Collectible DRY in conversation with Camilla Vender, the “landlady” of Borgo Egnazia, a symbol of Apulian hospitality in the world, a project dreamed and turned into reality among white stone walls and centuries-old olive groves, creating an enchanted place

Interview by Silvia Motta

What were the encounters in your research that most impressed you?

Definitely Francesca Siciliano: an 85-year-old woman with a beautiful husband who went to the swamps all her life to gather bulrushes, she would dry them and then sit on the ground and start weaving her baskets…which for me are priceless. I will never forget her transparent, gentle eyes, nor her hands, ruined by the reed but still very soft.

 

Are there any pieces you were sorry to sell?

So many, especially the antique lace that we create with the Canfora girls. The truth is that some of the pieces go straight into my wardrobe, then I don’t wear them because I’m afraid of ruining them…but in the meantime, I keep them safe! They are one-of-a-kind pieces, made with handwork that no longer exists, like the dress Veronica and Federica gave me: all in chiacchierino, a very difficult and slow knot technique, which came from a huge and rare tablecloth made over 10 years by Signora Celeste…. there is the passing of the days, there is the life of people in these things, eternal afternoons of silent work with the sound of cicadas and the dazzling light filtering through the ajar shutters to keep out the heat, this is what I see in that dress, to wear it, even to own it, is a privilege for me.

 

Craftsmanship, what value does it hold for you?

Craftsmen should be respected first of all, as people, and then as artists: the work they do tells our story. Too often I see mobile phones and cameras framing and disclosing with little respect and no awareness of the significance of those artifacts, of the history, dignity, and sublime craftsmanship of these people who imagine and succeed in creating wonders from nothing.

You describe Bottega Egnazia as a Kunstkammer. Can you explain it to us?

When I was a child, I had a box in which I kept the objects I found lying around and that most aroused wonder and admiration in me: a glass marble, an angel-shaped bar of soap, a little ring from my mother, a tiny little bottle of vanilla concentrate, a notebook, no matter what.

I kept this box like a treasure, my collection of amazing and wonderful things, I would take them out, look at them one by one, and put them away, in the same way, that, from the 16th century to the 18th century, rich collectors used to dedicate a room of the house to their collections of extraordinary objects, the kunstkammer, or wunderkammer, precisely.

Bottega Egnazia is the adult version of my treasure box, a kunstkammer that holds the objects that have impressed me the most and whose value I wish to share with others.

 

The collections range from clothing to jewelry to food and wine, is it not easy to put together such different categories? 

On the contrary. As I said, what guides me in my choice is the emotion that certain things generate in me. It doesn’t matter if it is a dress or a loaf of bread, if it is special, if it is unique, if it has its own intrinsic value, it deserves to be valued, appreciated, shared. I am a treasure hunter, not just an object hunter.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change about this world? 

I would like us all to learn, me first, to slow down…and to respect each other more.

Above all, Puglia has taught me kindness, kindness for people and kindness for the land.