Visiting the artists of Italy

In route to the Marmomacc stone fair, we once again planned a few “extra” adventures before conducting our business in northern Italy.

Starting in Bari, we made our way off the beaten path to the ancient city of Matera, one of the longest continually inhabited cities on the planet. The oldest parts of this Basilicata town are known as the Sassi, meaning “stones” in the old language. Built over several millennia, this jumbled mess of caves and homes is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage site. Once considered the “Shame of Italy”, the area is enjoying a renaissance of charming new boutique hotels and restaurants, as it capitalizes on its near future distinction as the European City of Culture in 2019.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the abandoned ghost town of Craco. About an hours drive away, its only claim to fame was a small role as a back drop in Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ”.

The remote, decaying city is now fenced off, and requires a guide and hardhats to explore. The hardhats made perfect sense, as a strong wind could, and probably has, toppled the precariously crumbling structures over.

 A quick visit to Puglia and the town of Alberobello, home of the famous trulli, rounded out our time in southern Italy, before heading north, into the more familiar stone working areas around Carrara.

A few days of stone shopping, followed by the never-ending Italian hospitality of three hour lunches con vino, makes for long days as you drive up the steep roads to tour the quarries. But it’s always worth it, and as many times as I’ve been up there, it’s still a sight to behold. It’s difficult to fathom the size and scope of the quarries from pictures, but look at the two small people in the lower right corner of the picture below for a sense of scale.

With our business in Carrara completed early, we had a few extra days to burn visiting our friends (an impromptu Italian lesson from our friend Chiara was particularly enjoyable), followed by a sunny day in the stunningly beautiful coastal villages of Lerici and Portovenere, along with a visit to the Massimo Galleni Sculpture studio in Pietrasanta.

 During our visit to the Galleni studio, the world renowned artist Anna Chromy dropped by to check on the progress of one of her sculptures that the studio artigiani were reproducing for her. Speaking with this elegant woman was truly a pleasure, her passion for art and life infused in her every word, in your choice of the five different languages she drifted in and out of with ease.

(Photo- “Euridice”

Continuing north to Verona, (My friend Ron refers to Verona as “the clean Rome”) it was time to meet up with him and my other Stone Fabricators Alliance colleagues Dan and Matt to work the exhibit at the Marmomacc stone fair, and discuss the state of the industry. Since my blog report of the event last year, I’ve now become one of the Directors of the organization, and my first course of business this year was to re-design the graphics for our booth, which I was able to achieve with the help of my local friends from Rainmaker Creative in Spokane.

 The fair had all the usual eye candy of every conceivable type of stone and the corresponding ways to work it, but I find myself drawn to the design and sculpture elements these days, as opposed to the high tech machinery which has been my attraction of shows past.

Decompressing after the four day show and the never-ending parade of food, wine and stone speak, Sheri and I took a small break before returning home in Venice, just a short and cheap train ride away.

Going beyond Venice into the neighboring island of Murano, my fascination with stone turned to glass, as we visited a few of the traditional Murano glass workshops. Watching these guys work is unbelievable. The artisan below produced the glass horse in the picture in just over a minute. One minute!

 We decided to leave Murano quickly, as our credit card was taking quite a beating in the beautiful glass shops, and jumped the ferry to Murano’s lesser known sibling Burano, known for its traditional lace work and quaint, colorful houses along the canals.

Dreading the next mornings flight home, I doubled down on my “allowance” for the day, taking advantage of Burano’s finest gelateria.  Some habits never die…

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