Words by Martin Francis
When I first visited Venice with my parents in the mid-1950s I took a photo of a fórcola, the rowlock of a gondola. I still have the picture in my archives. Perhaps my interest in the shape, which then appeared completely abstract, stemmed from the fact that my mother, having moved from the stuffy Royal College of Art to the more dynamic Chelsea School of Art, had studied sculpture with a bright young teacher called Henry Moore.
On returning to Venice many years later, I met the master craftsman Saverio Pastor, who makes oars and fórcole for all the traditional boats on the Venetian Lagoon. I acquired the first fórcola in my now bountiful collection and made a new friend.
This example is a stern fórcola da puparìn. The puparìn is the most elegant of the sandoli (work boats) originally designed to transport rich Venetian families. It is the perfect combination of function and form, every part has a purpose – high gear, low gear, reverse – and the whole piece puts even Henry Moore in the shade. It is carved from a single piece of walnut using traditional hand-tools like the adze and draw knife.
Having started my career as a cabinetmaker I am filled with nostalgia every time I make my pilgrimage to Pastor in his small workshop on the canal in the Dorsoduro district. He is a passionate supporter of traditional craftsmanship and has one apprentice – I’m often tempted to ask him if he would like another. Since every type of vessel has two fórcole, and there are at least nine boat types, I have many more visits in store, whether or not I’m on the payroll.