I knew that when I came to Florence, I would be applying for an internship in art or art history through my program. More specifically, I was hoping for a job related to art conservation. Luckily, I was able to attain just such a position at a Restoration Center across the Arno River. It was opened in 1966 as a result of the great flood in Florence to restore damaged artifacts, and it is to this location that I travel twice a week in order to learn the skills required for object conservation.
The center is a working laboratory containing room after room of sculptures, metal artifacts and ceramics. The most interesting finds I’ve been shown are remnants from the shipwreck of an oceanliner in 1941 called the Pollux. Spoons, a pair of dice, a comb, coins and a barometer are only a few of the objects recovered. My first day, I was taught how to clean pottery encrusted with dirt, salt and barnacles by wetting an area and gently scraping with a scalpel, then brushing away the debris. I’ve learned how to clean the corrosion off of coins, ready frescos for viewing, and reconstruct fractured ceramics. Most recently, I’ve prepared gesso and refashioned pieces that were missing in a large clay pot.
I enjoy the work very much, and the company is just as interesting. The conservator with which I work, Roberto, is perhaps about forty-five years old, but he seems much younger. He always wears t-shirts and a necklace, and he sports a gold hoop earring. He’s very relaxed and patient. Working with Roberto is also perhaps the closest I’ve come to finding a Italian friend in Florence. We speak mostly in Italian, the subjects of our conversations ranging from politics to art, and when I don’t know a word, he either tries to explain or we fetch the dictionary. In return, I teach him English words.
My favorite day to work at the center is Tuesday. On this day, I walk down the block to the nearby Rosticceria (an Italian take-out restaurant) to buy lunch, then return to the center where I eat with Roberto and about seven of his colleagues. At first I was extremely nervous and could barely understand the rapid flow of Italian being spoken around me. But everyone is very friendly, and I’ve grown better at understanding the subject being discussed. Most of the time it centers on food – today, for example, oranges, coffee and the recipe for vegetable soup were conversed about at length. I’ve been shown how to make garlic bread and espresso and given various other morsels to try.
I always look forward to going to work, and I already know that my internship is going to be one of the aspects about Florence I miss the most.