Many artisans reside or have workshops in what is called "Oltrarno" or the other side of the Arno. Armed with a list of addresses and my map, my friend and I crossed one of the bridges into the Santo Spirito district and the maze of streets known as Oltrarno looking for the violin makers, jewelers, bookbinders, and gilders.
I'd like to tell you that I found them all but following a map in Florence isn't as easy as it looks. Streets change names at each intersection and some smaller alleys aren't even listed. We did see a couple of open doors to studios with artisans refinishing or gilding very old furniture and frames.
Through a little trial and error we finally found ViaToscanella, 5 and the studio of Giancarlo Giachetti and his cat. He looked to be in his 70s and spoke no English. But he pointed to a poster on the wall from several years ago that showed him as a much younger man participating in an art event in Hawaii.
The link attached here to his name has a great little article about this internationally known Florence artisan and his background. We had no idea that we were meeting a legend of the Tuscan artisan world.
Sometime later, walking down what appeared to be a deserted back street in Oltrarno, we saw a couple of men take a right into an open door that we probably would have passed without a second thought. It appeared to be more a museum than a jewelry shop and was filled with nicely displayed and glass encased pieces that looked like a cross between jewelry and sculpture. Mostly rings, they looked like they could have been ancient and were set with gemstones and crystal. Off to the right as you enter was the man I later found out was Alessandro Dari, probably one of the most talented jewelers on the planet, working on his latest piece.
I was a bit too intimidated to even ask if I could take pictures so these are ones publicly available on the web
If you're interested in purchasing one of Dari's pieces, click here.
If you clicked the link to Dari's jewelry prices, you'll see that some artists have a customer base most of us can only dream of. The Mercado Central, Florence's central open air market, is filled with booths of leather, t-shirts, jewelry, and scarves. Most of these people are selling items produced in third world countries or in little factories in Italy that use leather from China. Prices are low and vendors are happy to bargain i.e. "How much do you want to spend? We can make a deal." It was refreshing to meet one leather artisan who talked to us about how to determine if the coat or purse you're buying is truly handmade in Italy. And, of course, we segued onto the subject of price. It should be no surprise to anyone that pricing is an artist's biggest challenge--what it's worth vs what it will actually sell for. And it's difficult to compete with the Pakistani vendors that fill the market.
We found Vittoria Scaffidi in front of the Pitti Palace. There are always artists and their paintings in front of the museums and palaces of Florence. Some are just selling cheap prints but we found several very talented painters with their work on display. Vittoria's style was a combination of ink and watercolor and while the subjects of her paintings were the usual scenes of Florence, her technique was unique. Vittoria is originally from England but has been in Italy for 17 years. I'm not sure how often she brings her work to the Piazza Pitti, but as someone who sets up a tent at a few craft shows a year, I see this as a tough way to earn a living. Her prices, like some of mine, were based on what the public is willing to spend.