Sarah Monk meets artists and artisans who tell their stories through the materials they choose.
We started in Pietrasanta and Carrara, northern Italy, where generations of artists have worked in marble. Over the last four years Materially Speaking has also met with artisans in Venice, Paris and Liguria.
Our focus is to entertain with stories of artists and their materials, and to capture the community of artists that continue to grow near the marble fields.
Viareggio Carnival 2024:
Confetti in their blood
Returning to Viareggio Carnival on the 20th anniversary of La Compagnia del Carnevale to discover why their 200 volunteers come back year after year.
Like an insect
Gabriele Gelatti creates pebble mosaics which adorn churchyards and aristocratic gardens in the northern Italian region of Liguria.
Pioneers and famous Canadians
A Canadian sculptor in Italy, Robin describes his self-taught approach to sculpture, celebrity commissions and learning directly from artisans.
Come fly with me
Janice Mehlman, New York photographer and professor of art, tells how her work moved from black-and-white images of architecture to colourful reflections of her soul.
Steaven Richard’s love of horses led to a stint in the army as a farrier making horseshoes. While travelling he found architectural styles that inspired his artistic metalwork.
Xavier is passionate about insects and makes jewellery which highlights the beauty of the iridescent Sternocera beetle.
Early instrument maker
American-born Judith Kraft came to Paris to learn how to make the ancient musical instruments she loved – medieval fiddles and viola da gambas.
Forging a new life
Sylvain Maenhout left his job in IT services to carve out a new life as an artisan making bespoke knives.
This spring sound specialist Mike Axinn and I went to Paris to meet four artisans and see how they practise their craft in an urban setting.
An artist of many parts
Ron Mehlman grew up in Brooklyn and came to Pietrasanta in the 1980s. In his quest for creating sculpture infused with spirit and life, no materials are off limits.
We can move the mountain
Nicola Stagetti of Stagetti Studios in Pietrasanta, and Robin Sethi, the project coordinator from India, describe the creation of Pramashwar the Infinite.
Art is a language
John Greer finds that art provides an invaluable structure to his life. Expressing himself in form is more important than a visual language.
Magic at the Carnevale:
Artisans of Viareggio
Viareggio Carnevale began in 1873 and is now a symbol of the city. Artisans gather in winter to create allegorical floats and masks, primarily using newspapers bonded by flour and water.
Into the light
Belgian born of Italian parentage, Silvano Cattaï came to sculpt in Italy via filmmaking in New York. Now he creates with a plasma gun and paint on aluminium.
Feel with your eyes
German born Vanessa Paschakarnis migrated to Nova Scotia before coming to Pietrasanta in northern Italy. Hers is a philosophical approach to sculpture.
Venice — A floating miracle
Alvisé Boccanegra trained in restoration in the workshops of the Church of San Marco. He tells how he repaired a crucifix after Venice flooded in 2019.
Venice — Walking in their shoes
Gabriele Gmeiner makes high quality made-to-measure shoes in her workshop at Campiello del Sol. She speaks of her craft, her journey from Austria and why she chose Venice.
Venice — Rowing through time
Piero Dri is the fourth and youngest remer in Venice making oars and oarlocks, or in Italian ‘forcolai’. Piero learned how to row aged just four. It's been his passion ever since.
If you love Venice
Sound specialist Mike Axinn and I went to Venice during Homo Faber this Spring to meet three inspirational artisans. Here’s a short preview of their episodes.
Marianna has Jewish, Ukrainian and Russian roots, but a lifelong passion for Michelangelo’s marble drew her to Carrara, a place she now calls home.
Daphné Du Barry:
What is beauty?
Celebrated figurative sculptor Daphné Du Barry speaks seven languages and modelled for Salvador Dali in her 20s. She discusses her bronzes, her love of learning and her faith.
Helaine Blumenfeld OBE:
The language of sculpture
Renowned sculptor Helaine Blumenfeld continually re-invents herself in her search for a vocabulary of form.
It was just a dream
Puerto Rican born Nilda Comas tells how she came to create the first state-sponsored African American statue for the US Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, in Washington.
on form is an exhibition of sculpture in stone held every other summer at Asthall Manor, Oxfordshire. Discover what goes on during its installation.
As a child Flavia Robalo dreamt of flying. She dreamed about it at night as well as in the day. She says that being imaginative always entailed living a little in the clouds.
Veronica Fonzo tells us the history of La Polveriera studios, and why she is inspired by centaurs.
Filippo dalle Luche:
Key to the future
Filippo is a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara who uses new technology to help his village art gallery go virtual, and create a spare key for the local church.
Letters and words
Norwegian artist Julia Vance is inspired by calligraphy and her work has been likened to ‘sculptural minimalistic poetry’.
