From archive to common resource

The project From archive to common resource, devised and promoted by the Sella Foundation with the financial support of Compagnia di San Paolo, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio of Biella and the Sella Group, aims to highlight the important role that the documental and photogaphic heritage of the Foundation’s archives plays in terms of identity and cultural reference in the local territory and elsewhere.

The context

Cultural heritage represents an important factor of social growth for a local community. In recent years it has become a supporting element of smart new connections between the management of cultural assets and local economic development also linked to the growth of cultural tourism. This phenomenon has attracted the attention of experts and policy makers, leading to the emergence and diffusion of a branch of international literature on the subject of the economics of culture.

With regard to historical, artistic and archival heritage the prevalent tendency is towards conservation rather than valorisation, although numerous initiatives, both public and private, are being launched in Italy in order to bring to light history and records and recognise them as valuable and fundamental resources for social and economic growth. 

The Biellese territory too, with its considerable historical and cultural heritage deriving from its excellence as a centre of the wool textile industry, now feels the need to reinvent itself and discover new ways to promote and exploit its territory by developing projects and cultural initiatives to enhance this great wealth.

The project entitled From archive to common resource is part of an ongoing programme launched by the Sella Foundation for the valorisation  of its historical archives with the objective of devising, in the mid-and long-term and in collaboration with other organisations, a plan for the cultural and touristic development of the territory. Supporting and assisting this project are the instruments which the city of Biella is providing, such as the marks of recognition Creative City awarded by UNESCO in 2019 and Alpine City 2021-22 awarded by the same Association.

The project

Since its constitution the Sella Foundation has promoted the conservation and valorisation of assets of historic and artistic interest, making available to experts and enthusiasts a vast documental and iconographic heritage (paper documents, photographs, publications, ancient samples of fabrics and collections of various kinds, arranged in documental funds according to the organisation or person who donated them). Since 1991 the headquarters of activities and archives have been located within the Maurizio Sella Woolmill complex, where the factory of the same name was in operation from 1838 until the middle of the twentieth century. The area, designated by the Superintendence as patrimony of industrial archeology, lies on the banks of the River Cervo which had driven production processes for centuries, since the Mondella paper mill was built there towards the middle of the 1500’s.


As well as organising and making the contents of the archives available to the public, the Foundation promotes their divulgation by means of exhibitions and conventions – some in the headquarters, others at museums or various associations – and publications.

General objective

To strengthen and diversify the cultural aspects of the territory by representing its history through our archives, and in particular through our  specificity, fundamentally connected to what we define genus loci. From wool to photography: the textile industry was born here thanks to the skills handed down through the generations and knowledge gained as a result of   progressive discoveries in the field of chemistry; it was not by chance that photography became important here since it used the same discoveries to fix in time images of reality.

Given this context and the sectors in which the Foundation operates, our intention is to valorise our heritage of photographic and documental archives by opening exhibition and reception areas, preparing rooms for teaching and training, and providing a laboratory for professional photographers and experts.

Specific objectives

Within the context of the general objective described above the following specific objectives have been defined:

– recognition of the link between culture and local development and its potential by means of the valorisation of cultural resources;

– development of new itineraries and cultural sites to reinforce what is already available;

– development of new audiences, in particular the new generations and students;

– increasing the number of visitors and tourists;

– increasing the number and quality of additional services focusing on their usefulness, and strengthening the experiential component in order to facilitate their use (training of selected young operators);

– raising awareness especially among the young of the local archival photographic historical heritage;

– identification of innovative techniques with a strong emphasis on the experiential and interactive aimed at facilitating the transmission of “knowledge”. 

The process of valorisation

A narrative itinerary, with a range of activities designed according to target and subject, encourages greater exploitation of the archival photographic and documental heritage conserved in the Foundation, making it accessible to a wider, more heterogenous public. This is the objective of the project From archive to common resource which includes a series of initiatives, some created in 2019 while others are still being developed.

New spaces

On the ground floor of the Sella Foundation’s headquarters new reception areas are now open, renovated and equipped to host training and teaching activities, presentations and conferences.

Temporary exhibitions

The other machine. A Biellese industrialist and the success of photography in Italy.

Curator: Pierangelo Cavanna

with the collaboration of Peppino Ortoleva

Exhibition rooms, Lanificio Maurizio Sella, Biella.

From 12 October 2019 to 2 February 2020 until March 2020 by appointment for groups and school children.

