The Ethnographic Museum ‘Cjase Cocèl’ is situated in the town of Fagagna, central-western Friuli.
This house, an ancient rural building, dates back in some of its parts to the 17th century, and presents the daily life and the farmers’ work in the countryside of Friuli in a period that goes from the end of the 1800s until the 1950s – that is, before the great changes that happened in life and work in the region from the 1960s onwards. The name ‘Cjase Cocèl’ is referred to the Chiarvesio family (nicknamed Cocèl), who inhabited the house for a long time; the denomination has been retained in order to remember a local farmers’ family, and also to underline the spirit of this atmospheric museum – that is, the rebuilding of a real house as it once was.
As a matter of fact, the visitor today has the impression of a place which is still alive – it almost feels like a ‘lived-in’ space, where time stands still. Several environments have been recreated; amongst them: the kitchen, the bedrooms, the cellar, the hay-loft (or granary), the farmyard, the work-room – and all this has been made possible thanks to the presence of people (mostly volunteers) who carry out various tasks with the ancient tools. In fact, on a Sunday afternoon, one can see here at work the blade sharpener, the basket maker, the blacksmith, the women-spinners and those who work the laces (merlettaie – from merletto: lace – in Italian).
Connected to the economy of the family are also the activities regarding clothing – especially female clothes: from the various textile plants traditionally grown here to produce fabrics (mostly hemp and flax) to the loom used for weaving. In this context is set the peculiar activiity of lace-pillow making (merletto a tombolo, just mentioned above), so typical of Fagagna.
The classroom of this ancient school of lace-making – almost a local institution – has been carefully reconstructed; its story is well-documented with pictures, correspondence, certificates, diplomas and a collection of samples. Also, with particular care has been realized – beside the house – the ‘broilo’: a small farmyard, which has been planted with a central row of mulberry trees (once necessary for the breeding of silk-worms) and four rows of vineyards (typical of the agriculture of Friuli); various types of vegetables are in the kitchen garden too.
In the courtyard in front of the museum – placed under the eaves of the roof – is a treshing machine; here are also situated the mill and the iron-smithy; in front of it is a new, recently built wing that hosts at the ground floor the ‘osteria’, whose pieces of furniture come from real local inns (‘osterie’). The dairy, perfectly functioning, is where the making of cheese is still being carried out with the traditional method of boilers fed by a mobile fire.
On the first floor are the schoolroom and a permanent exhibition on the fabrication of wheels, with a rich documentation of tools and the possibility to see artisans at work. On the second floor is a section dedicated to bee-keeping. The new building documents also a traditional type of roof (thatch) made with rye straw, which – until the beginning of the 1900s – was still widely used for rustic buildings in the villages of this part of Friuli.
In the external area is the wide courtyard that enhances and completes the museum with its documentation on artisan activities and social life, as it once interacted with the daily life of the farmers. This farmyard is enclosed by a carefully built dry-stone wall that runs all along the street; within it, has also found its place the row of mulberry trees mentioned above.
Life in the Museum
Many Moments, Many Crafts: the Museum Collaborators and Their Experience.
The Museum ‘Cjase Cocèl’ belongs to the municipality of Fagagna, and since 1994 is open to the public in the current location. The Association of the Museum allows – thanks to the contribution of the many volunteers – this institution to be a unique and well-differentiated reality within the context of the Museums of Friuli, for the vitality that distinguishes it and the vivacity of the activities that characterize its yearly calendar (opening time goes from April to November).
‘Cjase Cocèl’: a Small Contained Universe
It is possible to see the whole of ‘Cjase Cocèl’ as a small compendium of rural life as it once was. This is an indication for an ideal visit: first it is suggested to visit the historical house with the reconstructed rooms, then the exhibition rooms and finally the exterior with the artisan activities that interacted with the farmers’ world; only at the end is it advised to see the rooms located in the new building. Here follows a brief description of the museum’s main activities throughout the year.
An Ancient Knowledge: The Tradition of the ‘purcitars’ (Third Sunday in January)
The home-made preparation of pork meat represents the only element of farmers’ life to have remained intact in our modern times, and it provides a chance to observe and honour in the eating habits the products of a world which is no longer existing. All this happens thanks to the feast known as ‘purcitars’; to mark the event, by the museum takes place a whole day of intense activities dedicated to the preparation of pork meat: workers come from the whole of Friuli and gather to show the traditional techniques and ancient rituals such as the blessing of the animals, with the description of the different preparation phases of several products (for instance of lard and the crisp, savoury ‘crostoli’) to end up with a celebratory meal in the courtyard, where are displayed all the main pork dishes typical of the area, prepared with the collaboration of the local restaurants.
Painted Eggs for Small Artists (Palm Sunday)
On Palm Sunday the Museum opens its doors to children and adults alike – all welcome for the occasion to decorate the eggs for the upcoming Easter. An old tradition has been reprised here, until not many years ago practiced widely in villages and towns all over this part of Friuli: the decoration of hen eggs with various techniques and materials. An old lady who collaborates with the museum recalls: “When we were children, on Easter Monday we used to roll the painted eggs down the hills… and our grandparents used to say that eggs were precious then, therefore not many of them were kept in order to be painted – and played with – at Easter time. In any case, by having the eggs rolling down the hills, the hope was that at one point some would break apart (the eggs used were previously boiled), so that afterwards we could eat them… ”. At ‘Cjase Cocèl’ there are still expert people who teach different painting techniques; children and adults alike can learn to produce small but authentic masterpieces….
