4 years ago I was in Italy

It’s hard to imagine that 4 years have gone by since I was in Italy! To celebrate the coming Spring and to remember that wonderful trip I thought I would show some of the sculptures I’ve completed in the marble I brought home. It’s been a very creative time despite the disruption caused by Covid 19, I’ve been fortunate to have a studio to go to and lots of stone to work on. These are some of the pieces I’ve completed that are from my Italian marble stash. I’ve completed more using all the other stone I have but that will have to be another post. Enjoy!

You’re welcome to come by and visit me in my studio, I always have new sculptures in process and new ones that haven’t yet been photographed. I’ve just finished a couple of commission pieces and will try to get good photos and post them. Thanks!

All the way from Italy!

The stone is here! After a six week long voyage, the Singapore Express went past Whidbey Island on May 16 where I was able to snap a photo as it headed to the Port of Seattle. Then it began its journey to the Freeland Art Studios. The container got delivered to Marenakos Rock Center (thank you Scott Hackney!) on a Tuesday. Eirene (one of my fellow sculptors from Italy) and her husband Zack packed up the truck and trailer on Wednesday and came to Whidbey Island where Tamara (sculptor # 3) joined us. On Thursday the great unpacking at the Freeland Art Studios happened. It was a beautiful day and it was exciting to be reunited with our sculpture and marble.

I hope you’ll come see sculptures I started in Italy and the raw stone at our Ninth Annual Open House at Freeland Art Studios on Saturday, June 15, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This is the journey of the stone in photos. Enjoy!

The container leaving Studio Pescarella in early April.
The Singapore Express sailing past Robinson Beach on Whidbey Island on May 16
It only took 30 minutes for the great crew at Marenakos to unload! A two-forklift day. Orlando and Jon were awesome!
Eirene and the line up of stone at Marenakos Rock Center (thanks Scott and Teri for your help!)
The unloading. 5 crates and two pallets, over 100 pieces of stone.
Unpacking one of the crates of sculpture (Eirene, Justin, Tamara, and Zack)
Lloyd reloading a crate for Eirene and Tamara with Zack’s help on the truck.
My stack of stone, once it all got organized in one pile. Well, not counting the other piles…
A great unloading crew! Sheila the dog, Justin, Tamara, Lloyd, Eirene, Sue and Zack. Thanks for extra help from Ben Mefford, Lane Tompkins, and Therese Kingsbury
“Team Washington,” one of our last days at Studio Pescarella. Photo by Sandy Oppenheimer.



Quarry Tour

I’m back home but still posting photos from my Italy visit. We packed a lot in for one month so I’ll keep posting until the stone gets here in late May.

On the Sunday preceding our last week at the studio we went on a Quarry Tour. Sunday is the best day to avoid sharing the tiny roads with giant trucks hauling stone. We drove up the mountain outside of Carrara and then the jeep took us up to the near-top of the mountain where we could see numerous quarries. The weather was clear and mild, a great day for being on the mountain.

We drove up this far and then the jeep took us up to that saddle section in the middle of this photo.

Going to the quarry is an opportunity to touch the origin of the stone; to see it where it came from, to appreciate all those centuries this marble sat in a mountain after is was formed. There’s so much history in these mountains, they’ve been quarrying stone since well before Michelangelo and the Renaissance.

Michael (our guide) explained the techniques and some of the current rules and restrictions governing the quarries. At the base there is a small outdoor museum with old equipment and photos that helps illuminate the history of the area and the dangerous work of quarrying marble.

I took hundreds of photos so please appreciate the restraint I’m showing by limiting my choices here. I’m not known for my restraint when it comes to stone (which you likely already know if you’re reading this blog.)

Looking out over multiple quarries to the Mediterranean Sea.
One of the old bridges (its in all the old photographs). This road will take you up to Colonnata.
The “back” side, looking inland. See how tiny the giant earth-moving machines look.
A huge block being carved by an automated machine. There are many places that are doing this now in the area, this studio was at the base of quarry that we toured.
What the sculptures look like after the computerized cutting. Still lots to do by hand. I have no idea whose studio this is.

Even if you’re not a stone sculptor, getting a chance to go on a tour and see a quarry is a pretty amazing thing. If you want more photos, I’ve added some here at the end.


Three happy sculptors. Still happy even though we didn’t get to keep the hardhats!
The “back” side of the mountain.

Blue sky, white marble, big smile! Thanks for the photo Tamara!

