The small number of Norwegians who came to Texas in the 1850s were from the agrarian areas of Norway and became farmers in their adopted homeland. Bosque County in the Texas Hill Country reminded them of the rolling landscape of rural Norway. Those who founded the community of Norse, Texas, came seeking economic and social advancement. Their old-world customs and language were maintained into the 1920s. By 1940, their descendants, wholly integrated into the fabric of Texas culture and used English exclusively.
St. Olaf's Kirke is located on a rise overlooking Meridian Creek valley, four miles east of Cranfills Gap in Bosque County, Texas. Built in 1884 of native limestone, it originally had a dirt floor and the pews were planks laid on wooden kegs. Designed by Andrew Michelson, St. Olaf's Kirke was constructed from limestone quarried from the surrounding hills. It was recently refurbished.
Norwegian was the primary language used during church services into the 1920s. Today, St. Olaf Kirke serves as a historical landmark with special significance for the descendants of the Norwegian settlers of the area. Special events, such as weddings and funerals, continue to be held in the church. The church was designated a historical landmark by the Texas Historical Commission in 1974 and entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
Texas residential architect, Steve Chambers, considers Italy his favorite travel destination because of its concentration of well-preserved architecture from many periods of history. Central Italy’s topography and climate are akin to what we experience in the Texas Hill Country. The Caves of Orvieto are so unusual we feel our architectural blog readers will want to make this city on a volcanic tuff a future travel destination.
Orvieto, an Italian city in southwest Umbria with the aura of a fairy tale, is situated on the flat summit of a large butte of volcanic tuff called The Rupe. It was founded by the Etruscans in the 9th century B.C. Rising above vertical-faced cliffs with defensive walls fabricated in the same stone, the city’s site is one of the most dramatic in Europe. How this stunning hilltop city managed to endure on such a precarious site is a story of creative ingenuity. Its particular constellation of geological features causes landslides that impact the cliff’s perimeter. Mass movements over time have wrought a slow but unalterable degradation, progressively reducing the size of the historic village.
At the end of the 1970s, an immense landslide took a huge bite out of Orvieto’s Rupe, not far from its famous Duomo. The landslide from the Rupe alarmed the world that the city, the Duomo (one of Italy’s most important pieces of Gothic architecture) and its works of art might not survive. But, the disaster intrigued a small and experienced group of local cave experts. In the city's urban legend, Orvieto was mythicized to be hollow beneath its Rupe. The landslide exposed mysterious gaps, windows with regular contours, in some of its high projecting walls. Like black holes in space, these "empty and dark eyes hinted at an inexplicable and unexplored world"(1) became an irresistible attraction for cave specialists.
The More Surprising Truth
The discovery of an incredible underground reality began when the elevated holes appeared. After securing ropes to trees in the gardens that ring the majority of the city’s upper perimeter, speleologists scaled down the many-sided butte. Thrills awaited them inside the rupestrian grottos. Square rooms were linked together by galleries illuminated by the small windows to the outside. Room after room followed in succession by means of overlapping levels joined by short wells and chutes. In the more internal walls were narrow tunnels leading to the heart of the Rupe. One person could navigate the tunnels on all fours or lying down.
Why Did the Etruscans Need Caves in Orvieto?
Orvieto was a well-known major center of Etruscan civilization. Why did they construct such an intricate warren of tunneled chutes and ladders? The city captivates many visitors to Italy, but few are aware that twelve hundred caves lie below the volcanic tuff.
At the time of founding on the high plateau, the ancient civilization called the town Velzna. It had great protection from enemies, but unfortunately no water. The Etruscans dug deep slender rectangular wells in search of underground springs. The longest walls of the wells have regular intervals of small notches, pedarole (foot holds), which made movement within the vertical channels possible. The Etruscans also created cisterns for holding rainwater as well as an extended network of tunnels for its conveyance. The caves allowed them self-sufficiency, as well as protection. They could live within them for months on end without the worry of provisions. Velzna finally fell to the Romans in 264 B.C., but only after withstanding a lengthy two-year siege. Over successive centuries the digging continued.
Four hundred of the caves have been used for millennia by the citizenry for wells, refrigeration, and, during Roman and barbarian sieges, as dovecotes to encourage the Umbrian specialty, Palombo (pigeon), to roost in the caves. The birds provided access to fresh meat without leaving the city walls. (2) The caves also sheltered the township from bombs that were dropped on the valley below during WWII.
