Museum of Arts in Iron in the Maremma

Barbara Catalani


Museum of Arts in Iron in the Maremma

Comprensorio ILVA 58022 Follonica GR Italia

Follonica, Italy
European Museum Academy / DASA Award 2015

Towards An Inclusive Museum

The MAGMA was conceived to tell the technological, artistic and human story of the Follonica ironworks in its heyday, at the peak of its production.
For much of the nineteenth century, the building housing the museum contained a state-of-the-art blast furnace for the smelting and casting of iron, known as the Saint Ferdinand Furnace.

magm 1The new permanent exhibition brings the old foundry back to life with three broad sections, one on each floor.
Art, on the first floor, showcases the outstanding levels of specialization and sophistication achieved by the Follonica Foundry. The exhibition opens on the other spaces of the first floor with a selection of elaborate wooden patterns, representing part of the collection which is the true wealth of the MAGMA. Designed and sculpted by true artists, the patterns were used to shape the sand moulds in which molten iron was cast: they are beautiful examples of the teaching of the School of Linear and Ornamental Drawing that was established in Follonica at the behest of Grand Duke Leopold II.
History, on the second floor, takes a look at the genius loci of the local district, which enabled iron production to flourish here for millennia. Here the exhibition focuses on Follonica’s local resources and the interconnected flows of energy sources, raw materials, humans and technologies that kept the ironworks running.

Production, on the lower-ground floor, in the heart of the Saint Ferdinand furnace, shows the complex technological system used by the ironworks to smelt and cast iron.

The highly evocative hall on the lower-ground floor of the MAGMA was once the true working core of the ironworks. The exhibition on this floor showcases the complex production process, highlighting each of the stages involved in turning iron ore into a finished product.

Learning workshops
The MAGMA’s workshops are the didactic compendium of the museum’s permanent exhibition. They are designed to give school groups the chance to learn more about the many different crafts and skills involved in the artistic casting of iron, and to have a go themselves.
Students can try their hand at patternmaking, learning to carve wood and shape clay. They will then be able to create their own mould and go through the casting process using tin, before finishing off and polishing the pieces.

Documentation Centre
The MAGMA’s Documentation Centre is a point of arrival and a place of information, research and exchange. Located in the halls of what was once the Museum of Iron and Cast Iron, its goal is to build an extensive archive of documentation connected with studies, research and projects concerning the city of Follonica and the local territory.

The Saint Ferdinand Furnace is the oldest building in Follonica. Today it is both a showcase and a piece on show itself, a fine example of industrial archaeology located within the former ILVA complex, an area of great heritage interest.

The rawness of the construction stone together with the minute detail of certain elements, such as the natural light that floods in from above from the opening where the chimney once stood, contribute to creating a place of great impact.

The first challenge was that of preserving the point of the restoration effort and the original purpose of the space, which of course was completely different, seeing as it housed a blast furnace for smelting iron ore.

magm 2In an effort to evoke how different it was, we decided to include an art installation to represent the furnace, occupying the same position and bearing the same shape as the inner chamber. A device shuts out the natural light that enters through the skylight, restoring the hall to its original darkness. The mechanized covering of the overhead skylight signals to visitors that something is about to happen, marking the start of a performance that evokes the smelting process and the purposefulness of a town that grew up around the factory.

The installation is an attempt to combine narrative with art by creating an original and purely allegorical installation, a unique experience that stirs feeling and the imagination. Taking this idea as our starting point, we sought to weave a narrative between the past and the future—between a museum that has a story to tell, and a new community that will rediscover its roots in that museum.

On the one hand there was the collection of sophisticated pieces of remarkable artistic value, designed to grace streets and homes; on the other there was a whole territory to explore, with all its resources, contrasts, and people. This was particularly complex job, as it called for very different narratives to be created—the exhibition of artistic pieces, scientific information on the resources and technologies found, and the human and urban development of a town established in the middle of a vast marshland. All this in a building that had to shine through in its own colours, since it, too, is part of the story.

The use of multimedia displays to provide information is fundamental in a narrative approach such as this. Virtual space frees up physical space, which thus becomes more contemplative and evocative. Issues that develop specific themes relating to the pieces and their creation become a motive of investigation for those keen to understand the reach of a catalogue or the architectural morphology of Saint Leopold’s Church, without overshadowing the minute detail of the features and the sheer impressive size of some of the pieces, such as the flame or horn of plenty that grace the monumental gates.

The use of multimedia opens up many different ways to explore the pieces, enabling, importantly, the development and updating of the issues themselves.

All this would be meaningless, however, if it was not rooted in a new consciousness of local identity. Firm in this conviction, the project’s focus needed to be placed on the collective memory of the local community, to ensure a link with identity and with the social interrelations of the past and present. To put this process into gear, the community needed to be engaged in both the preparatory stage and later in the production and start-up stages. Thus, the museum was– and is - a form of inclusive participation, open to input and capable of enhancing its most pregnant aspects, giving them a voice.

It was not only stories and first-hand accounts that were requested to help in the practical preparation of exhibits, but also collaboration and professional skills. This is how the “Ghosts of Times Past” section was created. The room tells the collective story of the community through significant literary accounts (contemporary travellers, historians, scholars and modern writers). The backdrop to their words is given by a collage of images from public and private archives, from the cinema and from home movies, capturing two centuries of history in one great mosaic.

The voices and faces representing the last generation of foundry workers bring the exhibition to a close in a special corner on the lower-ground floor. Their accounts of their memories and experiences bid us farewell, leaving us with the feeling of an open museum that unlocks the door to new roads and horizons to explore—an inclusive museum, in which we find a piece of all those people who have chosen to contribute—and of a museum experience. This is the MAGMA’s mission: to be a museum that respects local identity and the scientific work behind the exhibits, while conveying a clear poetic message that leaves a strong, lasting mark.


Browse by year

Browse by category

Browse by country

View all