Field trips!

Home. After four weeks of sculpting and two weeks exploring Italy it is wonderful to be back home on beautiful Whidbey Island. It’s so green! Italy was so great (big surprise), I have more photos to share from my trip, so if you’re up for more about Sue’s adventures in Italy, keep following the blog.

The last week in March we (Tamara, Eirene, and I), took a couple of great field trips. We went into Florence to have a visit with David, yes, “The David.” We also visited the Medici Chapel to see the sculptures there. The following day we went up into the mountains outside of Carrara on a marble quarry tour, its too many photos for one blog so that is a whole separate blog that I will post soon, in the meantime, enjoy Michelangelo.

David by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. When I first saw this sculpture in person 16 years ago it took my breath away. This return visit was no less inspiring.

I hope you enjoy the photos even a fraction as much as we enjoyed these days. I plan to post a couple more blogs after this and I’ll definitely post when the stone arrives. It’s on a ship now headed this way and is due in late May.

These are photos of the unfinished Slaves by Michelangelo, also at the Galleria dell’ Academia in Florence. It’s amazing to get within feet of these sculptures and see the tool marks as he worked to find the lines of the form in the block. You can see where he was working out the placement of the body part, pushing it deeper into the stone.

That’s Tamara and Eirene (third and fourth persons from the right) enjoying the well-place bench where you can sit and gaze and then move along and appreciate the lines of the sculpture from a slightly different vantage point.

The Medici Chapel is home to the sculptures at the tombs of Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici. You probably know these sculptures as “Night and Day,” and “Dawn and Dusk,” by Michelangelo.

Lorenzo and Dusk and Dawn
Guiliano and Night and Day (notice how “Day” is so more polished and more bright than “Night”).

The David and other celebrated Renaissance sculptures are what I grew up seeing in my art books and in popular culture. To see them in person is an inspiration. I’m grateful these sculptures were recognized as masterpieces and protected. I do grieve for the losses of so many masterpieces around the world lost to time, war, and ignorance.

So, back to more Michelangelo. Follow me on a little side track. As my trip progressed I went to Milan and while there I got to see a Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pietà. He sculpted the “Pietà” theme at least three times; the first he sculpted when he was in his 20’s, the famous Pietà which is at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The second has 4 figures; “Deposition,” which sculpted in his 70’s. It’s in Florence but I have not see this one. The Rondanini Pietà is at the Sforza Castle in Milan and it was the last sculpture he was working on when he died at 89. Ah, it’s such a feast seeing these sculptures in person.

The sculpture is clearly unfinished, not just obvious by the lack of detail and the textures but also because he left a previous version of Jesus’s right arm that is 10 or more inches away from where the current arm and body of Jesus is. This sculpture doesn’t have to thick muscularity of many of his other sculptures, in fact, from some views I found myself wondering if he’d left enough stone to finish it. He certainly captured the drama in the pose, you can feel the weight and the sorrow.

If you want to learn more about figurative sculpture from the Renaissance, may I recommend the podcast The Sculptors Funeral by Jason Arkles. Jason is going to be one of our instructors at Northwest Stone Sculptors Pilgrim Firs Symposium in July.

There is so much to see in Florence and we were only there for part of a day. It was amazingly crowded, I hear it is always like this now but it was the nicest day of the year and a Saturday. Still, if you’re visiting Florence, get your tickets in advance (thanks Tamara) or you will likely spend a lot of time in line.

Art everywhere, models from the Academia and sculpture from the Palazzo Vecchio.

Not everything is old. Here’s some street art by Blub I found on the streets in Florence and Lucca.


Packing up the stone

Last week on Tuesday we met Piero. Piero is a magician. On Friday he made all of our stone disappear into 4 wooden crates. I thought I knew how to pack things well. Spending a half-day with Piero loading up the crates was an opportunity to work with someone with exceptional spatial abilities. It also helps that he can operate a forklift and use two single straps a multitude of ways to lift, turn, flip and slip stone into tight spots.

I am talking with my hands because my Italian is very limited. Piero listened and then turned to Lotte (on the far right) since she speaks Italian, and German, and English…(Eirene is on the left, Tamara is taking the photo)

He came to look at the various stone we’ve collected over the 3 weeks and with a tape measurer and an exclamation of “Mama mia” we worked out a plan. Mostly in his head, as I only saw him write down the measurements of four stones. With the help of Lotte, one of the resident sculptors here, we arranged to have crates built to ship our stone home. The crates have to be built out of special wood that is stamped and certified so we don’t import any bugs in the wood.

