The Metal Wizard
“Metal sheet needs to be tamed like a wild horse. It needs to be tamed through hands, eye and experience… because if it grows on one side, it needs to decrease on the other”
Danilo Tavoni is a small and diminutive man and it isn’t truly clear where he gets all of the strength in his body from. Even more so, at 81 years old. The first thing that I saw him do was a mudguard, and two minutes were enough to understand that he’s completely right: the matter is something alive, which needs to be tamed, to be held by the reins and lead through the fence of the shape.
Actually, Danilo Tavoni’s workshop actually fully reflects this leitmotiv. The scenario is an actual forge, where everything seeps ferment. An intense ferment, like a “magma”, with all of it its immense capacity of creative energy. In the workshop where Danilo skips around everywhere, moving with the same agility as an elf, it is difficult to move through tanks, mudguards and working tools for a profane. It’s half-way between a forge and a museum, it is a cage aux folles, where past and present mix and re-mix without a solution of continuity.
“Can you see this? Do you know what it is? It’s a riding crop” Tavoni tells me, by waving a very old tool under my nose, which looks like it belongs to a museum. He often talks about his father, just like of his workshop, even if, in his conversations, past and present tend to go hand in hand.
“Look at this, this child was me”. He shows me an old photograph: a beautiful black and white portrait with mother and children, who very seriously look towards the camera. The children are numerous. “We were ten siblings” Danilo tells me “Half of them looked like my father, while the other half looked like my mother, who was small. Well, I belonged to the second half. When I was born, she must have only been eating radicchio. Do you know what they called me? Fumana! In our dialect, fumana means fog: the low morning fog, of when you get up… we called it fumaneina”.
He laughs, then he starts to tell me about an old story, scanned by the prosaic beauty of many small plot twists.
– When I was born, my father was in Africa. He built roads. He came back with a pack of photos like this… there were many. They lasted for years, then they were lost: my wife gave them to my daughters to keep them quiet when they were little. My father spent two years in Africa. When he came back, with a little bit of money that he’d put aside, he bought a horse for his father, my grandfather. What was his job? Well, he was also a carpenter… but he had outstanding manual skills: he made a lot of things. For example, he made cages for doves or rabbits. When we finished our dinner (when we had something to eat, which wasn’t every day), we had to put everything away. My father put sacks and planes on the table and, while we had to hold the board tight, he shaved away.
– He was also a woodworker then. What did horses have to do with all of this? You showed me a riding crop earlier on.
– Oh, the horses… my father was fond of horses! People went to him to get him to take care of them. When someone bought a horse, they took it to him straight away. And do you know what he did? He got a cart, he tied the wheels so that it wouldn’t move and then he got on it and he started to push, until the horse foamed at the mouth. I mean, he tested the horse to understand whether it was a broken-winded horse.
– Yes, just like when you smoke a packet of cigarettes a day and then, you are short of breath in the morning. It’s the same for horses. He tested them and when they didn’t feel well, he got to work with mixes. As well as a passion for horses, my father was fond of carrier pigeons. We had a dovecote which was something outstanding! You should have seen him, how angry he got when he thought that, out of the ten children that he had, none of them had a passion for doves.
And it is actually by trotting side by side with the extravagant, yet practical father, the young Danilo– alias Fumana – started to develop the outstanding manual skills which would have distinguished him over the years. On the other hand, talis pater, talis filius. The passion for the matter started when he was ten years old, when Danilo started working wood. However, he dreamed to be a driver: cars always fascinated him… to the extent that, in the end – whether for fate or fortuity – he ended up stumbling into it anyway. At Stanguellini.
By International Classic, written by Martina Fragale
Photos: Tommaso Ferrari for International Classic © 2017
Keep following the story Danilo Tavoni, The Panel-beater – Chapter 2
Danilo Tavoni, The Panel-beater – Chapter 3