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Biography of Basilio Testella

by Mauro Bignami

famiglia Long ago on the 2nd of June 1930 in Montegranaro, a small village on a hill where the eye is pleased with a backdrop of the sea and looks to the mountains, Basilio Testella was born. The youngest of 6 children, the son of a carpenter and a home maker. At the young age of 5 his mother passed, and his older brothers took care of him. As the only option for a career at that time, he became and "apprentice" in a family of share croppers in Montegranaro, on the land where now stands the restaurant "Villa Blanca". In the meantime he attended elementary school, as what we now call today a "student worker" and was at that time a very common practice. Already as a boy his intelligence was clearly noticeable and something that would characterise him throughout his life. This also led him to ask the fateful question, "What will I do tomorrow?" “In the country you are always a servant and die of old age?" He then had to wait until the end of the war before returning home in '44, and devote himself to the talent that made him famous around the world, His first job was at the factory "Nuova Centauro", also where he met his big love, Maria Guardiani, the sister of the owner whom he married on June 1, 1957. The ceremony was held in the Basilica of Loreto and was a great event at the time because cars were rare and Loreto was considered a city "far away". From the marriage two children were born Mauro and Rossella. He stayed working in the same factory for 20 years making a fulminant career and arriving to fill the role of teacher to young apprentices. In 1964 due to health reasons he was forced to suspend work at the factory and to continue, as they say around here, "stay downstairs at home", creating a workshop. Today it's a museum where all the tools of his creative genius invented over the years are on show. Not only those to work shoes, but also others intended for various uses and the result of his own invention. For example and only to name a few the tool to collect snails, asparagus, mushrooms, and figs, demonstrating the breadth of interests and range of knowledge he owned. All this after receiving a modest school education in line with what the people of his generation had..

basilio-works Whilst the sixties and seventies were turning over and when the footwear industry was turning towards mechanisation and specialisation of labour. The watchwords were "quantity and productivity" and factories were described on the basis of the number of pairs produced per day. In the “Bottega de Vasi” shoes continue to be produced as they had always been. One shoe every 30 hours. Finished after going through all 52 phases under his skilled hands, without the use of machines and where even the tools were made by hand. These included “the lescina", “the marcapunti”, the shaped wood, and the "cippetto" just to name a few. Whilst the townspeople were telling him that that work would not earn him any money, the master cobbler continued at his trade as he always had with the belief that wealth is in knowledge. Under the domain of arts and technology, and in the ability to make yourself a pair of shoes and without help from anyone, "because a real cobbler needs to know to take a shoe, undo and redo it without damaging anything." So going against the trend and with determination and intelligence. Those who can look ahead to see beyond the present times go on, and the people who know the trade of a shoemaker are able to make you shoes. "The last one left", as he is defined and as he likes to call himself, aroused the interest of big industrialists who came to him to ask his advice. This related to organisation of the processing departments and to perform tasks that only he can do, or more simply "to create champions." The shop in fact resembles in all respects those of the Middle Ages. Where the Master Cobbler is surrounded by apprentices who attend to learn the craft of shoemaking, and many people sat in front of his "banquet".

The laboratory becomes a real reference point for those who want to learn to make shoes by hand , or for those who only needed a favour, or for those who simply wanted a chat. To learn from Vasi people came from all over Italy. They came from Vigevano, Sicily, Emilia, Tuscany, Campania. He handed down the art of footwear to new generations of cobblers, though not all became cobblers. The difference with the shoemaker is that "the cobbler is able to redo and adjust a shoe, and if there is a broken piece to be able to replace it." His motto says "you must not be selfish because selfishness ruins you" and that is why Vasì keeps open the door of his shop. To all those who want to learn the art of footwear and to all those who want to learn his work, but also for the many curious.

basilio-labOnce, the president of the fair of Moscow visited Vasì to see his work. Vasì said: "I offered him port-wine reiterating that I was expecting vodka and caviar. Eight days after they arrived." His teaching is not just limited to footwear techniques. They also convey many timeless healthy ideals and values gained through the spirit of sacrifice, and wisdom gained by many years of hard work. "Work, work healthy, and get others to say who you are not who they you think you are." Meanwhile his art and his experience was generating a growing reputation. He became the shoemaker of important men such as Ciampi, Cuccia and Clinton to name only the most resonating names and omitting others, some of whom can he not remember as the names of foreigners can be difficult to pronounce. So his fame spread, even among people of different industries (Go into the most famous pizzeria in Montegranaro and ask for the "pizza of Vasi'") Then more and more until the Marche Region decided to give him the highest honour, the Gold Picchio. A symbolic figure of the values and quality of “Made in Marche”. Awarded the fourth day of “Marche 2008”. To get an idea of the scope of the award like him other recipients that have received it for their outstanding work in the region is the owner of the pharmaceutical Angelini, the inventor of Winxs. An extraordinary thing is that in all this Vasi remains himself. With great humility that only great men have, and in thanks saying "I only did my duty and I hope that future generations can continue the art that I have passed on to them. " Recently the Rotary Club awarded him its highest honour the Paul Harris Fellow Award, for having brought the name of Fermo to five continents.

sediaEven in this last chance he can be identified as he was in life, for his great humility and integrity: "I just did my job. I hope that young people will keep up our high traditions ": In 2009 he was struck down with an incurable disease. His determination never led him to surrender and fought with all his might. He used to say to people that he would try hard to come out as a winner. After a long struggle and with the realisation of an impossible victory he says to his beloved, "Surely they need a cobbler in heaven, I know that I have to go and I can not do anything about it." On August 30, 2010 the candle burnt out, but he remains like a flame that still shines in the eyes of all those who knew him. In his workshop his tools are kept alive by the able hands of his children. For those who have received a gift of one of his creations or one of his inventions, now remains as a beautiful memory as a single piece by the person who built it.