We can move the mountain
Nicola Stagetti working on Pramashwar the Infinite
This is the story behind the creation of a modern day Indian saint, Pramashwar the Infinite.
Artisan and studio head Nicola Stagetti spoke to us from his studios, where historic busts line the shelves and the familiar roar of his robot emanates from the next room. Nicola completed his art education in Pietrasanta and went on to become an apprentice in his father’s workshop, then called Stagetti & Cosci. In 1996 he changed the company name to Marble Studio Stagetti.
Pramashwar the Infinite, 2022
Nicola approached this project with great passion. He talks about the joys and challenges of realising this piece, a representation of an Indian holy saint with huge significance for many of his followers. Nicola has been working on the project for the past three years from just one original photograph of the saint who lived in India 100 years ago.
Robin Sethi, the project co-ordinator from India, met us in the gardens of the Convent of San Francesco, which dates back to the 16th century and was once dedicated to prayer and meditation, but now offers community courses, internships and puts on conferences, all in the area of the arts.
He talks of his admiration for how Nicola skillfully replicated in marble the shoes that the saint wore. The original shoes were handcrafted in leather with fine thread work.
Nicola Stagetti (00:21):
They said you have to come in India to see the place where this work is going to be. When I landed in Delhi and I come off the gate, there was 20 people with flower to wait me. And it was two o’clock in the night and I was very impressed. Just like that, I knew that I was inside a competition.
Sarah Monk (00:48):
Hi, this is Sarah with another episode of Materially Speaking where artists and artisans tell their stories through the materials they choose. Today, Mike Axinn and I are hearing the story behind the creation of a modern day Indian saint, Pramashwar - The Infinite, from the esteemed artisan, Nicola Stagetti of Stagetti Studios in Pietrasanta, and Robin Sethi, the project coordinator from India. Nicola spoke to us in his studios where historic bus line the shelves and the familiar roar of his robot emanates from the next room. Robin met us in the gardens of the convent of San Francesco, which dates back to the 16th century and was once dedicated to prayer and meditation, but now offers community courses, conferences, and internships all in the area of the arts.
Robin Sethi, (01:42):
I’m Robin Sethi. I’m from India and I’m the coordinator of this project, Pramashwar - The Infinite. And of course, the project is about the colossal sculpture of the saint, which is in the making for past three years. Name of a saint is Yogiraj Sarkar Godari Wale. So Yogiraj in itself means master of meditation, who’s a master of yoga. This project started back in 2018 because we are making a huge temple in India. And this saint by the way, he lived a hundred years ago.
Nicola Stagetti (02:14):
One day in the morning, I had a phone call. I heard to the phone a strange accent. I understand a little bit that they need someone to make a portrait of this person.
Robin Sethi, (02:31):
We only forwarded him one photograph and he studied the biography of the saint, to understand the stature of him and to see the belief of the people all around.
Nicola Stagetti (02:41):
I was able to put myself inside. You don’t see not too much from the pictures.
Robin Sethi, (02:48):
And there was another challenge mind you. Nicola Stagetti was asked to sculpt 10 years younger what he sees in the photograph. And after a work of, say about six months-
Nicola Stagetti (03:00):
They said you have to come in India to see the place where this work is going to be. When I landed in Delhi and I come off the gate, there was 20 people with flower to wait me. And it was two o’clock in the night and I was very impressed. Just like that, I knew that I was inside a competition. So I won. At the end, I won this challenge. But I didn’t know.
Robin Sethi, (03:30):
For us, no one was anywhere near to the real face of the saint, which we were expecting. He himself wasn’t satisfied. When he gave us the perfect result with the face, he said, "No, wait. Before you give this project to me, I would like to do the full model in clay."
Nicola Stagetti (03:46):
I put my portrait on top and I start building the body under.
Robin Sethi, (03:53):
One thing was clear, if the sculpture has to be done, it has to be done from Italy and that too, in Pietrasanta.
Nicola Stagetti (03:59):
When I finish the model in clay, they of course come here and they met the mayor. So they explain the people in Pietrasanta about the temple, about Pramashwar.
Robin Sethi, (04:16):
The big huge temple is in construction and in a place named Hathras, which is about 50 kilometers away from Taj Mahal, famous Agra.
Nicola Stagetti (04:25):
It’s amazing. It’s amazing place. It’s 73 acres of land. And this work, this start goes in the middle.
Robin Sethi, (04:36):
What we thought of for the grandson of the saint, when anyone enters the holy shrine, he should start to feel the positivity around. So there’ll be a huge landscape around and there’ll be a huge structure, something like what you see in Paris, the big gate kind of a thing. So that the moment anyone enters it, he starts to feel something different, something close to the nature. So that the person starts to feel some connect with the divine the moment he enters it. Because see, we often say God is imminent in all the beings. Even if in a leaf or even any living thing has its presence, it just depends upon you how you feel it or how you channelize your energy. So even before anyone enters the sanatorium, he should have that feed.
Nicola Stagetti (05:25):
So little by little come, huge things I didn’t expect before. They’ll tell us that they are going to build a building in title at Pietrasanta. So Pietrasanta have a gallery in this temple.
Robin Sethi, (05:54):
Because back in 2019, when the city administration of Pietrasanta came to know about this clay model and this big project Nicola Stagetti is doing, then they held a big presentation for the clay model. And that was a time our chief trustee, he declared that he would like because he had seen the immense love which we were getting from the city. But then as a tribute to the city, just we want to make sure this artwork, this Italian artwork, goes around the world.
