Italy is a place where many traditions and crafts are passed down through the generations. It is not uncommon to find a master craftsman who has spent his whole lifetime carrying out the trade of his father and grandfather. Italians are known for having such pride in their craft having mastered the arts of food, architecture, design, furniture, fashion, and painting.
Many of these wonderful artisans can be found in the smaller towns throughout Italy. I traveled Southern Italy to meet and tour a few incredible workshops.
In Ragusa, a hilltop town located in the Val di Noto region in the southeast part of Sicily, I met Damiano Rotella and Biagio Castilletti of Cinabro Carrettieri. They are two of the few master artisans who keep the Sicilian cart folklore alive. Damiano the painter and Biagio the carpenter of the carts which were used by businessmen to transport goods.
When Damiano started his career as a painter, he knew he wanted to create work that was very meaningful. He easily gravitated toward the Sicilian carts. The paintings on the cart told stories of historical, literary, religious, or chivalrous events. Damiano was fascinated by the stories of the puppet opera (opera dei Pupi) growing up. The colors are always bright and playful.
Damiano and Biagio gained notoriety over the years: famous documentary photographer, Steve McCurry, discovered and photographed them and they have collaborated with Dolce & Gabbana for their Smeg kitchen appliance collection. If you find yourself in Sicily, please do stop by the Cinabro Carrettieri workshop. They welcome visitors for a tour.
The town of Grottaglie, in the southern region of Puglia, is known for their ceramics. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Franco Fasano and tour the factory of Nicola Fasano. It is hard to even imagine, but the mastery and tradition of ceramics has been in the Fasano family for 18 generations. The art and craftsmanship of the past has remained in their current production process — from idea to the final ceramic is entirely produced in-house.
Nicola Fasano Ceramics produces a great variety of ceramics: amphorae containers, the typical Pugliese pumo, vases, pitchers, tile and tableware. Franco Fasano pushes the designs further into the art and fashion realm with his splatter-print tableware.
Over the years, Nicola Fasano Ceramics has garnered international attention. They have even worked with notable clients such as Francis Ford Coppola and Giorgio Armani.
It is well known that Italy is a very religious country. Close to the Christmas season, Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples is filled with people peering into all the nativity shops for which the street is famous.
I was introduced to nativity maestro Marco Ferrigno a few years ago. The nativity artisanship has been in the Ferrigno family since 1836. Marco remembers spending time as a child with his father learning the art.
In the Arte Ferrigno shop you will find hundreds and hundreds of nativity scenes and figurines. He has also become popular for his figurines of popular culture and political personas. Clients can even commission him to create a small sculpture of themselves. Marco has created figurines for celebrities such as Sophia Loren and famous Neapolitan soccer players… he has even met the Pope!
All the figurines are made by hand with natural materials. You can often find Marco in different positions around the shop getting inspiration for the day’s work. Each nativity scene or sculpture contains so many stories, emotion and details.
When visiting Naples for the first time, I realize the first thought is the pizza. You must not forget to visit Via San Gregorio Armeno and the Arte Ferrigno store!
Photography by Marcia Prentice