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«Work peacefully and happily, like the stars move: without fury, but never still, on a path that follows the great law». Alice Hallgarten Franchetti

«It is a slowly disappearing art. We are trying to beat time, or even stop it». With these words, the weaving master Maria Menchi Bocciolesi[1] tries to explain the essence of Tela Umbra in a 1962 newspaper clipping[2]. The skills of the weavers and the work of the loom was in danger of being lost, so the author of the article refers to the workers of Tela Umbra as «vestals». At the end of the 19th century, Città di Castello counted 1240 looms, on a population of a little more than 24.000[3]; of course, these were domestic looms, mostly used for linen and hemp, cultivations which were widespread in the area, requiring little attending[4].

 

A business at the heart of Città di Castello

It is in the years of domestic weaving, when the art and knowledge was passed down mother to daughter, that Alice Hallgarten Franchetti came up with the idea of venturing into a proper business with the mission – as clearly stated in its manifest – of «conserving […] the ancient Umbrian art of weaving with hand worked loom and allow women and especially mothers to have a paid job while free of worry for their children, taken care of and fed by the kindergarten made available by the laboratory»[5].

On June 8th[6], 1908 the laboratory was inaugurated, installed at the ground floor of Palazzo Alberto Tomassini. After Alice Hallgarten Franchetti’s death – in 1911 – her husband Leopoldo, who had always supported her emotionally and economically, gave the direction of the laboratory to Maria Pasqui Marchetti, the dear and trusted Marietta to whom Alice had written countless letters, affectionately signing herself as «mamina»[7].

Hand-woven linen since 1908

In 1985 the laboratory, still in its original location, was turned into a cooperative, founded by the workers, the city council of Città di Castello and Sviluppumbria. A museum was also created in the premise. Today Tela Umbra. Hand-woven linens since 1908 is the only active laboratory in Italy of cloths made exclusively in linen, for warp and weft.

 

Weaver at work foto by Tela Umbra

Alice Hallgarten Franchetti[8]

(New York 1874-Leysin 1911)

Alice Hallgarten Franchetti was the daughter of Adolph, of rich bankers’ family, and Julia Norheimer, both German Ashkenazi Jews, and she was born in New York where the family had moved for the father’s work.
In 1882, when Alice was only 8 years old, the father was forced to leave his job due to health reasons, so the family returned to Germany.
On July 9th, 1900, Alice marries Leopoldo Franchetti, Sephardic Jew from Livorno, senator of the New Kingdom of Italy, whom she had met in Rome – where she had moved after living a few years in Frankfurt. They met at the pharmacy of the San Lorenzo neighborhood where they both volunteered as humanitarian and social assistants at the Union of San Lorenzo.

Alice Hallgarten Franchetti

In Città di Castello, Alice and Leopoldo promote a number of educational initiatives for the emancipation of the farmers, especially for women and children. In 1901, Alice founds the Scuola della Montesca, inside the palazzo baring the same name, and later on, the Scuola di Rovigliano, both free of charge for the peasants’ children up to the sixth grade. From 1905, the direction of the schools is entrusted to Maria Pasqui Marchetti, and from 1910 the educational plan is reviewed to fit the Montessori system[9].
In 1908 the laboratory Tela Umbra is born, under an extremely innovative management for those times, as it included a kindergarten for the working women’s benefit. Apart from the nursery school, at Tela Umbra one could also find an evening carpenter school for the youth and a medical consultation ambulatory to learn how to better take care of newborns. Alice Hallgarten Franchetti died of tuberculosis in 1911.

 


[1] To learn about her and the other workers see M. L. Buseghin, La “Tela Umbra” di Città di Castello. Una storia di donne, in «Pagine altotiberine», a. II, n. 6 (sept.-dec. 1998), pp. 123-136.

[2] P. Magi, Un antico laboratorio che ha fermato il tempo. Le “vestali” della Tela Umbra, in «La Nazione», June 15th, 1962.

[3] In 1881 the population counted 24.491 people. The data is collected from A. Tacchini, Le vicende politiche di Leopoldo Franchetti a Città di Castello, in A. Tacchini, P. Pezzino (curated by), Leopoldo e Alice Franchetti e il loro tempo, Petruzzi, Città di Castello 2002 also avialble on the website www.storiatifernate.it.

[4] Cfr. A. Tacchini, Artigianato e industria a Città di Castello tra Ottocento e Novecento, Petruzzi, Città di Castello, 2000, pp. 334-339.

[5] The citation of the Manifest is taken from M. L. Buseghin, Alice Hallgarten Franchetti un modello di donna e imprenditrice nell’Italia tra ’800 e ’900, Pliniana, Selci Lama, 2013, p. 66.

[6] For the date see M. L. Buseghin, Alice Hallgarten Franchetti un modello di donna e imprenditrice nell’Italia tra ’800 e ’900, cit., pp. 67-77.

[7] The letters have been published fully by M. L. Buseghin, Cara Marietta… Lettere di Alice Hallgarten Franchetti, Tela Umbra, Città di Castello, 2002.

[8] For a more detailed biography see M. L. Buseghin, Cara Marietta… Lettere di Alice Hallgarten Franchetti, cit., pp. 467-472 and the website curated by da M. L. Buseghin in http://www.enciclopediadelledonne.it/biografie/alice-hallgarten-franchetti/.

[9] S. Bucci, La Scuola della Montesca. Un centro educativo internazionale, in P. Pezzino, A. Tacchini (curated by), Leopoldo e Alice Franchetti e il loro tempo, cit., pp. 195-242.