A Very Young Restorer
ROME, ITALY -- Clarissa Ghelli is a senior at John Cabot University in Rome, studying Art History. Two years ago, she had a unique experience working in an art restoration studio (as seen in Photos 1 - 5) in Arezzo, in eastern Tuscany. We spoke to Clarissa and to Marzia Benini, one of the owners of the atelier, about the experience.
thalo: How did you get interested in art restoration?
CG: I started studying art history at Bard High School Early College. My professor, Thomas Martin, had a major influence on me; I was fascinated with what he called “the life of a painting.” I realized there’s so much more to art than just its history. Back then, I traveled to Italy to visit my grandmother every summer, and one year I took a class in Florence on the restoration of frescoes; the next year I got to work at RICERCA with Marzia and Paola.
th: Was it difficult to find an internship?
CG: Luckily we had some friends in common, and since I had already done a little practical work and spoke Italian, they took me in.
Marzia: The truth is that it is very difficult for us to take on interns. We wish we could take more, as we have a lot of work to do and there are only three of us full-time. But it’s hard to teach an intern when we have to focus on major projects that take experience and time.
th: What was the most memorable aspect of the internship?
CG: There were several! One of them was doing some “integrating,” actually touching up flowers on a fresco with gold paint in a villa outside Arezzo. I also had fun making “colla di bue,” a glue made of cow and rabbit bones (which come in pellets) and which we had to mash up and boil. But the best part was just being in the studio with these women, observing them work, listening to them talk about their lives and feeling part of the team.
th: What would you recommend to someone who is interested in art restoration?
CG: Take a lot of science courses! (That’s my weak point. I didn’t take enough…) Chemistry is vital for this field. There’s a good program at SACI in Florence. In the States, there’s the University of Delaware – that’s one of the best programs, and one of the few that also offers an undergraduate program. Then there’s Buffalo and NYU, for graduate work. The Smithsonian website has an extensive list of programs all over the US.
Marzia: Here in Italy the situation is bleak. We have so much art that needs attention but there are simply no cultural politics that lobby for our artisans. The main schools where restoration is taught are facing major crises. We get about 30 CVs a year, but there’s no legislation to protect interns or the studios that want to hire them.
Photos courtesy of RICERA