ph. Linda Frosini
Melanie, a Palio artisan tells us how she lives the Siena Festival. Article by Viola Carignani.
Melanie Measures has spent all her life amongst horses. She was born on the Isle of Wight (UK.)but Italy and in particular Siena, has been her adoptive land for a long time now “ I can’t tell you how long I’ve been
in Siena otherwise you might guess my age “ says Melanie jokingly; always ready with a smile. She feels quite Italian now and has such a close bond with Siena that she can’t stay away during the days of the
Palio,”I find I get very involved” she says of the festival that she loves so much.
Competing quite successfully at county level and working with top Olympic riders such as Mancinelli and Anna Casagrande gave her a lot of experience with horses and this plus the passion and her skill for
leathercraft led to her forming a close relationship with the Contradas. “It was quite easy, having always been involved in the horse world in one way or another, I knew exactly how I wanted the tack to be and in
what type of leather. It became a job when I saw that I was never quite happy with what I bought in the shops or how the repairs were done. I learnt to choose the right quality leather from the tanneries here in
Tuscany and I taught myself to work with it, then as a consequence, I got involved with the Siena palio.
Melanie also knows quite a few of the jockeys “ I know some of them well as they rode as children at the Riding club that I used to work at and this means that they trust me to know exactly what type of equipment they may need”—she won’t give us any details of the work commissioned from her as they are well kept secrets!
Very soon, her art of hand working and inlaying leather became much appreciated by the Contradas “It’s hard to find anyone who does this type of leathercraft anymore and creating a ‘spennachiere’ ( Sienese
word for a leather plume) means having to know how to do many different things. “ It’s the only piece of ‘clothing’ , if that’s how we may describe it ,together with the bridle in the Contrada colours, that is worn by the horse during the Palio race and it is on these that Melanie concentrates her handicraft. “Some bring me a drawing and some trust my creativity and as it became difficult to find the right shades of colour I now have the leather dyed specifically.”
She has made a name for herself outside of the city walls as well and is often asked to make bridles for other Palios in Italy such as Ferrara, Legnano or Asti and also for the jousting tournaments like the
‘Saracino’ in Arezzo and although she wasn’t born here in Siena, our English artisan has, never the less, managed to gain the trust of the ‘suspicious world’ of the Palio. “ To think that I am one of the few people allowed into the horses stable , due to the fact that it may be necessary to check that everything fits as the horse is usually different each time and there may be small adjustments to be made , such as a tailor would do on a suit for a client” and she smiles happily at the idea that Siena has opened it’s heart to her .
"Yes, I do go into a lot of the stables but I have never spoken of what I see or hear and I am totally reserved and impartial and I think that it is due to this that I have earned this trust and it is a great honour for me tobe part of it.
How do you feel the evening of the Palio when you see the horses wearing your bridles ?
“ It is a very great satisfaction. I watch it on television and try to see if everything is in it’s place and I feelproud of my works and of the horses wearing them. Siena is unique in giving you such emotions and I think I am lucky to be such a close and active part of the Palio even if it is only through my bridles.