Never have handicrafts been so «desired» as pottery now is. Just holding a florally decorated «trozzella» (Messapian vase) is enough to make you understand how much clay has been sedimented in the hearts and hands of this area. Terracotta takes on hundreds of forms on the pottery wheel; the ones to collect are those which magically imprison the wind within a whistle. By dint of cutting in swamps and bogs pursued by horse-flies and tormented by mosquitoes, he became yellow like the reeds of the Ugento marshes. Land drainage and quinine finally conquered fever but the basket maker continued to model wicker and reeds and to reweave wefts of olive twigs. Some still-warm ricotta cheese baskets look like immaculate trulli (conical huts) of trembling lime.
They called him «Mesciu Pietru de li Cristi» (Master Peter of the Christs) and he crucified many Christs with metal wire. But also puppets, and more often saints. He had a workshop in Baroque Lecce, where they boiled paper, made flour glue, copper sulphate and bright rags. A barber, they said, lost in art. He made strange tools red-hot, to model the statues, and the lines of puppets smelled of straw and hemp. How many beards for the sake of just one nativity scene and a fallen Figaro (barber)! They stayed there for hours, balancing on boards, chiselling strangely shaped blocks. Dragons, mermaids, telamons (statues which support buildings), caryatids (hags), sea horses, lions and eagles… Even gods transformed themselves into stone to avoid being sculpted by those hands. They chiselled, cut and polished all day long, like jewellers achieving a perfect mechanism. When they went home in the evening like glow-worms they left a trail of gold dust behind them.
STONE FROM LECCE
The stone from Salento dates back to the second half of the nineteenth-century. Already at that time it was unanimously ascribed to the Miocene, a time during the tertiary period which lasted from 23 to 17 millions of years ago. Today the working techniques of the past have been replaced by modern machinery that allows making works done with the stone from Lecce in less time. However on the land there are still handicraftsmen that work using the stone-cutter. Due to its composition, the stone from Lecce obtained the function of suitable material for decorations. It is also due to its presence that today people can admire several Baroque works, such as the church of Santa Croce in Lecce.
Today besides marshy reeds weaving, common cane-brake weaving or wicker weaving it is possible to find sticks and young suckers. Handmade techniques tend to praise the quality of the final work and to fight against the quality of the industrial production without the fear of losing. The current production is limited to the area of Acquarica del Capo. Reeds working exist in the province of Lecce from time immemorial. Reeds weaving were born in the production of hampers and baskets to pick up fruit or for ricotta or junket. However there are also weaving works done with sticks and olive branches.
WEAVING AND EMBROIDERY
In almost all communes in the South of Salento there are spinners and weavers that work with the traditional loom of Salento. It is a treadle loom with a very ancient origin. It has a rectangular shape and it is made of olive wood. Also embroideries and lace are one of the highest prides of the expert tradeswomen of Salento. This tradition was handed down from mother to daughter. In each village of the province there is at least an embroideress and lace-maker who is able to decorate a highly valuable trousseau. The most known lace is the "chiacchierino", which is done with a spool on the fingers, and also the "tombolo", which is done with the famous art of weaving the treads around other treads that are pinned up on a drawing fixed on a big cylindrical and stuffed pillow.