Materials & Textiles Study Tour — On the Material Trail: Inside the Culture of ‘Made in Italy’

The Materials Special Interest Group of the Art Libraries Society of North America, in partnership with the ARLIS/NA Fashion, Textile, and Costume Special Interest Group and the ARLIS/NA International Relations Committee, announce a study tour of leather, textile, and fashion-related sites within the Italian region of Tuscany from October 11-17, 2015.

On the Material Trail: Inside the Culture of ‘Made in Italy’ is envisioned as a highly immersive program in a location like no other in the world. It is a unique opportunity to gain a behind-the-scenes experience of the industries that craft the luxury products that define the excellence of ‘Made in Italy’. Designed for librarians, curators, and those interested in and whose subject areas cover these industries, program attendees will have guided access to sites and learn from experts to gain a thorough understanding of Italy’s famous culture of making and design that is both centuries old and contemporary.

On the Material Trail will be based in the town of San Miniato in the heart of Tuscany halfway between Florence and Pisa and is accessible via rail and major airports in those two cities. San Miniato is a site on the Via Francigena, a former pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome and now the center of the Tuscan Leather District. Attendees will be welcomed by the Consortium of Vegetable-Tanned Leather, a non-profit association of twenty-two tanneries in the region that promotes the natural beauty and responsible use of this rich material.

Inline image 1
[Photo credit: Mathias Liebing]

Attendees will lodge and dine on regional cuisine and wine based on the Slow Food philosophy at the Conservatorio of Santa Chiara, a religious site turned cultural center at the top of San Miniato (with breathtaking views of rolling vineyards and the valley below) that will also serve as classroom for the presentation- and discussion-based parts of the program. Far enough away from major tourist areas, life in San Miniato—the center of this skilled production area—will ensure a unique and authentic Tuscan experience.

Inline image 3
[Photo credit: Mathias Liebing]

Tentative itinerary (October 11-17):

  • Sunday: arrive San Miniato (pick-up at train station) for check-in and orientation

  • Monday: tour area leather tannery (with focus on vegetable tanning) to witness complete processing from raw material to finished supply

  • Tuesday: tour polytechnic science institute to understand quality controls, certification, and research-based experimental tannery; tour water purification plant to understand demanding environmental concerns and regulations; visit small-production iconic shoe factory and factory store

  • Wednesday: day-trip to Florence with visit to bespoke leather shoemaker; afternoon free in Florence (suggested museums to be provided but of course The Uffizi beckons)

  • Thursday: day-trip to Prato to tour its famous textile industry, both historic and modern, with visits to yarn and textile factories

  • Friday: day-trip to Florence with visit to a foundation specialized in figured silk embroidery and weaving on original 17th C. looms and concluding with a fashion-based product developer who specializes in sourcing, prototyping, and working with large fashion houses to develop new products combining heritage artisan techniques with innovative new solutions across material fields

  • Saturday: check-out

In addition to the above sites, a classroom-based discussion will occur at the end of each day to ensure synthesis and understanding. Attendees will also receive material samples when possible (alas, not from the purification plant!) and a list of educational resources to enrich their subject expertise. Further, a video or similar production will be created for the ARLIS/NA Learning Portal.

Inline image 1
[Photo credit: Mathias Liebing]


  • The tour requires a minimum of 10 attendees with a maximum of 22.

  • Attendees will receive a pricing discount when the group reaches 15. Thus, single occupancy will range from 1400 (with group discount) or 1550 (without group discount) and double occupancy from 1250 (with group discount) or 1400 (with group discount). These figures are subject to minor revision.

  • The tour price is in Euros per person and includes: six nights lodging, breakfast for 6 days (M-SA), lunch for 4 days (M, TU, TH, F–Wednesday in Florence lunch is on your own), dinner for 6 days (SU-F), program-related transportation for 5 days, visits & tutor-guide

  • The tour price does not include: flight to Tuscany, transfer from airport to San Miniato

As you may know from recent headlines, this is an excellent time to visit Europe with the best currency conversion rates in twelve years. Further, October is one of the best months to visit Italy (following the summer heat and before winter rains begin). Arrange your bookend weekends in Florence where there is no shortage of masterpieces. Whatever your motivations, which are bound to be many, join ARLIS/NA in Tuscany!

To gauge interest and feasibility, I would like to hear from potential participants by August 21, 2015.

Mark Pompelia
Coordinator, Materials Special Interest Group


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