Barbara Checcucci wrote several studies on ceramic works, edited on specific esteemed revues, believing that spreading of an artwork enhancement culture leads to recognize and safeguard the artistic heritage of a Country.
Savona’s and Albisola’s Christmas Crèche: The Macachi statuettes
From the making to the set up of the typical Christmas Crèche in the towns of Albisola and Savona
In folk’s tradition the Macachi were the ancient Christmas Crèche statuettes. They saw light the first days of the year, to be exposed and sol
on the St. Lucy’s fair stalls on December 13th..
The “figurinaie”, the ladies who realized them, once sold the statuettes, could buy all these products they usually could not afford, as too expensive for them.
The art of “Figurinaie”
Since mid of the nineteenth century the statuettes were almost exclusively realized by the figurinaie, who worked for pottery turners during the day. Their task was to prepare the clay, passing a ball of it from a hand palm to the other, in order to remove all air balls from inside. Doing so the clay was more malleable and the subsequent phase of work, the molding on the lathe, was easier. The type of clay used was red, and the finished products were cooking pots and casseroles.
Once the figurinaie ended their daily task for the pottery turner, they used to bring home some clay, they shaped into plaster cast molds, the statuettes models.
These molds were just to model the statuettes bodies, as arms, details and the ultimate appearance were hand made each single time.
The firing and decoration
The statuettes were put to dry open air, then fired into the wood oven. The figurinaie had to ask the pottery turner to fire their artworks: as the statuettes were small (between 3 and 5 inches) they could easily find room among the casseroles, not stealing them space into the oven. Once fired, the statuettes appeared reddish, the typical color of the cooking pots, then they were decorated with distempers (the colors were not cooked into the oven), in order to limit production cost. The colors used to decorate the statuettes were very bright to attract attention and instill Christmas gaiety: once painted, the colors were fixed with a natural varnish called lac, making them bright, and making think that the statuettes were fired after decoration as all other – more expensive – pottery artworks .
They say that the figurinaie put hairpins into black distemper to obtain statuettes eyes.
The set up of the Christmas Crèche
As for tradition, characters called Gelindo e Gelinda are the first to come to the Bethlehem’s cave, with their gifts for Mary and Joseph: one cockerel and the swaddling bands for Jesus.
The Macachi have to be put in the first raw, and next to the cave Matthew – Gelindo’s brother in law – plays the fife: the music is his gift to the infant Jesus, as Matthew is so poor he has no other thing to offer. Then come U’Zèunn and A Zèunna – husband and wife, always feeling the cold, both wrapped up in a cloak; then the laundress, Bartholomew, a shepherd and his wife, two women carrying bundles of sticks for the pottery oven, and in the end, two soldiers.
Not far, the Magi, Balthazar last. Each character of the Macachi had his own history and origin, linked to popular tradition. The will to enrich the Crèche with more statuettes created family relationships between the characters.
In Luceto, one suburb of the town of Albisola Superiore, the Piccone family installed several years ago a permanent Christmas Crèche. The landscape is the reproduction of the ancient country around Albisola, and the statuettes represent the typical ancient female and male crafts of the region, linked to agriculture, fishing and pottery art, for which Albisola is famous.
The restoration of the Macachi
The restoration operations on these fragile statuettes is very difficult: the most ancient ones present detachment of the colors from the surface, some little fragment sticking, or even the loss of part of the statuette.
The operation should limit itself to the conservation of the statuettes. Unfortunately some do-it-yourself interventions have damaged these artworks, whose conservation conditions were already uncertain.
First step, in presence of colors detachment, is ceramic body consolidation; using hardeners having effect on surface and in depth we obtain good cohesion between the decoration and the ceramic body.
If necessary, a deep cleansing of the surface has to be made: the lac used to give brightness turns to yellow and a layer of dust accumulate, giving a blackish appearance to the statuette.
In order to remove this greasy layer is better not to use water – nor its by-products-, soap, alcohol or ammonia.
It should be appropriate to do some tests – slightly visible – using very volatile solvents that should not leave withe marks after application.
In presence of previous sticking, it is opportune to remove the glues formerly used, taking care not to detach more decoration from the surface; once the breaks cleaned, subsequent phase is the sticking, using quick-setting glues, preferably epossydic ones.
Under customer requirement, it is possible to reconstruct little lost parts, using silicone moulds, taken on similar original statuettes, then adapted to different needs.
The painting of new reconstructed parts will then be made using acrylic distempers.
The laboratory is specialized in terracotta, majolica pottery, porcelain and glass restoration, aiming to safeguard the great artistic and cultural heritage linked to these materials.
The interventions and operations follow a careful and scrupulous analysis pathway, that allows to determine different specific action to be taken, following the type, period and conservation conditions of the artwork.
Professionalism, skills and experience are the basis for a correct restoration intervention.