Friday, October 30, 2009

Luciana's Class (Scuola Mosaic in Ravenna)

Ravenna is a paradoxical little Italian city. It is relatively small by northern Italy standards, yet it used to be the capitol of the Western Roman empire towards the end. It is considered the mosaic making center of the world, but everything is relatively inexpensive here. I've been here before, but I really enjoyed it the second time because of the class I took.

When I first arrived at the Luciana Notturni school in Ravenna Italy, I was a bit nervous. At first glance I just noticed a very feminine looking dress made of dainty glass in the window and the sign on the wall for the shop which was a bit girly.

But looking further in, I was relieved to see great executions of classic mosaic pieces, so then I knew I had come to the right place. I was also almost an hour too early because I lost my sheet with the begin time, so the locals were gawking at 'the stranger' hanging out on their street as they went to work.

Eventually, people from the school began to show up and I had a chance to talk with a highly experienced teacher at the school, Brunie.

The class itself was directed by one of the luminaries in the mosaic and art worlds, Luciana Notturni (pictured below). This lady has restored ancient mosaics and created numerous award winning works of art, the work from her studio is highly sought after. During the class, she would stop by and give practical lessons as work assignments were progressing. Notice the cool 'Gypsy Girl' mosaic copy from Zeugma, Turkey in the background there?

So for an entire week, several technical aspects, fundamentals, and 'best practices' of mosaic making were covered in the class. Things like transfering images to lime, gluing a temporary binder to lift the cut pieces, permanent binders were all covered.

A delightful and vivacious historian, Manuela, who's picture I don't have gave great background on the development of mosaics over time. She might well have been the most knowledgable person in the world about mosaic history, and her presentation was just a joy to listen to.
Unfortunately, I couldn't go on her tour on the last day of class in the afternoon since I needed to get back to Venice to pick up my glass ordered at Orsoni.

This was time (and money) very well spent, and I can't wait to work using some of the new techniques learned in the Ravenna class.

In the image below, a student cuts stone for the first time with the little hammer and hardie that we all used.

A very wide array of materials were available. Not just glass, but rare marbles and other stones lined several shelves in bins everywhere. Wow, I thought I had a pretty good color selection of materials until I went here...

Sometimes, when there were very large pieces, we'd use the 'big guns' cutter like below. I need to get one of these...

Here is the classroom environment, where we did our daily work.

Here are some of the great shop artists and teaching assistants.

One of the projects was to think of an idea to put into mosaic, and use a modern cement binding system. I put off my design for too long, so at 6am, I woke up and it occurred to me that it might be funny to put a modern object into an ancient looking mosaic. So, I sketched the television in my room quickly... I call the finished work 'Ancient Technology', which CRT televisions kind of are now. : )

Here is one of the great artist teachers, Anna, who is working on a commission for the shop here (it has been censored, because someone else owns the work, not because it contains nudity or something like that).

Here is the work that I copied in glass smalti, It's from the 600s in a church in town. I liked the colors. Note: this is not the correct way to set down the hammer (martelina).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Leaving Venice (Uscito Venezia)

At 4:00am I hear a loud buzzing above and to the left in the darkness. I realize that it is my phone going off for the alarm I set the night before. Luckily, in Italy, the time change for autumn was at midnight so I had a healthy full five hours of sleep. As I'm getting ready for the day, it hits me that I need to redistribute the weight in my checked baggage and carry-on pieces. I have purchased about 80 kilos of hard-to-find marble and glass to bring back to the US for making mosaics.

So I frantically unpack one bag and shove little plastic bags of stone and glass into another lifting and carefully assessing the weight. Then, I get a bit nervous about the time because my flight is a very early one out of the Venice Marco Polo airport, which for sound and practical reasons is not actually on the chain of islands which make up Venice, but on the mainland.

So, leaving the key in the room I set off into the darkness of Venice at 4:40am. It is still a magical place as there is not a soul to be seen on the Fondamenta Misercordia. With my 200 lbs of various bags and a backpack, I fire up the trusty GPS (which at this point, I really don't need but just in case...) and cross the first of what would become several bridge crossings.

I set off south to get to Strada Nuova where the day before, I'd seen the signs for the airport water shuttle. After up and down a few more bridges and a kilometer of twisty streets, I find the water bus stop. Confidently, I stroll up to the waiting platform and notice on the sign that the first boat picks up at 9:00am.

If you do the math, this is something of a problem as my flight was at 6:30am. If you have ever seen the movie shots where the background seems to rush out behind the actor and the camera tilts at a 45 degree angle as the protagonist grabs his head and yells 'Noooo!!!', you'll have a pretty good idea of my frame of mind.

After I get through with my initial shock, I set off to the south thinking, maybe I can find a nice 100 euro water taxi along the way... But no, no such luck.
Apparently on Sunday morning, they are all sleeping, inconsiderate bastards. Anyway, there are several more nice bridges and the water bottle I'm carrying with the 200 lbs in luggage is getting annoying to carry loose, so I put it in a bag. After about 600 meters of twisty streets, I hear a pleasant gurgling water sound, the sound a water bottle makes after the lid has been twisted off inside your bag under the weight of 20 kilos of marble. So I have a nice little waterfall going in my bag which I have a grand time emptying out before trudging on happily to the south.

A few minutes later, I get to the train station and consider that I could buy a ticket to the mainland and then cab it to the airport. So I lug my bags up the steps to Santa Lucia station and go to the ticket counter, no, wait, I cannot believe that there is no hard working Trenitalia employee there at 5:00am eagerly awaiting my questions. So I check the schedules and it looks like a no-go.

I arrive at the conclusion that the logical thing to do at this point is to go to the only garage / bus / car entry point on Venice, Piazzale Roma. So in front of the train station after lugging the heavy bags down the steps again, I see possible salvation. A 100 euro water taxi is trolling for people, but no, he's going on to the north because he apparently has *too much money*. Sure, I understand, he needs a better quality of life. He can't be hauling troublesome tourists back and forth *all* day long, that's just silly.

Based on my GPS calculations, I stare down my opponent directly across from the train station. It is the mother of all marble bridges when you have luggage, 'il Ponte degli Scalzi' as pictured in the photo above except, in the dark with no people on it. I begin my ordeal already tired and almost certain my right arm has been stretched an inch longer after carrying the heavier of two bags for such a distance. Up the bridge I go and the trip down is only slightly less tiring. Another kilometer to the south and over another smaller bridge, I notice that a new larger bridge without a steep grade ran between the station and Piazzale Roma. I almost want to go back and cross over that easier bridge just out of spite, but coolness prevails and I go on to the bus stop, find a taxi, and make my way to the airport.