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).


  1. You must have been in your element there! It looks like a really wonderful time. I have never dabbled with mosaics in a big way but I'd love to buy a huge, plain mirror, make a swirly, grand, wooden frame for it and do an ornate mosaic border. Wouldn't that be awesome? So did you come home with a ton of materials and inspiration?

  2. What a great experience. Were you one with the hammer and hardie? They look difficult to use (without amputating fingers).

  3. Oh, I love that last mosaic - and your TV of course!

    I bet you are all full of creativity and inspiration after your trip, it sounds wonderful.

  4. Even the floor's tiled in that classroom!

    Fascinating stuff, and it looks like you've learned loads.

    You've definitely perfected putting down the hammer.

  5. This looks like a great experience.

  6. Mmm glass pron- which is a totally fitting phrase because they are images that inspire desire :)

    I love your tv. the dicotomy has just the right amount of kitchy-feel.

    So have you picked up any tips on your trip about making your own smalti?

  7. Loved the TV mosaic Eric. Pity you couldn't use it in your pool and have lights coming out of the screen. Ewwww, tacky.

  8. Vegetable Assassin
    Your mirror would be great! You could 'Trump' it up with Orsoni real gold tiles too?
    Part of the reason leaving Venice was so difficult was that I was loaded down with (altogether) 200 lbs in luggage (so much great glass and marble).

    Dutch Donut Girl
    At first, the hammer / hardie is more complicated than tile nippers, but it doesn't take long to get used to it. Don't fear them. :)

    Thanks, and I'll put up a picture of my 6th century copy, the lotus flowers, in the next post.
    You're right, I have so many ideas for work now after the class. And, I have the whole pool decking area as my canvas now.

    The Jules,
    Good point, I asked about that and they said it is used to catalogue different marbles.
    The information on bindings and tips and tricks on lime transfer were great. If you ever want to get into mosaics, I'd recommend the class.
    Thanks, I was busily constructing my own 'hardy' this weekend (under where the rock is caught between the hammer and a hard place).

    It was great fun... I would do it again, you know, if I didn't already know all the stuff they taught me.

    I have better appreciation of the glass for mosaic now after chopping up about 1000 pieces of smalti for my lotus flowers copy. :)
    Thanks about the TV, I was tempted to do something that looked classical, but humor won out.
    On making smalti, I was able to talk with Marta and Manuela at the Orsoni glass factory (she gave me the complete tour including the furnace and warehouse).
    They do use calcium based chemicals for opacifying the glass. She didn't say much about the cooling processes though, and I didn't sneak any pictures inside the factory.

    Thanks, It's not too late. I could probably use a diamond grinder to thin out the 'green glass' marble of the tv screen and project through it...
    Oh yeah, like you said, tacky.

  9. This sounds like the perfect experience for you. And love that the materials were so expansive...probably gave you some great ideas for future projects too. Beautiful.

  10. Oh, Eric... wouldja quit talking about your big guns already?

    P.S. Beautiful work on the last one, that. Love the TV one, too. :o)

  11. I will always consider you the mosaic-making centre of the world.

  12. That is some cool stuff. I'm sure mosiacs are not appreciated by most folks in the US and in this day and age, but I think they are awesome. It looks like you were happier than a pig in slop (sorry I couldn't think of a more cultured comparison)

  13. did you find they were pretty secretive over there? One of my instructors was on Murano Island and got kicked out of a tour because he was wearing a glass pin he made. If anything, you could anneal the pieces after you've cut them all up- it wouldn't be exact, but it may help.

  14. JennyMac,
    It was greatness, I have so many ideas now. Luciana was very nice, she gave me some of her nice dark marble and had one of her assistants drive me to a guy she knew that sold other rare stone.

    :) I could just go on and on about my big guns, I'm glad you are there to stop me.
    Thanks, I forgot to draw an extension cord though, so I can't watch anything on it...

    Thanks fella, if it's the center, then I need to make some sort of plaque or sign or something?

    Thanks, I like mosaics because they are an old and durable art form. Can some art collector walk on their Michaelangelo or Rembrandt like you can a mosaic? Well, not counting that one time it was raining really hard and I didn't want to get my shoes muddy.
    You got the point across with the comparison, and I agree...

    I had the impression they would not have been happy if I had pulled out the camera and started taking photos.
    They kind of knew me from a professional mosaic artist networking site, and a friend of mine from Dallas had just won their very prestigious Orsoni Prize this year. It was really a neat coincidence that they were delivering her prize as I was getting the tour.
    That's interesting about your friend's Murano incident. I didn't go to some of those because I've heard it's kind of a pressure sale thing. I like glass, but I like to pick out my own without the sell job.
    There is a really good glass factory for smalti in Mestre (the mainland).

  15. I don't know if I'd have the patience for mosaics, but I could if I got to go to Italy. Maybe cooking is more my thing. I'll take a cooking class instead. Good it's decided. Thanks for your help!

  16. That is awesome! I love the pictures.

    That shelf full of stones, glass, etc....would keep me busy for hours. I'm easily entertained. Yay color.

  17. Nikki,
    Cooking classes in Florence, cool... BTW, if you guys need an Italian interpreter when you go, don't hire me. I can communicate on a rudimentary level, but I'd probably get you in trouble or something by accidently insulting whoever you were talking with.

    Thanks, it was great fun. Plus, the lady that teaches the class is one of the most respected artists in the field.
    All those marbles and glasses kept me busy for a while, the week passed by really fast.

  18. I enjoyed the post, but please please wear safety glasses..noticed the woman with hammer and hardie didn't have them on-as an ex-jeweler, I know first hand how easy it is to forget and regret-had a piece of solder embed itself into the eyepiece glass glad I had them on-you will be, too...

  19. Wherever did you find such a class like this on an whole other continent? It looks very small--but is it really super popular and the people in your actual pictures are scarce?

    I like your tv...and your tv sketch is did that really fast at 6am?? holy shit i am barely alert at 6. ever.

    I am highly impressed with your mosaic making skills, yo.