in this way repeated and gradual cold vaporizations are performed and then the fabric is positioned, with entomological pins, in its correct shape on a rigid surface, following the direction of the warp and weft.
When I am dealing with the presence of gaps, tears or cuts, these damages are consolidated through the insertion of a support fabric (to be applied under the gap) stopped at the point laid with semi-transparent synthetic yarns of an appropriate color.
What was the most complex or demanding restoration intervention or interventions in your career?
Probably the restoration of the so-called “pallium of John XXI” (13th century second half) preserved in the Museo del Colle del Duomo (Viterbo).
At the time of the inspection, the artifact was kept inside a box, folded several times on itself. The strong state of degradation and oxidation of the yarns totally prevented the identification of the manifacture and the original shape.
The pallium was completely stiffened, showing all the elements of degradation typical of archaeological textile artifacts, but after a careful analysis of the fabric and numerous intervention tests, I was able to manipulate the fragile fabric and redistribute it in its original form.
Another very complex intervention that gave me great satisfaction was the restoration of the attire of the Madonna of Vallerano, Church of Sant’Andrea Apostolo, Vallerano (Vt), 18th century.
The Madonna dressed in Vallerano was made up of a set of multi-material textiles and the garments, made with high quality materials, reflected the taste of the era in which they were made.
The complexity of this work was due both to the poor state of conservation of the dress in its entirety (largely in a fragmentary state), and to the considerable layering of garments and underwear underneath the dress.
I started the work thinking I was dealing with an eighteenth-century dress in a bad state of conservation but I found myself restoring: the eighteenth-century dress, a skirt in textured fabric from a previous dress, 2 petticoats in white linen cloth, one white linen petticoat, finished with white bobbin lace, a white linen petticoat and a late seventeenth-century bodice.
Who are usually the public or private entities that turn to you?
My clients are for the most part state, public and diocesan museums, then there is another part of private individuals and collectors but they are a minority compared to all the commissions.
In recent years, to get some references, I have worked for the Museum of Sacred Art of Marsica (Castello Piccolomini), Celano (AQ), the Chamber of Deputies, Montecitorio, Rome, the Polo Museale of Puglia and the Swabian Castle of Bari, the Special Archaeological Superintendence of Fine Arts and Landscape of Rome, the Superintendence of archeology, fine arts and landscape for the metropolitan area of Rome, southern Etruria and the province of Viterbo, the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome, the Museum Diocesan of Sacred Art of Tarquinia, the MIBACT Regional Secretariat for Lazio.
What are the main difficulties you face in your job?
Surely you have to predict exactly what will happen in the course of a restoration. There are several unknowns or perhaps I would call them more than anything else surprises that emerge only when you are working on the artifact.
To give an example, the last work I carried out was the restoration of a Japanese screen from the early 1900s and only when I removed the fabric panels and the lining behind the frame, I could see that inside there was a further frame made up of very small hand-cut wooden strips completely degraded and broken in all the junction points, and this discovery forced me to recreate the original frame, an operation that I had not imagined at the beginning of the restoration.
Then there is the “large size” difficulty, I happen to restore large fabrics or tapestries and in that case you have to organize the space well, the transport, work in portions and sometimes even set up an ad hoc work group.
Finally, I would also like to say that another difficulty is to make people understand the value of this work. Very often it is seen as tailoring, craftsmanship and it is not always immediate to understand what lies behind it, the studies, the years of experience, the long hours that are spent in the laboratory to complete a well-done restoration.
What is the restoration that has most gratified you?
If I have to be honest there isn’t one that hasn’t gratified me more than the others. Each work remains in the heart, seeing a fabric “reborn” and giving it new life always gives me an invaluable satisfaction.
When I spend weeks, sometimes months, working on an artifact, I know it down to the smallest detail and it inevitably becomes a little part of me.
Then there is another particular moment which is that of re-knowledge, of intimacy and gratification that I feel when I find myself, sometimes by chance other times knowingly, in front of pieces that I restored years ago, as happened recently for the War-party tapestry by Fortunato Depero exhibited in the INTERTWINGLED -The Role of the Rug in Arts, Crafts and Design exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rome.
You recently joined your work as a restorer with an artistic research which, while taking the steps from technical competence, makes use of a creative talent that has its own independent and different expressive figure. Can you tell me about this new experience?
In my life I have always combined creativity / art with my work but it was more a necessity than anything else.
The problem has always been time, working exclusively with manual techniques, with yarns and fabrics, the time of production is truly a substantial part of this artistic path.
The work as a restorer gave me the knowledge of an infinite number of textile artistic techniques and this, together with my “creative need”, I think almost naturally led me to the creation of contemporary textile artefacts.
I must say that I am still working on this artistic path because unfortunately or fortunately I have a great need to experiment in forms, techniques, concepts but I really hope to be able to refine and reveal my research.