Perhaps it’s Umbria’s slower pace, or the centuries of tradition-people here just seem to put more care and attention into the things they do. Food is always prepared with the freshest ingredients and an artful presentation. That same dedication to excellence has produced vintners of the highest order. The crafts of Umbria also reflect a true artisan’s passion. The ceramics, fabrics and wood and ironwork produced here transcend the ordinary. What started centuries ago as the creation of everyday objects has evolved into an art form.
Fine ceramics have been produced in Umbria as far back as the 12th century. Today, ceramics are arguably the most historically and culturally significant artisan craft in the region. Umbria is home to many workshops, particularly in Deruta and other cities along the Tiber river, where there’s an abundance of excellent clay for pottery making. Deruta is renowned for ceramics that are high in quality, brightly colored and feature fresh, new designs integrated smoothly with the more traditional patterns. Also unforgettable are the ceramics of Gualdo Tadino, Gubbio and Orvieto.
Lace from Isola Maggiore
Isola Maggiore is the second largest island on Trasimeno Lake. It’s also coincidentally, where St. Francis of Assisi lived as a hermit in 1211, though we can’t say for certain if there’s any correlation between St. Francis and the divine lace that is produced here. This painstaking craft was brought over from Ireland early in the 20th century. Since then, local artisans have developed a mastery of lace making and imbued it with their own style. The Museo del Merletto houses many fine examples of local lace production and is visited by admirers from around the world.
The earliest documented evidence of textile weaving in Umbria dates from between the 11th and 13th century. By the 14th century the tovaglie perugine or ‘Perugia towels’, had become fashionable as altar cloths throughout Italy. Generally the woven altar cloths consisted of a linen base decorated with either geometric designs or animals such as griffins or eagles, either in turquoise, brown or red. Originating in Panicale the Ars Panicalensis technique of hand-embroidered tulle originated is known throughout the world. Umbria is also renowned for its lace. The Ars Vetana of Orvieto features prized lace, which is entirely hand made from extremely fine cotton threads along the lines of Irish lace-making techniques.
Though the names of the great wood carvers that worked in Umbria from the 15th to the 17th century remain unknown, examples of their remarkable skills survive to this day. The 16th century choir in the Church of San Pietro in Perugia is a prime example. A number of important examples of Umbrian crafted furniture also survive, including inlaid wedding trunks with their unique and intricate decorative motifs. Woodworking in Umbria has generally fallen into two categories: fabrication of everyday objects for farm life and the more reverential duty of creating decorative items for churches and palaces. Woodworking today mainly involves antique restoration and the production of furniture in period style. The main woodworking centers are Città di Castello, Gubbio, Assisi, Perugia, and Todi. There is a Woodworking Unversity in Gubbio as well as a School of Lutherie in Orvieto.
The making of Wrought Iron is a specialty of the Umbrian region. Skilled craftsmen have been working with Wrought Iron since the Middle Ages. Wrought Iron’s primary use was to decorate palaces and sacred churches. The town of Gubbio, once the region’s most vibrant iron center proudly carries on its Wrought Iron tradition–skilled and imaginative blacksmiths create gates, signs, coins, keys, weapons, and more. Objects in Wrought Iron, especially decorative tools, jugs, andirons, and baking molds, can be found throughout Umbria in towns like Assisi, Spello, Città della Pieve, Passignano sul Trasimeno, Spoleto, Terni, Cascia, Magione and Passignano. Great works of the past can be found inside the Cathedral of Perugia. Of special note are the gates of the Chapel of the Banner of St. Francis and the chapel dedicated to St. Bernardino.