Threshing: A Rite of Harvest that Recalls Abundance (Second Sunday in July)
The Museum proposes, within the rhythm articulated by the passing seasons, the daily work of farmers. At the end of June (roughly half-way through the agricultural year) it was time for a first balance in terms of the harvest, and to collect the first fruits of the hard work of the year so far. A good harvest of grains and cereals meant to be able to look with hope to the rest of the upcoming season and see the ghosts of misery and hunger recede. In the courtyard at ‘Cjase Cocèl’ one can still relive those moments to this day: a cart pulled by feasting dressed-up horses takes the harvest into the courtyard, where skilful hands will introduce the wheat sheaves – one at a time – into the threshing machine. Another cereal plays a big part in this area – and that is rye, with the demanding and labour-intensive hand threshing, aimed at obtaining the characteristic thatch that would later be used to complete the roof cover of the new farm buildings. In the courtyard, the people carrying out the threshing operations and the beating of rye follow one another quickly; afterwards, for lunch, one can then savour some traditional dishes prepared with the supervision of local chefs, in a covered location within the museum courtyard.
The Pumpkin Feast: Co-creating with Nature (Last Sunday in October).
The Ethnographic Museum ‘Cjase Cocèl’ in Fagagna – always very careful in suggesting the most meaningful moments in the life of the farmers of once – during the month of October invites to a traditional ‘meeting’ with the pumpkin: a typical autumnal produce strictly connected with the farmers’ world of old. In fact, once in autumn – together with the corncobs – pumpkins also came in great numbers, in the most varied forms and colours. The pumpkin feast is an occasion to meet together at the museum, which for the occasion becomes particularly alive with the many shapes and the most diverse colours of pumpkins, and is animated by the work of the many volunteers. Here is offered a taste of the past – most notably in the form of the zuf, a typical local dish (soup) served with milk. The old oral traditions also remind of the children games of once, who had a good time carving the hard skin of pumpkins to create the characteristic musates (masks), which they would then put out in the evening on the window sills, with a candle inside in order to frighten mothers and grandmothers….
An Experience to Remember
During the second week of July, the Museum opens up and entertains a dialogue with the boys and girls of different age that choose to spend a week of holidays in the farm, side by side with the many volunteers that bring back to life objects and ancient knowledge. The young visitors are followed by a tutor and busy all day for a whole week, experimenting with tasks and activities belonging to another time. Meals are also important moments, as they get a chance to acknowledge children with flavours and tastes belonging to the farmers' tradition of the past. The ideal age in order to appreciate and live to the full such an experience is between 8 and 11 years, and the activities proposed are all equally suited to both girls and boys.
At School in the Museum
The Museum ‘Cjase Cocèl’ offers itself as a physical place in which it is possible to show the history of a the community at a specific historic time. The awareness of this educational potentiality and the number of schools that, throughout the region, have brought their school-kids here over the last ten years, have encouraged the creation of a didactic section. The students here are the privileged users of the Museum, to be used as an instrument for consultation – like a text that can be browsed according to need. An idea of Museum intended like an instrument with which to build one’s knowledge and one’s competence through observation, the definition of problems and the search for answers. The Museum presents schools its didactic offer, which includes laboratory workshops, immersed within precise thematic itineraries: the house, the family, agricultural work, economy. In support and integration of the proposed educational offer, specific didactic material is available.
In the Vineyard
Since a few years a didactic project on the vineyard is also being offered to the schools of Fagagna. Articulated into two preparatory outings, in March and May, the students can witness the pruning of a vineyard, get to know the prevention methods of vines’ illnesses and parasites, and in September they also take part in the grape harvest and the first phases of wine-making. This didactic project is part of the cultural aims of the Museum: make the work activities of once – those more strictly connected to the farming world – better known.
The Museum ‘Cjase Cocèl’ follows a balanced combination of research and the proposal of a cultural offer through care in the presentation of its collections, the reconstruction of skills and professions of once, as well as the traditional environments where these were being carried out. It is the project of a didactic route keen on holding together things, gestures, sounds and smells – in short, a truly multimedia experience. The research projects are based on the scientific cataloguing of the material and immaterial goods: audio-visual surveys are being realized here, with interviews to the witnesses and the protagonists of farming culture; the goal is that of a systemic documentation of the traditional rituals; comparative aspects are particularly paid attention to. The fundamental mission of the Museum ‘Cjase Cocèl’ is obviously conservation and extension of the material knowledge, but this is also a place of conservation of the ‘immaterial’ memory through the audiovisuals of the “Archive of Knowledge and Culture” (Archivio dei Saperi e delle Culture di Mestiere), the documents of popular and familiar writing and also the archives of the local Co-operative institutions – like the School of Lace-making (Scuola del Merletto di Fagagna) and the Social Dairy (Latteria Sociale). In support of the activities of research and the Museum's proposals, ‘Cjase Cocèl’ looks after the local library and the increase of its number of volumes, and is also the editor of publications that deal with the history and the traditions of the community of Fagagna. In addition, research activities are supported through a convention between the Association of the Museum, the Department of Economy, Society and Territory (Dipartimento Economia, Societa’ e Territorio) and the “Archive of Ethnological Texts” (Archivio Etnotesti) belonging to the Univeristy of Udine.