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Ugo Scassa and his tapestries


Signora Tron was the proprietor of a café and restaurant in Pinerolo, on the road from Turin to Sestrière. Signora Tron was young, not what you might call slim; her eyes were black, lively and with a sparkle. Her hair was black and I don't remember how I first met her but she asked me to redesign the café and restaurant, which I did with some effort.
I was starting out. I'd spent too much time caught up in the war and all that. Back in the fifties, I considered myself more of an artist than an architect and perhaps Signora Tron had the same suspicion, for one day she asked me if I could design some tapestries. She cold me she had a place with young ladies who were very good at making tapestries and then she said she was going to open a shop in Turin and asked me if I wanted to design the shop too. So, a few months later, there was the shop with all the tapestries in it, in Via Viotti in Turin, under the arcades.
Signora Tron had been very brave to place such trust in modernity, in modern designs, and in the modern painting and decoration that few people in Italy were interested in, and in Turin even less: the automobile factory had not yet embarked on its project for the community of Turin, and that community was still meandering through the ruins of the city planned by the royal family of Savoy. The ruins were so stifling that I wanted a breath of fresh air. From Turin, I came to Milan.
As often happens, little by little, silence took over the space between the courageous Signora Tron and me. I don't know what happened. I don't know where Signora Tron is. I know that in Via Viotti in Turin, the tapestry shop is no longer. I know I no longer drive through Pinerolo on my way to Sestrière to ski, and I know I no longer stop by at Signora Tron's café. A few days ago, while I was trying just to survive phone, fax, e.mail, computer, Internet, interfaces and interactions, a gentleman, whom I didn't think I'd met before, asked if he could enter my studio.
He introduced himself as Ugo Scassa and, talking rapidly in his Piedmontese accent, he cold me that for years he had been making tapestries based on drawings by Italian and foreign artists. He told me his tapestries had been exhibited in several of the great galleries and museums. He said he had many young ladies who were highly skilled at making tapestries, and also that he was able to sell his tapestries, even to Arab gentlemen in distant lands. He told me a tapestry sometimes contains hundreds of colours and that he dyed the wool in his workshop with chemical dyes because natural ones corrode it.
He told me that it's terribly complicated, that it's also very hard to keep the artists happy. He said he'd worked with Corrado Cagli, Max Ernst, Spazzapan, Mastroianni, Guttuso... He said he loved making tapestries but that it wasn't easy to get by, that tapestries cost too much, that only governments or banks or, on rare occasions, companies or billionaires could buy them. But he said that tapestries can only be used to decorate very large rooms, great halls or on ships where they throw big parties, and then he said a tapestry is better than a fresco because you can roll it up and put it somewhere else. And he said now they were going to make a book with photos of the tapestries.
He asked me if I could write something for the book and I asked, "Did you ever meet Signora Tron?" "Sure," he said, "the whole idea started with Signora Tron. In the late fifties, I was even a partner with Signora Tron, but then we split up. There were problems." "Then what?" "Then, I don't know. Perhaps she left Pinerolo. She had problems. Then I moved the workshop to Asti and carried on. That was forty years ago, and I've been making tapestries for forty years..." Then I suddenly remembered: Ugo Scassa had made his first tapestry from my drawing... The memory flashed in my mind like a lamp, but Scassa was deep into story after story, his enthusiasm never waning, never showing the slightest uncertainty, never doubting the destiny conferred to tapestries by countless centuries.
Perhaps, even in Piedmont, that destiny had been centuries in the making; perhaps it has followed the history of the ancient House of Savoy, whose dukes had roamed from one white castle to another, taking with them all their soldiers, horses, arms, cooks, wives, lovers, children, tables, chairs, chests, clothes, plates, jugs, and their tapestries too. They took their tapestries, as did the great court of France, to decorate the high stone walls of the castles they went to. Freezing, empty castles in the mountains, high up in the Alps to defend the supposedly strategic Alpine passes, protecting the borders with France and Switzerland.
They changed castles with the change of season and for their vacations, and they always carried along their tapestries. The servants would hang them on the walls, and the tapestries would tell the stories of their walks through the springtime meadows with beautiful ladies accompanied by charming, impulsive young men singing to them; there were also gardens with fountains and ponds where they could swim without costumes, and there were heroic tales of hunting in the woods, there were titanic battles under city walls, and stories of other heroes; tales from mythology, such as the
labours of Hercules, the rape of the Sabines, the death of Patroclus or the fall of Icarus, the embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, landscapes and storms..., subjects that were not too religious. Tapestries decorated boisterous banquet halls, and secret alcoves.
Today castles are few and far between, the long processions of the courts, wending their way from one castle to another, with soldiers, women, furnishings and tapestries, up steep mountain tracks, along the rushing streams, crossing chasms in the rocks, have all disappeared. The motorways are straight, the soldiers are in their barracks, the flags fly to show where petrol can be bought, heroism is to be found in the giant slalom, in downhill racing, in all those things; and yet...
Signor Scassa, who lives in those very same hills where the dukes and their companies used to roam, is still able, with a long, lonely, perhaps final breath, to bring back that magical world where we occasionally find ourselves when a sign appears which, who knows how or why, leaves us naked before ourselves, naked in the face of that fleeting moment, that
boundless, endless space…