Guus Jooss is an artist and historian who feels a close link with antiquity. He encourages his students to consider creativity as play is to a child: a matter of life and death.
Young Dutch artist Badriah Hamelink hitchhiked to Pietrasanta in 2007 with a backpack and not much else. Having recently faced a near-death experience, she doubled her determination to focus on art.
Carvers or modellers
Not into stone for stone’s sake, Neil considers himself more a clay modeller. Turning to different materials, he then transforms his clay models into something more permanent.
We are all connected
Cynthia tells the journey of her smaller pieces from caressing the stone, creating an artwork through to sharing an emotion with the collector.
Born on a farm in Dorset, Anne Shingleton has always loved painting animals. In 1980 she came to Florence joining the atelier of a teacher who changed her life.
Trained as an architect, Nicolas Bertoux likes to know where his sculpture will live, and why. Unfortunately, sometimes the installation is not so straightforward.
Jaya Schuerch has always been fascinated by natural phenomena and loves the diversity of forms life can take, reminding us that we all derive from these forms.
The art of cutting stone
Emmanuel Fillion trained young to restore medieval monuments in France. He loved climbing the scaffold in Paris at sunrise, but broke away to become an artist.
The way she sees it
Lucy Dickens is an artist and illustrator, whose works exudes humour. Close friends since the age of three, Lucy and Sarah ramble and percolate over Lucy’s upcoming show.
Prologue Series 2:
Twelve more artists, from Italy and the UK, tell us their stories and why they choose the materials they do. Hear some of their voices and how the pandemic impacted them.
Epilogue Series 1:
Taking a break
Materially Speaking breaks for the summer but we've already started recording new interviews and look forward to sharing more artists' stories with you later this year.
Inspiration from everywhere
An Australian artist who studied carving in Pietrasanta under some of Italy’s finest artisans, Sollai Cartwright returns each year to find marble from the quarries.
Born into an artistic family and a musician from the age of nine, Jacob Cartwright tells us how he interprets what he hears or feels into his sculptures.
A devil’s tool
Christian Lange researches what tools would have been used on a 500-year-old piece before he starts restoring it. ‘When I use a new tool the aesthetic will change.’
Walking on marble
Rita Meier first came to Pietrasanta from Switzerland in 1988 and was amazed to discover there was marble everywhere. She remains fascinated by it.
A life of their own
Neal Barab is not limited by the preciousness of white marble. He chooses between many different colours and textures of stone and often adds paint to them.
Bigger than I am
Almuth Tebbenhoff left her native Germany for London where an encounter with Eduardo Paolozzi in the late 1970s took her art in a new direction.
Michael Francis Cartwright:
All materials are equal
Michael Cartwright believes that whether you work with a bit of discarded tin or statuario marble from Michelangelo’s quarry, all deserve the same respect.
What’s a mistake?
Liverpudlian Martin Foot worked weekends from the age of 13 for his uncle, a stone mason. At 19 he took a one way ticket to Australia to try his luck.
Australian born Shona Nunan takes inspiration from around the world. Fascinated by the ancient, she describes the impact Aboriginal figures had on her and her art.
Obsessed by scale
Eilis O’Connell, from Cork, Ireland, works in a wide range of materials. On arriving in Pietrasanta for a particular commission, she explains why it had to be made in marble.
The stone spoke
'I'm just one of these people that don't pre-plan the sculpture. I don't make models … like you're supposed to.' Douglas shares his passion for stone and why he loves his new studio.
Eppe de Haan:
Dutch artist Eppe de Haan began as a painter before starting carving in marble. He tells of this journey from 2D to 3D and speaks of his series Searching Souls and his love of nature and the sea.
Californian, Jim Hager highlights street homelessness by carving a 'cardboard' house in marble. In a strange twist, gentrification becomes an issue all too close to Jim's studio home.
Marble, luxury and power
Stephan Hamel tells the story of his Italian grandfather Cosimo Lorenzoni who was sent to India in 1937 to lay marble floors in a palace. Then the outbreak of war brought a dramatic change of fortune.
Norwegian artist Turid Gyllenhammar tells us how she finally came to carve marble in her 50s, and what challenges she had to overcome to get here.
Face the nothingness
As an Armenian born in Egypt, Armen Agop was always surrounded by desert. He tells us how this gave him a special freedom to dream and how he came to carve in granite.
Venuzuelan born Maria Gamundi tells how she chose marble for one enormous sculpture and the emotional journey she took creating a memorial for a young woman who lost her life on the road.
Prologue Series 1:
Artists of Pietrasanta
We start with stories from the community of artists working in stone near a town called Pietrasanta in northern Italy. Generations of artists have been coming here to source the marble available nearby and work with the highly skilled artisans.