We stumbled across the Scuola del Cuoio, while exploring the Santa Croce area of Florence. Having just visited the market and had a picnic lunch in the shade of the Basilica, we consulted our pocket guide-book on where to explore next. We were trying to avoid large crowds of tourists, so decided to head away from the main square. As we walked down the side street, we noticed an open entrance with a sign for the leather school. ‘Lets investigate’ we thought.
As we entered, the path took us round the back of Santa Croce and there we found the entrance to the school.
The school was started after World War II by the Franciscan friars of the Monastery of Santa Croce and the Gori and Casini families who were Florentine leather artisans since the 1930’s. Their aim was to give war orphans the opportunity to learn a practical trade and earn a living.
As we walked into the courtyard we peered through open windows and watched the students practicing the craft of leather work. At the end of the courtyard we took the steps up to the main show room area of the school. We entered via the shop, filled with rows and rows of hand-made wallets, purses and other smaller leather items. Once through the shop we entered a long corridor with rooms to either side, containing other work shops, show rooms full of jackets and the offices of the school. At the end of the corridor were several benches with more craftsmen working on smaller pieces and stamping gold leaf initials of the shops customers, in to the items they had just brought.
The most impressive room was one of the first we went in to. The long work station was covered with scraps of multi coloured leather, rolls of thick cotton and tools. As it turned out, the lady working away on a bright purple handbag was Francesca Gori, one of the founders’ daughters. Talking to her, she told us how each of her hand-made handbags are unique. She likes to photograph the bag with whoever purchases it, that way she would never repeat a design. Turing around, her small workshop room walls were filled with cabinets of her work, each bag completely unique to the ones next to it.
In the past the school has had many famous visitors including Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, as well movie stars and US presidents.
This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip, seeing a local historical art at its best and without mass tour groups swarming around.