Craft and tradition in Sardinia, the wooden angels of Ignazio Mura

Not far from my hometown lies the sunny city of Oristano, in central Sardinia. The town and its neighbouring villages (like pretty much the whole island) abound with artisans and little known crafts.

Yesterday I was ambling about Oristano, enjoying the first springtime sun, and ended up in a tiny, messy, quirky workshop. I couldn't restrain myself from entering, and this is how I met Ignazio, the owner and undisputed king of that wooden realm.

With the company of two black cats, Ignazio spends his days carving lithesome figures out of tree trunks. "This is an angel taking out a soul from purgatory," he told me while carrying on with his latest work. All I can see around me is wooden sculptures recalling the typical Sardinian stone art, wistful faces similar to the Mamuthones masks I had seen in Mamoiada.

"Do you do exhibitions?" I ask him, to realise only later how naive my question is.
"I'd love to," he replies with a bittersweet smile. It seems like it's the question he's waiting for. "I used to participate in collective exhibitions," he starts telling. "In the Aragonese Tower of Torregrande, in Oristano's beach."

I know the place, tourist-packed in summer time, beautiful surrounding, the best spot for an art exhibition. I feel I've been away from home for too long and somehow lost touch with the news that concern my once small world. So I keep provoking him: "And what happened? Why do you not do it anymore?"

"Well," he keeps on, "the Tower has been privatised, and all public exhibitions ended. It's such a shame, people loved them, and my sculptures were at the very end of the stairs, the best display corner. I've even asked the council if they had some place I could use, and you can see how it ended: I don't even have electricity here."

Ignazio works only until the sun shines, during the summer he's quite lucky, but winter time it's tough: he underwent eye surgery so now he must be careful and avoid working if lighting is not good. He has overcome a three-month coma ten years ago, and since then he's been working as a wood artisan.

Throughout our little conversation he hasn't stopped working and studying the shape peeping out of the wood, and while I watch him, I keep thinking that my hopes that the waves of privatisation hadn't reach Sardinian inland villages are slowly slipping away.

Always more things are being marketed, always less activities for human edification are being carried out for the pure sake of doing it.

It's getting late, I have to leave, I congratulate him once again for the great job he's doing. "I don't know," he smiles. "They say it's art."

"It is art," I reply, with the promise to come back before I leave Sardinia in July.


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