The Biellese industrialist referred to in the title of the exhibition is Giuseppe Venazio Sella. Born in Sella di Mosso in 1823 he was an entrepreneur, a cultured European who was open to innovation, a photographer and popularizer of the new photographic techniques. He had numerous connections and acquaintances both at home and abroad, in London and Paris as well as in the largest cities in Italy. He was the author of Plico del Fotografo ,the first complete treatise on the discipline published in Italy (1856) and shortly afterwards translated into French in the Encyclopedia Roret. The exhibition illustrates Giuseppe Venanzio’s work as a photographer as well as the socio-cultural context of the success of photography in Italy.

The narrative itinerary culminates in the presentation of a valuable selection of original photographs including some of the first daguerrotypes of portraits and views, three hoods which belonged to W. H. Talbot – English father of photography- and the complete corpus of the photographic production of G.V. Sella from family portraits to views of the Turin area and the Biellese.

WOOL. The transformations of an industry and the Italian Wool Association

Devised by Peppino Ortoleva

Historical studies and research by Teresio Gamaccio

Documental research by Beatrice Brunetti

Iconographic research by Andrea Pivotto

Exhibition project by Gianfranco Cavaglià

Exhibition rooms, Lanificio Maurizio Sella, Biella from 21 May to 1 November 2021.

The exhibition entitled WOOL can be visited in Biella which – together with Schio-Valdagno, Prato, several places in Lombardy and in the south – has been one of the most important Italian textile centres since the Middle Ages. The exhibition is located in an ancient complex of buildings, the former site of the Maurizio Sella Woolmill which from 1835 was a pioneer in wool industrialisation.


Following an evocative itinerary, displaying splendid original photographs and documents from the archives of the Italian Wool Association, the visitor is introduced to all the phases of manufacturing and comes into contact with the wool itself, from the raw material to highly sophisticated fabrics. The visitor learns how more recently wool has been used alongside other fibres including synthetic ones, and understands how a number of important Italian companies have become world leaders in clothing owing to the quality of their products, their innovative marketing and presence at trade fairs all over the world. The exhibition also describes the work, over a century, of the Italian Wool Association, the first association to represent entrepreneurs in Italy, promoting the wool of our country and helping to modernise its production.

A virtual itinerary of the exhibition will also be created and will be visible on the pages of our website.

The Foundation plans to further develop the area by creating a space for permanent exhibitions next to the headquarters in premises which are currently being renovated.


Academy of Alpine photography

The training programme focuses on the specialisations and the skills provided by the archives of the Sella Foundation. One of its objectives is the teaching and study of the old photographic techniques of the great masters of mountain photography (from framing to analogue printing), another is the cataloguing, conservation and restoration of pictures and historic documents.

The Academy of Alpine Photography was created for the programme of 2021, intended for professional photographers or experts and organised in three sessions, in order to study old techniques of printing (plate and film) and analogue printing of mountain landscapes.

The courses have a considerable interactive and experiential component giving the participants the opportunity to:

– use medium and large analogue cameras

– learn the function of the camera obscura

-examine photographs and historic negatives (originals or in some cases reproductions)

-print their own negatives or those in the archives.

For this purpose, rooms and equipment in the headquarters have been prepared, the camera obscura and photographic laboratory have been refurbished, and the archive room where the negatives are conserved renovated and air-conditioned.

Theory lessons are held in the classroom, while the practical part of the course takes place in the Biellese mountains and in the camera obscura.

Rounding off the training programme is a visit to the “photographers’ studio” to examine the objects belonging to photographers Sella and Rossetti.

With regard to the study of the archives, a course for archivists is being planned to teach the methods of conservation and restoration of documents and historic pictures as well as new technologies used in archive management.


Photographic laboratories. At photography school

For the school years 2019-20 and 2020-21 the Foundation is promoting and organising at schools in the province of Biella, also in the form of distance teaching, laboratories especially created for pupils aged between 8 and 11. The aim of the classes is to introduce the new generations to photography as a form of expression and creative narration of their ideas and experiences.

Consultation and research

Experts and photographers, professionals and amateurs, can consult the funds kept in the archives of the Foundation in order to work on their research using IT tools in line with the systems approved by the ICCD.

High standards are required for the conditions of conservation and these are guaranteed by:

– air-conditioning of existing archives

– security and conditioning of photographic negatives and original documents

– cataloguing of documents, negatives and photographic prints

– digitalisation and restoration of pictures and historical documents.

con il sostegno (maggiore sostenitore)

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