Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Some Artisans of Florence

The artisan culture in Florence, Italy, is based on centuries of skill and tradition.  This was part of the reason why I chose to spend a week in Florence.

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.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Annual International Handicrafts Fair in Florence Italy

The Mostra Internazionale dell'Artigianato at the Fortezza di Basso is an annual week long fair running since 1931 with the aim of showcasing local artisans as well as others from all over the world. Why am I blogging about this event?  Well, I'm excited to tell you that I WAS THERE, last week as part of my vacation in Florence, Italy.

It takes place in several buildings at the Expo Center in Florence.  The first small building we came across was filled with local food products from the region.  We sampled cheese and wine but ended up buying chocolate to bring home.  

Formerly a fortress, one of its ancient rooms was filled with recycled art, clothing, jewelry, and home decor.

But the main event takes place in the Spandolini Pavilion.  The entry level featured arts and crafts primarily from Italy though we found a few artisans from other parts of Europe as well.  As is typical, there were several jewelers, but with very unique designs.  I bought a leather band for my motorcycle riding husband from Eggskinlab. Her style is much different from leather crafters I've seen locally and she works almost exclusively with black leather.

                                                       Bethany & Eva trying on funky hats.

I don't know why I thought steampunk was primarily a US thing.  I was surprised to see "A Casa de Momma" jewelry and this fabulous steampunk belt/corset. 

 Jazz Steampunk has an Etsy shop and was there from the Netherlands.  But Kizzy's jewelry was very close in style to Jansjems.  She spoke very little English and but when I handed her my card she laughed and said "no copy" very clearly.  I didn't bother to tell her that my work is already pretty similar.

There were several Italian ceramicists represented and found that most painted in the styles you can find all over Florence and the Tuscan region.  But the work done by the brothers from Caltagirone, Italy, was different, antique looking, and so much more special.  I had no intention of bringing home any ceramics.  I put Spanish ceramics in my carry-on after a trip to Spain and worried the whole way that it would break.  But my daughter who was there for a couple of days bought me a lovely smaller piece as a gift.

This was a huge space so we were very surprised to find that there was yet a lower level.  Downstairs was set up much like a bazaar. The floor was broken up into quarters--French, African, Indian, and Asian.  The Asian part was pretty much set up like the gem shows I attend with table after table of gemstones and pearls.  The French offered lace and fabric.  

And yet, there was an upper level dedicated entirely to food--Asian, Italian, Indian--packaged or cooked to order. To give you some idea about the size of this event,  I found out that this floor was almost 20000 sq.' and it was smaller than the other 2 levels.  Fortunately there were sitting areas spread around and the furniture was pretty interesting and made of recycled cardboard.

In addition to all of this, there were other smaller buildings here (think the Big E grounds) that had events like cooking demos.  There was also a puppet theater, a food court, and the ubiquitous gelatto stand.