“Tela Umbra” was founded in 1908 through the initiative of Baron Leopoldo Franchetti (1847-1917) and his wife, Baroness Alice Hallgarten (1874-1911). The textile collection is situated on the second floor of the historic Palazzo Alberti Tomassini, formerly known as the Bourbon del Monte building, in the historic centre of Città di Castello. In the museum, which is divided into nine rooms, renowned textile creations, yarn, antique frames, lace, and various types of instruments for weaving are on display, to demonstrate the numerous processes carried out in the workshop. In addition to the display cabinets, there are also items of furniture originating from the Montesca Villa of the Baron Franchetti, also in Città di Castello. One space in particular has been dedicated to the collection of objects that could have been in a typical classroom in the rural elementary schools dedicated to the children of the farmers founded by the barons in the schools at Montesca and Rovigliano. On display are old school desks, inkwells, teaching instruments and many other objects that recount an extraordinary union born from the innovative educational methods of the Italian scientist and educator Maria Montessori, hosted by the Franchetti’s in Città di Castello in 1909, and the intense social commitment of Alice Hallgarten who wanted to make an educational system that focused on the child being at the centre of the world as fundamental.
The museum itinerary also includes the visit to the first floor of the textile Laboratory, the only workshop in which even today products are handcrafted using pure linen from the Flanders region of Belgium and Ireland, crafted on manual looms from the end of the 19th century, using original designs from the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
Leopoldo Franchetti, originally from Livorno, moved to Città di Castello between 1779 and 1880. From 1882 to 1909 he was monarchical deputy of the Italian Kingdom, distinguishing himself for his consideration for social and economic concerns such as the Southern issue, the problem of the colonies, agricultural development. The real light of his life was his young American wife Alice Hallgarten that he married in 1900.
Originating from a rich Jewish family, with a German father and Canadian mother, as soon as she arrived in Città di Castello Alice took an interest in the miserable conditions of poverty and cultural backwardness in which the families of the farmers of her estates dwelled and in the less well-off of the town. She subsequently decided to intervene in a determined way, committing herself to the training, education and the sector of work qualifications. Her aim was to contribute to improving life conditions in rural areas, without forgetting about the artisan cultures of folkloristic traditions. Among these she noticed that a unique role was practised in the art of weaving with hand looms: planning therefore to take advantage of the capabilities of the weavers that lived in the farmhouses on her estates, Alice planned a collective project that included qualifications, development and commercialisation, and on the 1st May 1908 brought to life the activity of the Tela Umbra Laboratory, equipping it with resources, equipment and raw materials.
Maria Luciana Buseghin, Alice e la tela delle meraviglie, Città di Castello 1998;
Maria Luciana Buseghin, La Tela Umbra di Città di Castello: una storia di donne, in “Pagine Altotiberine”, 6, 1998, pp. 123-126;
Tela umbra: lini tessuti a mano, Città di Castello 1999;
Oggi non sono andata a parare le pecore…: la memoria delle scuole rurali di Montesca e Rovigliano di Città di Castello: catalogo della Mostra documentaria (Città di Castello, collezione tessile di tela umbra, 25 settembre 2009-17 gennaio 2010), Città di Castello 2009;
Dal 1908 Tela Umbra. Lini Tessuti a mano”, Città di Castello (PG) 2010;
Maria Luciana Buseghin, Alice Hallgarten Franchetti: un modello di donna e di imprenditrice nell’Italia tra ‘800 e ‘900, Selci – San Giustino 2013.