Piero measuring stone (photo by Tamara)

It was a surprise when we arrived to the studio Friday morning to see 5 empty crates already delivered. Piero came after lunch and started to load the stone, Tamara recorded all the stone and where they went, Eirene took photos of each one (we need to supply a complete record of everything we’re exporting and importing to get us out of Italy and into the US). And no, sadly we cannot fill the spaces with wine and olive oil although we did really want to.

Part of the stack of stone that had to go in the crates.
Loading the biggest block which barely fit in the crate. That’s Tamara taking recording all the stone.
Finishing the third crate.

On Monday Piero will return to fill the final crate with our sculpture. This one is packed a bit more carefully. We’ve not finished anything too far and this is one of the reasons why. All of the in-process sculpture will go in the fifth crate. We still get a few days to sculpt on some small pieces before we leave at the end of this week (how did time go this quickly?). At the end of the week, we’ll put them in the last crate before it’s closed up.

Three of the five crates filled and nearly ready to go.

We’ve been working with our shipping agent in the US and his counterpart in Italy who has responded graciously to my many questions with patience after noting, “your first time buying stone in Italy to take home?”. “Si, but hopefully not my last,” I replied.

This week we will spend a little less time sculpting and more time recording all the stone and their dimensions and types. Then we’ll get the final dimensions of the crates and the weights, sign off on the shipping documents, and arrange for a truck to come and pick it up to take it to the outgoing Port. We won’t see our sculptures again for about 6 weeks when they arrive in Seattle and we truck our crates to Whidbey Island to unpack them.

As exciting as this part is, it’s also real reminder that our time here is coming swiftly to an end. We have a few more days to enjoy stone dust and our new stone sculpting family at Studio Pescarella, so we will focus on that instead.

More soon, ciao!

Buying stone

You can never have too much stone. That may be what will be on my tombstone. Maybe I’ll have multiple tombstones to make my point. The stone buying in Italy has begun. I’m not sure how much more I’m going to get, I keep thinking “that’s enough for now” and then I think about how some of what I’m seeing I can’t get in the States. I do feel I’m showing some restraint in that we’re planning on filling some crates but not filling our own shipping container. Yet.

Want to see what I got? Of course you do!

My first buy. Just kidding, see below for what I really bought.
From the first source. Not all of these are mine. Most…but not all.
What they look like unloaded. The big “cut off” is Cipollino, white and gray with hints of green. Some Bardiglio and some whites with gray veins.
The stack from Friday. I splashed some water on so you could see the color. The Pink Portuguese Marble is Eirene’s. It was a good day. For scale, the long ones in this photo are 8 feet long.

More stone is being delivered later this week. I have yet to find a chunk of mostly white marble that I have to bring home but lots of lovely Bardiglio and other grays. Did I mention how hard it is to choose?

I love the little trucks here too, now I want a little Piaggio like this one to bring home. Maybe if I got a container I could just put one inside with the stone?

A sweet little Piaggio.


Tools and Tool Mecca

*Disclaimer: This is all about tools so it may not be so interesting to all of you but I know the stone folks following my blog will want to know.

The end of the first day were were at the studio we had to leave early to go buy some tools. Since Italy runs on 220 power our US grinders won’t work here so that was first on the list. We stopped a couple places before we found some reasonably priced Makita variable speed angle grinders. They have these new handy clip on mesh screens for the intake holes, I haven’t seen those before. I’m also not sure they are effective for keeping the stone dust out but I’m using them anyway. I also got these great little 3 inch silicon carbide grinding wheels and they are sweet. Anyone know where to find them in the states? (Because these fit these tools and won’t fit on a 5/8 US shank).

3 inch wheel

Last week we went to Milani tools, I failed to get photos of anything except the wall of the famous “italian” riffler files. It was a bit of a challenge to find but our navigator Tamara got us there. So far we’ve only had three trips to Milani (they are close by) and I’m sure we’ll have one or two more to get some things to take home. They have so many goodies there, pins and sleeves, silicon carbide bits in all kinds of sizes, and of course, rifflers.

Part of the Milani riffler file wall.

I brought all my protective gear from home; respirator, googles, ear protection, hat and gloves.

That’s me under all the gear.

