Castorina 1895, the story of my family

The Sicilian origins

It is 1895, the year Guglielmo Marconi made the first radio transmission and the Lumière Brothers invented cinema. In Italian homes, there is still no electricity.

It is 1895, and in Sicily – to be precise in Catania – Mario Castorina, my great-grandfather, begins to work as a carver.

Mario was sure from the first moment that his job would become his life reason, but he could not imagine was that his passion for wood would be handed down from father to son for all subsequent generations.

The time in Rome

At the beginning of the 1900s Mario Castorina – like thousands of his countrymen – left Sicily and emigrated in search of greater fortune in Rome. The early days were hard and he was forced to work at home, but soon he opened a small shop in Via dei Reti n. 17 where he restores and builds furniture.

Meanwhile, his son Eugenio, just thirteen, began to work in his father’s workshop to produce “furniture with lion’s paw feet in poplar wood” in that false Renaissance style that was very fashionable at the time. Each piece was very little paid and to be able to earn something Mario and Eugenio were forced to carve many legs a day: in the evening, before closing the shop, they prepared the wooden blocks and immersed them in a bin full of water to make them more flexible and to be able to carve faster the next day.

Father and son made their way together rather quickly and their success was proved by a major Vatican commission for a restoration and carving work.

Castorina, Florence

In 1942, during the Second World War, my grandfather Eugenio decided to move to Florence. The Tuscan city offered better chances for talented artisans so Eugenio left, taking with him his wife, two young children, and his carving tools. Grandfather immediately found a job, even though it was not easy to be accepted by the suspicious Florentine colleagues who at first only gave him the most difficult and hard work: “They were giving me walnut to carve and were paying me like it was lime tree”, he used to tell.

Motivated by his instinct as an entrepreneur, Eugenio Castorina opened his shop in Florence, in Via Maggio n. 35, in the Oltrarno area, which since the Renaissance has been the area of ​​Florence with the highest concentration of craft shops. In the workshop in Via Maggio, Eugenio – like his father Mario before him – carved, restored, built furniture, and decorated them. In addition, he exhibited small artifacts such as boxes, trays, and little objects in the fourteenth-century style in a small window on the street. In 1950, on the occasion of the Holy Year, he filled his window with religious-themed creations that he used to carve at home in the evening, after dinner. It was an unexpected success: “With what I was selling from the window I was paying for the expenses of the shop”, he said.

In 1953, full of enthusiasm and confidence in the future, he sought a larger fund that would allow him to increase his work, hire staff and allocate space for furniture and accessories to be restored and resold. He found it again in the Oltrarno area, in Via Santo Spirito 15/r in Florence, a place that has become over the years a world of wood wonders and still is the headquarters of Castorina 1895 today.

The shop in Via Santo Spirito worked wonders and over time the whole family began to work there: my uncle Claudio, my aunts Angela and Anna, and obviously my father Mario, as well as several workers and apprentices. In 1966, the flood that hit Florence hard did not spare the family business: it took more than two months of hard work to wash the shop out of mud and debris. My grandfather lost all his savings and was forced to ask for a loan from the bank, but the restart was not far: my father used to tell “as in the war, even the flood brought a lot of work”.

The work was restarted and restoration became the main activity of the workshop. From an economic point of view, the Seventies and Eighties were the best years: Castorina began to produce and sell wooden frames, complete furnishings, and even wallpapers. At the same time, the production of furnishing accessories, semi-finished products, and accessories in natural wood began and the shop became a reference for all Florentine artisans and for anyone who dabbled in wood: and it still is to the present day.

The fourth-generation Castorina

The best things are achieved only with the utmost passion.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe

I am the fourth generation of Castorina wood craftsmen and I am aware of the history that preceded me and of our being producers of beauty, holders of ancient art and knowledge to which we owe respect and esteem that are never sufficiently valued.

I started working in the shop at 16, and immediately with practice, that in the shop “always is the best theory“. My first tasks were those that always rely on apprentices: sanding frames and furniture, a practice that leaves your hands aching and your clothes and hair full of dust. A practice that one hates immediately, instinctively. After a while, however, I understood that even sanding has a method and that – if you follow it – it won’t tire you any more, it won’t hurt anymore. So I looked for a new object, one I had never worked on. And over time I realized that the variety of jobs and tricks to treasure are innumerable. “Steal with your eyes” my father used to tell me and I happily stored everything on that imaginary shelf that is halfway between the brain and the heart.

Seeing an object born from a piece of wood and made by my hands for the first time, bringing it to its complete realization, and choosing the appropriate finish, was a moment that I will never forget: at that moment I felt fulfilled. And it is a feeling that repeats with each new creation. I am a lucky person because I have had the opportunity to do a job that I am passionate about.

My grandfather used to say: “There is something magical that binds me to the workbench, something more than a simple daily commitment“. And it is true. The scent of wood, the sound of the tools, the reflections of gold and silver leaf, the colors of natural pigments, the relationship that is established with the creations and with people: everything contributes to the magic. A bond for “the business” and for the atelier that becomes a reason for living: a job that is done for passion, rather than for money, because it provides for an inner reward greater than the material one. For me, the atelier is a precious place, a place to respect: a place where to create and learn. Ours is a family environment, where the relationship between people is fundamental because tranquility and joy in doing things are the basis for a good day at work.

Today, after almost thirty years spent as a woodcarver, I can certainly say that what makes an object unique is attention to detail. The greatest satisfaction is when a customer comes to collect the ordered object and I can see in his eyes that it is even more beautiful than he had imagined. The same satisfaction that my father, my grandfather, and my great grandfather before me, felt.

I am proud of this tradition and proud to be able to say that today, in Florence, in the beautiful Via Santo Spirito there is still a place made up of craftsmen who work wood with passion, with the desire to create something new and unique every day, inspired by the criteria of artistic beauty handed down by the masters of the past. A place that bears my surname.

Marco Castorina

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