Sunday, November 2, 2014

Volterra Italy Alabaster Sculpture

Dear Art-loving friend,
The reason my friends Art and Virginia Wells wanted to visit Volterra during their first trip to Italia is because one of Art’s stone carving students in Dallas, Texas, told him about Roberto and Giorgio and said, “You MUST go see them!” Apparently Volterra is famous for its artists who carve alabaster, a beautiful and often translucent stone.  White is the most famous of the colors available.

We first found the retail shop on the main drag as we entered the walled old town via the “Porta a Selci” on the east side.  Once Art realized this was the very shop he was seeking, a lovely conversation with the person behind the desk led us to the actual working studio not far away.  The workshop of sculptors and business partners Roberto Chiti and Giorgio Finazzo made me hungry again to get my own hands on some stone!

Their studio alab’Arte is located right across from the Porta Marcoli (shown here), one of the open doors around the walled city of Volterra.  Their shop has an unassuming front, but once you enter… ah, the atmosphere of stone carving!  White dust is everywhere.  I am always surprised to see stone carvers not wearing protection, such as dust masks, but sadly, this is a common site.  In the case of Giorgio and Roberto, it might be highly inconvenient since they spend much of their day speaking with visitors and clients.

Workshop: Via Orti di Sant'Agostino, 28 - Volterra
Shop: Via Don Minzoni, 18 - Volterra

During our visit, Giorgio was carving a copy of an antique figurative bas relief sculpture.  Oddly enough, it will ship to a client near Dallas, Texas, not far from Art’s home and my former home and studio outside of Austin.  Roberto gave us a demonstration of his lathe work.  What I liked about his lathe that I had not seen in the US is that when he wanted to stop the turn of the wheel, he just took one of his tool sticks and pushed the wide belt over to another part of the lathe that was not moving.  Back and forth he moved the fabric belt as needed.  I think this was less abusive to the motor and more convenient to the artisan because of how often he changed from spinning to non-spinning the alabaster.

While Giorgio was entertaining Art and Virginia, I asked Roberto for some tips of good places to eat in Volterra.  He recommended “La Carrabaccia”  It is one of those places in which they have no menu.  You take your seat and they tell you the choices of what they decided to cook that day.  Wonderful.  We ate some seafood for lunch before heading back to the studio our second day in Volterra and enjoyed the experience.  La Carrabaccia is located in the Piazza XX Settembre and is tucked in between the Torture Museum (!) and the Church of Sant’Agostino.

The other place he recommended and where we dined that night was “Il Sacco Fiorentino.”  They are located near Volterra’s Duomo on Via Turazza 13, 56048 Volterra, Italy.  It turns out that Giorgio’s brother Vito runs a pretty good place.  Vito had to explain that they were out of the recommended seafood that night.  However, I had not eaten chicken in a while and the spices and way they cooked the meat was delicious. 
We had to get Art’s rental car back to Florence on the second day and thus, after lunch we headed back to Giorgio and Roberto’s studio to say our “Arrivaderci” and “grazie”.  Virginia took this shot of four stone carvers.  What a lovely recording of a fun and educational trip!  I will definitely visit Volterra again because we did not have enough time to see much of it, in fact.

Also, I leave you with this snapshot I took of Roberto holding up a photo he cherishes.  Rick Steves, the popular travel writer LOVES Volterra and Roberto said that Rick is the main reason alab’Arte receives more American visitors than they might have hoped for on their own.

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Thank you for your interest and enthusiasm,


~ Kelly Borsheim, sculptor, painter, writer, teacher