During recent excavations, the subsurface of the city revealed enormous pits from which tons of volcanic ash were extracted, wells and cisterns of all ages and sizes, galleries, cellars, shelters, litter wells that still provide fragmentary samples of refined medieval and Renaissance ceramics.
Chambers Architects' Journey Through the Caves
Arriving by sharp turns off the main road from Viterbo, Orvieto has an intriguing appearance from afar. At the southern end, The Rupe stands out in the landscape like an isolated ship. The block appears to have been dropped from space.
We happened on the caves by accident. After a tour of the breathtaking Duomo, we stopped for a lunch of pizza and wine on the patio of a taverna across from its steps. We spotted a sign that offered tickets to “Underground Orvieto.” Having visited the city several times, we’d never seen the signs offering this opportunity. Rushing over to the biglietteria, we discovered the next tour was leaving in thirty minutes. We ordered slices and cups to go, hitched up our backpacks and headed to the meeting place, a gate near a narrow walkway around the city. Upon entrance into the first cave, our eyes adjusted to the dark in the vast underground world that had been dug, used and forgotten. A dark labyrinth had been rendered and subdivided into a thousand grottoes, tunnels, wells and reservoirs, created by the scrapes of men over three millenniums. The trek won’t disappoint those seeking an out-of-the-ordinary understanding of the origin of Italy’s profoundly creative culture.
A Most Fascinating Discovery Near Orvieto's Duomo
The most fascinating discovery was made in a cavity near Piazza Duomo. A medieval oil press for olives was found, complete with millstones, press, furnace, mangers for the animals working the grindstones, water mains and cisterns. The big system of vaults calls to mind the patterns of many hypogea (underground cellars and tombs) ofthe Etruscan era. One of the “not to miss places” of historical and archaeological interest that allows us a touch of the past. In fact, every day, starting with the offices of the Tourist Promotion Company in Piazza Duomo, qualified staff accompany visitors on an easy route for about an hour called “Orvieto Underground”, which unwinds through two of the biggest and most important grottoes hidden in the Rupe. Here, in search of ancient secrets preserved by the silent darkness of the grottoes, everyone can discover, to his surprise, engagement with 9th century ingenuity in this underground wonder.
In the late middle-ages, as the city began to stabilize and prosper, these underground caverns were expanded and converted to also house workshops for the local ceramic production (cooling cisterns and the remains of a kiln can still be found) and quarries to excavate the soft stone to mix as cement (which continued into the early 20th century). One of the biggest caverns was most recently used as an olive oil press, and the massive millstones and presses still on view make it easy to imagine the room crowded with pickers and workers pressing out one of Umbria’s most prized product each fall.
One Thing to Remember When Parking the Car
There’s one caveat to travel in Italy’s cities built in antiquity: parking is frustrating. It becomes humorous after recalling the incident later with a bottle of wine. Central parking garages near the centro antico require you to pay immediately after parking your car. The exit meters do not take credit cards or cash. You’ll need the ticket to exit the garage and the old town. Good luck trying to get out of the garage without a pre-stamped bigliette! It took us at least an hour to explain our dilemma to the carabinieri and get the car out of the parking garage. Italian police non capisco greenhorns!
Photo Credits: Stephanie and Steve Chambers, Chambers Architects, Dallas, Texas
Click into second photo gallery for more Underground Orvieto
When men and women are rightly occupied, amusement grows out of their work…emotions become steady, deep, perpetual, and vivifying to the soul as the natural pulse to the body. Now, having no true business, we pour our whole energy into the false business of money-making…having no true emotion, we must have false emotions dressed up for us to play with. John Ruskin---Sesame and Lilies, 1865.
A Social and A Design Philosophy
The writings of art critic John Ruskin and architect Augustus Pugin ignited the Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris. Its emphasis on handcrafted design became an international movement, developing between 1880 and 1910. Its influence continued well into the 1930s. Not just a style, it was a way of living founded on Utopian ideals. Much of the philosophy was based on the medieval concept of celebrating the central role of craftsman and the elevation of craft to fine art. Proponents thought of 'the craftsman' as free and creative because he worked with his hands. In contrast, 'the machine' was soulless, repetitive, and inhuman. Craftsman Style, as it became known when it migrated to the United States, is currently experiencing a revival among young upwardly mobile urban dwellers.