Last week we ventured to Massa (which is 5 km north of us, and on the way to Carrara), to Cuturi Tools. Cuturi makes pneumatic air hammers and Tamara has a couple of old ones, one small Piccolo (small) hammer that needed repair. She has been emailing them so they buzzed us in the gate and welcomed us into their factory site. We met Ezio Cuturi, the grandson of the original founder Gino Cuturi. He now runs the business with his brother. He helped Tamara with the repair and entertained us while we bought chisels and experimented with their new “Piccolino” (even more small) air hammer which does engraving and small work.

Yes, this is a sculpture of an air hammer made of marble.
Ezio, Eirene and Tamara. We got hats!
We all got to try to Piccolino, which was a sweet little tool. Eirene got one and amazingly I resisted buying one.

Both Milani and Cuturi are great brands in the world of stone so it has been a treat to look and buy tools directly from the source. Who knows what else we’ll find to bring home with us!

If you’ve got questions, ask them in the comments and I’ll try to put together a Q and A blog.

Until next time, ciao!

So Much Stone

Notice I did not say “too much stone.” Stone is one of those things you can’t have too much of; like good health or love. Everywhere you turn there is stone; the tile, curbs, window sills, and sinks. It’s like wood in the Pacific Northwest, it’s the readily available material.

Studio Pescarella is located in an industrial area so we are surrounded, literally, by stone yards and fabricators. On either side of us and across the street there are yards, and the “back yard” to the studio is a river and on the other side of the river is…wait for it, yes, two more stone yards.

The stone yard next door, the cranes are amazing!
Two of the stone yards across the river, notice all the marble lining the river banks, yes, I did pick some of that up too.
The stone yard on the other side of us, the one closest to us that has the fabrication shop. I will be bringing something home from here.

The difficulty is choosing. So I started with the path of least resistance, I bought a couple of small cut off stones from one of the studio owners here and worked on those. Then we started exploring the dumpster next door which belongs to a large scale fabricating shop with wire saws, CNC machines and all the rest. They are kind enough to indulge visits to the dumpster from the Studio. We have “rescued” good stone there, the biggest was a good size chunk (see below) and had 2 cracks, once split it has broken into three nice carving stones with lovely veining.

“Rescuing” stone from the dumpster with a little help.
A lucky day at the dumpster, Eirene and Tamara and the catch of the day.
The block with 2 cracks before.
…and after
Another stone, before.
During. Yes, that’s me wearing my Freeland Art Studios t-shirt!
…and after, “The Three Graces”

On Friday we started actually shopping to buy stone. It gets delivered on Monday, nothing giant but some nice finds. More on that soon. Thanks for reading and commenting. I’m happy so many of you are enjoying being along on my trip to Italy.


Sunday is our day off

It just so happened that we’re in Italy for one of the biggest Festival experiences in Italy. Carnavale Viareggio is second only to the Carnavale in Venice, and it just happens to be only a half hour from where we are. On Sunday, our day off at the studio, we decided to join the crowds. The guidebooks call it a “once in a lifetime must- see” and they were right.

Three happy artists enjoying the VERY large sculptures of Carnavale

We parked far away and had a lovely walk along the seaside boulevard, which was very Malibu-y. Many places aren’t open and the beach isn’t wall to wall people like it is in the summer. We started to see folks dressed up and since it was mid-afternoon there were lots of families and kids. All the kids had bags of paper confetti to throw and they did enjoy that. I’ve got some still in my shoes, bed and floor.

We bought our tickets and joined the party inside the gates. They have the entire boulevard blocked off to control entry for 2 km long circuit. Each direction is two lanes wide and the floats start moving and go in a large circle. You start seeing these giant floats from far away but you cannot see the entire length of the parade. The largest ones fill the whole street, almost close enough to touch people standing on their balconies three stories up. The floats are made of paper-mache, as they have been since they started way back 140+ years ago. I’m sure they have some rain proofing material on the outside as they seem to be quite permanent, not like the paper-mache I made in grade school.

Here was a busy make-up tent for dancers on the floats. They were hustling to finish everyone, 10 minutes later the parade started and the tent was packed up in flash.

The large floats are animated, some have multiple characters moving in multiple dimensions, it’s an engineering marvel under it all I’m sure. Some are pulled by tractors, others must have some device driving it from the interior, many are pulling large industrial-sized generators to power the lights and who knows what else. There are folks pulling levers and spinning wheels to move certain parts, and they’re doing this for at least 3 hours, impressive! There are dancers on the floats and also lines of dancers in front of the floats, some had some intricate choreography. After 2 hours we started seeing a lot of folks in these costumes at the concession stand or having a cigarette, I think dancing on the floats is more fun the first half hour.