Nicola Stagetti (06:23):
So you can imagine a space where million people go. So million people are able to see Pietrasanta Gallery.
Robin Sethi, (06:32):
When we were on a hunt for marble, Carrara from the Michelangelo quarry is considered to be the best for human sculptures. People often ask us, "Oh fine, you you’re visiting Carrara. It’s a big quarry place. You can find the marble anywhere." But then they don’t understand there’s a difference between getting one for human sculptures or for the architectural purpose.
Nicola Stagetti (07:00):
Because in the same mountain and in the same place, there is a different color of marble. The statue area is the most pure and warm color, is not white. It’s goes a little bit on yellow, like a ivory. And that part is most used in the sculpture.
Robin Sethi, (07:25):
He was on a constant visit to the Michelangelo quarry for around six months for the marble block.
Nicola Stagetti (07:31):
I knew that in that part of the mountain comes special material. So I went there and I asked for this dimension. And they start cutting the mountain. But when the marble come down, it broken. Anytime, it’s broken. And then I wait the other cut. And then comes a block that said, "Yes, it is good, but it’s not what I want." I want more secure because there was a crack, one part cracking. So I go back.
Robin Sethi, (08:13):
And finally, he found it.
Nicola Stagetti (08:15):
And this were really huge, 34 ton of material. Also, the truck will take this block. It was an unique piece. So I start give the first cut at the block to understand what was inside. But it comes good and the [inaudible 00:08:44] come from India. I look the block, he mark on top, I sign under. So I say that that is good. And we start.
Robin Sethi, (08:55):
Artists had finished the clay model in 2019. But then the clay model, it was scanned, put on the computer system and then robotic machine carved the 30% part of it.
Nicola Stagetti (09:05):
The robot is used for the heavy work. Then the artisan with technical system take measurement on the model and bring this measurement in the marble.
Mike Axinn (09:20):
What is the most difficult thing about this job? The biggest challenge that you had to overcome?
Nicola Stagetti (09:26):
Okay, it is a huge job, but if you take a step by step, day by day and resolve the problem day by day, there is not a difficult part.
Robin Sethi, (09:37):
In any holy sculpture, the radiating aura, you need to capture that. And even the garb which the saint could be seen wearing, that was Indian regal garb, which was new to him. In this case, the saint can be seen more leaning towards the right. And of course, over that, he’s wearing the Indian garment wherein the artist has also to imagine the difference in the muscles, because if the muscles are stiff on one side, it’ll leave a different impression on the garment. And if the muscles have relaxed on one side, then likewise, he has to think on that. And the saint can be seen clasping his fingers. So the kind of vein structures and all Nicola has worked upon, these are some of the challenges which he has to face and which is taking time. It’s not like, "Okay, fine, the project could have been completed in one year and unnecessarily he’s taking time on that." That’s make it to me a magnum opus, or you may call it as a masterpiece of contemporary times, or the epoch making of this era.
Nicola Stagetti (10:36):
When I come here in the morning, I start working. I take my hammer and I start working, at eight o’clock in the morning, and I see what I’m doing. There is a special moment that you are able to give the hundred percent of your capacity. One moment. And there is another little moment that you are very warm. In that moment, you give the more than a hundred percent of your capacity.
Robin Sethi, (11:16):
When it comes to the big project, often they’re doing the replicas. You put the design on computer and then on the robotic machines. And the conventional techniques, they’re not allowed to explore. If we do not support the artist, all of us together, that we might lose this art because they are not given enough freedom.
Mike Axinn (11:34):
And how will it be to say goodbye when you’re finished?
Nicola Stagetti (11:42):
(laughter) Yeah, so we going to have this ceremony here in Pietrasanta. We invite lots of people here, make a big party. And then I put this piece in the container. I put in the navy, in the boat, and I follow for the installation. The installation is not easy. It’s very difficult because this is eight ton. I have to rise I’m thinking 12 meter on top of the building. And then I have to push inside for a hundred-meter by hand like the Egyptian. And then when I’m inside of the temple, I have to rise again on top of the pedestal. So this part of the work is not easy and we have to make more attention because the marble is finished.
Robin Sethi, (12:45):
People often question us. They have different opinions on the idol worship. And our answer to that is it’s a source of inspiration. It’s a source of meditation. If you have to focus your mind and channelize your energy, what are you going to do it or how you going to do it? You need some focus. Fine, it could be anything. Generally, when we close our eyes, we often imagine we are facing towards some kind of a flame, some kind of a light. So in our case, that inspiration comes from a saint.
Nicola Stagetti (13:15):
For they, this guy is the God, let’s say now. And the passion is very great. Also, if you show your passion, other people are able to recognize that. When you believe in something and when lots of people have the same believing, you can move the mountain.
Sarah Monk (13:47):
So thanks to Nicola Stagetti and to Robin Sethi. We’re delighted that Gail Skoff took some amazing photographs for this episode, which you can see on our website materiallyspeaking.com and on Instagram. You can check out Gail’s work on her website, gailskoff.com, and of course on Instagram, @skoffupclose. To learn more about Stagetti Studios, go to studiostagetti.com, and on Pramashwar - The Infinite, visit ysgt.org, the website for the Yogiraj Sarkar Godari Wale Trust. And thanks to you for listening. If you’re enjoying Materially Speaking, subscribe to our newsletter on our website, so we can let you know when the next episode goes live.