Tuesday, 9 November 2010

International Manhole Cover Museum

International Manhole Cover Museum - Museo delle Ghise

In Commachio in 2006 we were delighted to discover an exhibition of manhole covers in the town’s library and art gallery. Described as the International Manhole Museum, it displayed on special stands several dozen manholes from across Europe with a wide variety of designs. Returning a couple of years later we found that the Museum seemed to have vanished into thin air, but we have since discovered that the exhibition at Commachio was only temporary and the Museum is still alive and well in Ferrara.

Exterior of the Museum in Comacchio, 2006
International Manhole Museum display in Commachio, 2006
The Museum is the brainchild of the irrepressible Stefano Bottoni. Born in Ferrara in 1949, he graduated at the Ferrara Institute of Art and later at the Academy of Arts of Bologna. In 1987 he dreamed up the Ferrara Buskers Festival, which became one of the most important buskers’ events in the world bringing together an international array of buskers, the Strassenmusikanten or Musicisti di strada. Starting in 1988 with thirty groups, by the 17th festival in 2005 the number of participants had increased tenfold, becoming one of the greatest and popular festivals in Italy with some 800,000 visitors.

So Signor Bottoni is no stranger to grand and unusual ideas. He has been the artistic director of many other events in Ancona, Rome, Florence and elsewhere. In September 1998 he revealed to the world his latest idea. To quote from an article by Tommaso La Rocca, he aimed to follow his success with the buskers by "bringing to Ferrara other particular inhabitants of the same streets. They don’t sing, they don’t play and they don’t speak ... but someone has so much ennobled them as to call them “the souls of truth”, in the Italian film “Vacanze romane”, where the most ancient manhole cover in the world is remembered.

The exhibition was launched on 18th September 2004 in Ferrara, displaying manholes from all over the world, objects that are not usually considered as an artistic product but can “unveil to us traditions, culture and history”. Stefano Bottoni is collecting them with the same enthusiasm with which he has been pursuing his buskers, pestering mayors and town councils, embassies, tourist boards, engineers, architects, the foundries that produce these “trampled objects” and even the “unique world manhole researcher of Chinese and Irish cities Chen Jia Lee”.

Manhole from Krems in the International Manhole Cover Museum, Ferrara, 2010
By 2004 he had collected about fifty specimens from Prague, Amsterdam, Athens, Z├╝rich., Oslo, Wien, Oporto, Dublin, Shanghai, Helsinki, Sarajevo, Rome, Cracow, Havana … He arranged a series of itinerant exhibitions and events in many of the cities from where they have come from. His Big Dream: to give them “a place of honour in a big permanent museum” in Ferrara seems to have become reality in June 2010 when the Renaissance courtyard of the National Archaeological Museum presented rows of them, many inscribed with the names of the world’s cities, often with a heraldic blazon, lending dignity to an everyday object which serves the vital function of giving access to drains and sewers.
Display in the International Manhole Cover Museum, Ferrara, 2010
Even before its latest incarnation the collection had proved its worth. It encouraged us back in 2006 to collect manhole covers, not as tons of cast iron requiring massive storage space, but as digital images that could be shared on the internet. Signor Bottoni has his equally eccentric counterparts in the digital world, who record this special aspect of our heritage.

Website: http://www.manholemuseum.it/ E-Mail: mailto:info@manholemuseum.it

Poster for International Manhole Cover Museum