Saverio Pastor is one of the last “remèr” (oar maker) masters in Venice: an ancient trade, which was born in Venice many centuries ago, when mobility around the lagoon was entirely by rowing.
This noble craft is nowadays in danger of disappearing, because there are few craftspeople who are able to carry on this important know-how, and even fewer young talents who have the courage to invest many years in such a challenging job.
Nevertheless, this tradition is deeply rooted into the Venetian history and culture.
Saverio Pastor trained alongside masters Giuseppe Carli and Gino Fossetta. In 2002 he opened his own workshop, “Le Forcole”, specialized in the construction of oars and oarlocks for Venetian gondolas, according to traditional techniques dating back to the Renaissance.
How did you approach the craft of the remèr, and what was your path?
On 15 June 1975 I asked master remèr Bepi Carli if I could work with him during the summer. He replied that I was already too old to learn, nevertheless I could stay in the workshop and watch. So I did it for 8 hours a day, until he grew tired of having me around doing nothing, and asked me to clean the workshop.
For at least four more years, he kept telling me I was too old to learn; then other circumstances forced me to set up my own business.
Today I’m still learning… Despite being the oldest remèr in Venice by now!
Remèr is actually my craft. Even if I create oarlocks, I am not purely a “forcolaio” (oarlocks maker): the oar was the most important and difficult part to build, and its function was very important in a city like Venice.
You are one of the last remèr masters. What does it mean to carry on an time-honoured and rare craft that is in danger of disappearing?
I have always felt the value of this important aspect of my work. I was not aware that I was a witness and an heir of this immaterial culture, but I perceived its gravitas.
Having acquired experience and consistency in this job, I started to take care of these aspects of the craft, also by comparing myself with other colleagues, above all in the shipbuilding industry.
How does the design and production process of the Venetian oarlocks take place?
The fórcola is the oarlock on which the oar pivots for rowing: each of its handles and surfaces are designed to allow the oar to make different movements in the water; its shapes depend on the particular rowing position, the type of boat, the rowing style and the build of the rower. The result is a complex sculpture, useful for rowing.
They are made by hand by sculpting homogeneous and compact woods such as walnut, pear, cherry or maple wood.
I try to respect the principles and ancient techniques of the craft tradition, which include careful natural seasoning, gradual roughing and the use of now obsolete tools such as the frame saw, the ax and the iron with two handles. The dexterity and customization of the object play an important role: it’s a two-way customization, which responds both to the needs of the rower and the sensitivity of the master artisan.
This year you were awarded the MAM – Master of Arts and Crafts acknowledgement, recognized by the Cologni Foundation for the Métiers d’Art. What was it like to receive it?
It was actually more exciting than I could imagine. Finding myself among masters and colleagues of unrivaled skill, awarded by experts of great value, really moved me. I must say that I also felt a little out of place, especially thinking back to the skills that my mentors had and their socio-economic background. Therefore I felt once more gratitude and empathy towards them.
Do you offer courses in your workshop? Are you willing to welcome young people for training projects?
I don’t organize courses because I believe that my job is essentially a service to professionals and rowing enthusiasts. I was willing to teach some young people who later became colleagues, and two of them are still working (Pietro Meneghini has been my collaborator for 18 years). I would therefore be willing to teach the craft, but as a holystic project. However, there are no adequate socio-economic conditions in Venice at the moment to ensure a young person a future in this craft, and you can’t deceive youngsters, committing them to years of apprenticeship, with no clear perspective for the future.
Your oarlocks are original and contemporary, they are design pieces. Where do you find inspiration?
The needs of the rower determine the dimensions, and the points on which to force the oar; these must be mediated with the shapes and dimensions of the boat in that specific rowing place. With these constraints I have to shape the wood so that it is resistant and responds to technical requirements. Tradition already dictates some forms to be respected. Then masters put their mark, their calligraphy: here there is room for a minimum of creativity which for me lies in evaluating the proportions and the definition of volumes and curves.
Have you ever worked with other artisans, designers or professionals? If yes, what resulted from the partnerships?
I have never really collaborated with other professionals. I made some reproductions of sculptures or sculptural ornaments, that’s it.
Working with others could be interesting, so I am open to this chance.
How do you imagine the future of your craft and what initiatives should be pursued to promote it?
The future of my craft is closely linked to Venice. I think the only possible perspective for our city is to bring attention back to our history, to the water and the life and civilization on the water, that has made Venice great and which we cannot renounce to, this being our characteristic identity. In this framework, my craft finds a place. Only by making peace with water, and perhaps enhancing and returning to the use of wood, Venice will have a future. Also because sustainable mobility is one of the most important aspects of our culture, and rowing plays an essential role in this: there are ferries, there are gondolas, there are “i artieri de gondole et suoi fornimenti” (gondolas and its artisans).
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