These folks were part of the Trump’s Space Force, after 2 hours the choreography was not happening and they were walking in front of the float smoking.
This was on of the most emotionally powerful floats, it was masterfully done.

The artistry of the floats were amazing, there were some that seemed to be alive, and many had an emotional impact like the whale covered in plastic with oil refineries growing from its back, and a tear coming from its eye. I encourage you to look up some YouTube video of the Carnavale Viareggio 2019, their videos are better than mine and seeing them move is amazing.

They encourage everyone to participate in the parade, no sitting on the curb. Well you can but everyone else is walking around you so you don’t see much this way. You can get right in the street in front of the float (as long as you move out of the way to not get run over).

Tamara taking video from under the whale. you can see how close she is.

So many of the attendees were in costumes, like Halloween. It was great to be able to get up and walk around and follow a float or cross to the other side of the street when you wanted.

Some of the floats were tributes, like the Frida Kahlo, many had to do with the key issues of our times: the environment, bullying, and of course, politics. There were two large-sized Trump floats (and I think a few small ones), one depicting him as “God Emperor Trump,” which was not meant to be complimentary although I understand that some of his fans think it was. The other one was Trump as a baby swimming amongst toys. It doesn’t seem that Italians are fans, another reason to love Italy.

This experience was an amazing “extra” for us. There was so much to see, I’ve added a lot more photos to the end of this blog. It has taken me a few days to get this posted, our wifi here isn’t very robust but I’m grateful we have it. I’m going to publish this while it’s still daytime for you all, it’s still odd being a half a day ahead of you all! Everything at the studio is going great, more tales coming of stone, tools and sculpting…


Getting all set up

We arrived at the house we’re renting on Thursday and started to get settled. Friday we had our orientation to the studio space; learning about how the compressor works, where the tools are, and most importantly, where to dumpster dive for free stone from the stone yard next door. Sculptors have been arriving and leaving both Friday and Saturday and it seems there will be six to twelve of us around this month. Some have been here all winter. So far we’ve met sculptors from Argentina, South Korea, Sweden and even South Carolina, USA. There are others we haven’t talked to enough yet to find out where they’re from.

Tamara and Eirene at the house. Sunshine on our first day!
Looking across the valley from the house, we’re on a pretty steep hill, (more about that on a future blog). Notice the terracing to the right of the house in the photo.
Looking out to the water over the seaside towns, our house is in the foothills of Strettoia 2 miles from the studio.

One of the most remarkable things is that the stone industry is and has been the big industry for a long time, there are stone yards and sculptors and all the related services everywhere you go. Kind of like nirvana or maybe heaven. Yesterday we had a “workers lunch” at a nearby restaurant and we got seated in the not as fancy back room with other stone workers with a blasting gas fireplace (which felt great!). We enjoyed a big lunch for only 12 Euros and we’ve got leftovers!

Part of the studio yard at Studio Pescarella. The sculpture in the foreground is that of Neal Barab, part owner and a UC Santa Cruz grad.
A view of some of the work spaces and the surrounding hills in the background.

Not only are there stone yards EVERYWHERE, there is sculpture everywhere, not just stone, but bronze and steel too. Today we hit a weekly city market to buy some inexpensive warm clothes for the studio and some fresh veggies. We walked out on a pier in nearby Tonfano and there were 11 large sculptures around the fountain and on the pier. We’ve driven by so many I’ve lost count.

So much happens every day right now it’s hard to know where to start sharing experiences with you, some will wait (like tool shopping adventures, that’s a whole post on it’s own). I haven’t even introduced you to my travel partners yet so here goes. I’m sure those of you in the NorthWest Stone Sculptors Association know Tamara Buchanan, a talented and experienced sculptor and teacher, she’s been in Pietrasanta before to sculpt and her experience and interpreting skills have been much appreciated. Eirene Blomberg, like Tamara, hails from Lopez Island and it’s not her first trip to Italy but it’s her first sculpting trip. I’ll try to find some links for photos of their work in a future blog.

Tamara getting her first dose of dust.
Eirene working on a piece of marble rescued from the dumpster.
Unpacking my bag at my workspace on our first day, notice how clean it is (was). Thanks to Tamara for the photo!

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Until next time, Ciao!