Mr. Wolf of the restoration: 35 plasterers and restorers of Unisve every day save the heritage of Venice

31 January 2022

Venice, January 31st, 2022 – Every morning a team of 35 people, including plasterers and restorers, starts from the workshop, a few steps from the bridge of Pugni, to head each to their own yard. Every day new surfaces and decorations are realized6 antique furniture, internal and external surface of the historical building are restored, stone and mosaic materials, decorated surfaces, statues and artifacts are preserved. Every day, they help to protect and save Venice and its enormous artistic and culture heritage, which boasts a history of 1600 years. 

The “Mr. Wolf” of the restoration, the problem solver, are part of Unisve, the Venetian plasterers’ Union, founded by a group of artisans in 2001, disciples of the master plasterer Mario Fogliata, in order to sustain and keep alive some of the traditional Venetian handcraft techniques that were in danger of being lost. Over the years, Unisve has grown and expanded its skills: not only stucco decorations and restoration but art services for private individuals and museums, space design and museum design, urgent interventions for safety and consolidation, stratigraphic and diagnostic surveys, degradation mapping. And lost of ingenuity, mixed with practice. 

“We are like Mr. Wolf from the movie Pulp Fiction. We were born as plasterers, then gradually we expanded our range and we did what the market asked us to do using our knowledge, which in the end is always traditional knowledge and experience, - says the soul and technical director of Unisve, Guido Jaccarino – we work mainly in Venice but now, for example, we are also intervening on the facades of the castle of Roncade. These are tasks that come from customers who have known us in Venice and who esteem us”. 

“We tried to bring our professional back to its origins and gradually we succeeded, thanks also to our teacher Mario who also wrote a book “The art of stucco in Venice”, that is the gospel of stucco world-wide, because it is the main book that talks about the technique, the marble and the stucco – continues the director – Noe Unisve deals with restoration of surfaces, the realization of new decorations, but following traditional techniques, not only with stucco: we picked up technologies, getting help from other craftsmen, going to study the treatises, doing field trials. In addition to this, we have also intervened in other areas, always using traditional techniques but in a different way from the standards: we use restoration techniques also on modern or newly built surfaces, trying to preserve rather than replace. Sometimes we have to make arrangements, or have to deal with the handing of works of art, and even there, even if we do not use our techniques, we still have a close-knit team and the experience of restorer that helps us to carry out our work properly. The beautiful thing, which has been happening in recent years, is that Venice is attracting designers, interior designers, people of the highest level, from all over the world. And what we like is that these people come here, they look for tradition in art, they listen to us and they give us input to reinvent it with their style. Thus, we are able to realize extremely modern and complex things, in the style of these people who come from all over the world, using local techniques, the ancient Venetian tradition”.

The workshop, which was once a squero and then a joinery, is the “workshop” where everything is created. But it is also a space to take courses, where Jaccarino teaches architects to put their hands in the dough, to touch the matter, to understand from a practical point of view what it means to restore. Because he, who after graduating in architecture went to be a bricklayer, if he did not know chalk, lime, dust, would not be able to understand his work in a complete way. The reasons why, for example, if the temperature drops below 5 degrees it is useless to work on external plasters, because they will not last. 

“Among the many works we have done, what remains in my heart are the latest interventions at Palazzo Grimani, Domus Grimani 1 and 2 – says director. – Thanks to Venetian Heritage and the director of the museum< which gave us great confidence, we managed to unite all our talents in one place: we did the work of plasterers, restorers, we worked with the technical staff, which managed to solve a whole series of problems related to the conservation of works of art, and we also made some new fine finishes. In the first decade of 2000 we worked at Villa Pisani in Stra, we made the façade of the church of Tolentini and numerous interventions in Venice and the surrounding area. Now we are working on some facades on the Grand Canal, in the monumental staircase of San Giovanni Evangelista, in the tablino of Andrea Palladio at the Gallerie dell’Accademia, we are restoring frescoed exterior of the castle of Roncade, in addition to working in different private environments. For some years we have also been working on smaller things, sich as the current intervention on tables and frames of the XVIII century property of Fai”. 

And then there are the all-round works, these that engage the team in a work also design and that require ingenious and creative solutions: such as the restoration of the Hotel Hall at the Academy Galleries, commissioned by Save Venice inc. in 2012, or having saved the canvas of Titian, “David and Goliath”, who had suffered damage in the fire that involved the Basilica della Salute in 2010.

“What we asked ourselves here is what we can do for our Venice? – concludes Jaccarino – because we are now a reality that affects Venice, which receives from Venice, and we want to return. And so, since 2021, 2 percent of our budget is devolved to the restoration of works in the city, and then we opened our laboratory to community: on our largest room we make presentations and courses, in collaborations with Confartigianato, the Order of Architects and Restoration Schools. And we are also taking an interest in ensuring that young people are trained and able to carry on the traditional Venetian crafts, which otherwise risk disappearing”.