Endangered 5000 year old ancient practice of making silk made from mollusc slime

Sea Silk from molluscs, by Chiara Vigo, its last practitioner

“Haste doesn’t live here,” says one sign on the door. Another inside says “Nothing in this room is for sale.” An Italian woman named Chiara Vigo is the last living master of the ancient textile tradition of spinning “baysuss” or silk produced from the fibres exuded by a giant mediterranean mollusc. The craft is referenced in the holy books of more than one religion and is said to go back 5000 years. Vigo is the 30th generation in a line of women who maintain this art and pass it on. She does not charge money for what she does because by sacred tradition, sea silk cannot be sold or bought; it must be given.

See the video at the bottom of the post. “In a world dominated almost entirely by the market, Chiara Vigo is a stranger on her own territory”

And a BBC piece on her is here.

Sea Silk, by Chiara Vigo

My friend James Johnstone, currently living in Italy, has just finished doing the English subtitles for a documentary on Chiara Vigo, which I will upload here when it’s available. There is a trailer on Facebook that you can see here.

There is a petition in Italy asking the President of the Italian Republic to intervene to prevent the impending closure of the Museum of Sea Silk at Sant’Antioco, Sardegna. I’ve somewhat fixed the fairly stilted translation of the letter.  (It’s not an online petition yet but when it is, I’ll put the link here.)

Baysuss-Sea silk

Museum of Fine Linen of the Sea – letter to President Mattarella
Dear President Mattarella,
We are writing to ask for your intervention in order to resolve the urgent situation of the Museum of Fine Linen of the Sea of Montegranatico, municipality of Maddalena (Carbonia/Iglesias) whose imminent closure is of grave concern. In Sulcis, Sardinia, there lives a singular woman: Chiara Vigo, holder of ancient knowledge tied to a single rare fibre, the “fine linen of the sea.” This knowledge has been carried through the mists of time by her family. Chiara Vigo keeps this ancestral knowledge alive, entirely without financial gain, in a space made available by the municipality, where at Master Vigo’s insistence, admission is currently free. In 2005, the municipality granted Chiara Vigo the free use of the property, but the municipal contract expired on 31 December 2012. It was tacitly renewed up until today, but on 23 December 2015 she was issued an executive order of immediate eviction by the municipality, citing ” alleged security reasons of the electrical and structural system of the plant. Take note that on the second floor of the same stable there is the museum of the saint, that has not received the same “attention” as Master Vigo.”

This cultural activity, that Chiara Vigo offers to our country and to her island without any compensation , attracts to its museum scholars, researchers, simple tourists and students from all over the world, renewing the slow ancient rhythms of the sea and the sacred scriptures of three Religions, Jewish, Christian, Muslim. The Fine Linen is a thread mentioned 43 times in the Bible, where fine linen wove the robes of the pharaohs, the manti of King Solomon and the ephod of Aaron. To sum up, the fine linen is a sacred thread that connects us to eternity; it is a reminder to the doctrine of Pope Francis which brings us comfort and consoles us.

Chiara Vigo is the only person in the world able to recover the filaments of a mollusk in danger of extinction, the pinna nobilis, without killing it. She is also the only one capable of treating this fiber with natural methods, spinning it and making it into beautifully embroidered and woven works. These works, which have no market price, have been acquired by many museums and universities around the world whose curators know and esteem her ancient art. Her works may not be available to everyone, but any institution can receive them; the donations made by Master Chiara Vigo to national and international museums are totally free. In a world dominated almost entirely by the market, we believe that this particular feature makes Chiara Vigo a stranger on her own territory. By virtue of an oath that for centuries has been kept by women of his family, Chiara Vigo does not market her art and always lives in conditions of economic hardship and poverty. That is why we also wish to say that in order to deal properly with her commitment to future generations, Chiara Vigo deserves not only to have a permanent space free of charge, which is the montegranatico of maddalena, but also to be among the beneficiaries of the Law of Bacchelli. For the commitment and for the value of her work, your predecessor, the president, Giorgio Napolitano, gave Chiara Vigo the high honor of Commander of the Order of the Republic which she has held since 2010. FAI reported the museum of Chiara Vigo in the list of opening days of official museums. She has been nominated to UNESCO to be named an intangible asset of humanity.

Dear President Mattarella, for the prestige of safeguarding practices of historical and cultural relevance, we appeal to you, asking you to intervene in support of the Museum of Chiara Vigo, in defence of the mythical fine linen of the sea and of the timeless splendor of its embroidery. In our farewell to you, allow us to express all the respect, admiration and esteem for the highest office that you represent for the protection of our historical and cultural heritage.

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