Some Craftsman Neighborhoods Still Intact in Texas
Chambers Architects recently designed a Craftsman home for clients currently living in California and relocating to DFW. In doing the research for their home's architecture and interiors, we became fervent supporters not only of the aesthetics of the movement, but the philosophy by behind its development. Tyler Willmann, a San Antonio realtor with Keller Williams, gave us a tour of Mahncke Park in San Antonio where many charming Craftsman bungalows remain intact. Mahncke Park, a neighborhood near Brackenridge Park on the city's north side, has recently been divided over whether to move forward with historic designation because of the restrictions these designations often place on efforts to remodel a home. Signs against the designation can be seen in the photographic gallery (below). Belmont is a neighborhood in Dallas successful in obtaining historic designation in order to retain the vintage craft character of its homes and community.
Origins of the Movement in England
By the mid-nineteenth century, cheap factory-made goods had almost entirely driven away hand craftsmen and women from their trades. The old techniques of making well-crafted, elegant objects by hand were nearly lost. The term "arts and crafts" was coined in England around this time to describe the revival in the decorative arts. The Arts and Crafts Movement held at its core the ideal that the handmade object was both beautiful and useful in everyday life. Its philosophy derived partially from Ruskin's social criticism, which related the moral and social health of a nation to the qualities of its architecture and to the nature of work. Ruskin considered the sort of mechanized labor in the industrial revolution to be "servile." He felt healthy societies required independent workers who designed things and made them by hand. Followers of the movement favored craft production over industrial manufacturing and were troubled by the ethics and effects of the factory system on workers.
The aesthetic and social vision of the Arts and Crafts Movement also derived its ideas from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of the 1850s. The Brotherhood was formed by a group of friends at the University of Oxford, including William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and some of Burne-Jones' associates from Birmingham at Pembroke College, who became known as the Birmingham Set. The Birmingham Set had first-hand experience of modern industrial society and combined their love of the Romantic literature of Tennyson, Keats and Shelley with a commitment to social reform. By 1855 they had discovered the writings of John Ruskin and, conscious of the contrast between the barbarity of contemporary culture and the art of the middle ages, in particular the art preceding Raphael (1483-1530), they formed themselves into the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood to pursue their literary and artistic aims.
The Arts and Crafts Movement developed and was most fully realized in the British Isles, then spread across the British Empire to the rest of Europe and North America. It stood for traditional craftsmanship using simple forms and often applied a vocabulary of Gothic, romantic, folk, organic and natural motifs into stylized patterns. It advocated economic and social reform, and was essentially anti-industrial. The objects fabricated were simple in form, without superfluous or excessive decoration, and how they were constructed was often still visible. They tended to emphasize the qualities of the materials used and the principle of "truth to the material."
Craftsman in the United States
In the United States, the Arts and Crafts style initiated a variety of attempts to reinterpret European Arts and Crafts ideals for Americans. These included the "Craftsman"-style architecture, furniture, and other decorative arts such as designs promoted by Gustav Stickley in his magazine, The Craftsman and designs produced on the Roycroft campus as publicized in Elbert Hubbard's The Fra. Both men used their magazines as a vehicle to promote the goods produced with the Craftsman workshop in Eastwood, NY and Elbert Hubbard's Roycroft campus in East Aurora, NY. A host of imitators of Stickley's furniture, the designs of which are often mislabeled the "Mission Style," included three companies established by his brothers.
Arts and Crafts ideals disseminated in America through journal and newspaper writing and were supplemented by societies that sponsored lectures and programs. The first was organized in Boston in the late 1890s, when a group of influential architects, designers, and educators determined to bring to America the design reforms begun in Britain by William Morris. They met to organize an exhibition of contemporary craft objects. The first American Arts and Crafts Exhibition began on April 5, 1897, at Copley Hall, Boston featuring more than 1000 objects made by 160 craftsmen, half of whom were women.
The "Prairie School" of Frank Lloyd Wright, George Washington Maher and other architects in Chicago, the Country Day School movement, the bungalow and ultimate bungalow style of houses popularized by Greene and Greene, Julia Morgan, and Bernard Maybeck are some examples of the American Arts and Crafts and American Craftsman style of architecture. Restored and landmark-protected examples are still present in America, especially in California in Berkeley and Pasadena, and the sections of other towns originally developed during the era and not experiencing post-war urban renewal. Mission Revival, Prairie School, and the 'California bungalow' styles of residential building remain popular in the United States today.
By the end of the nineteenth century, Arts and Crafts ideals had influenced architecture, painting, sculpture, graphics, illustration, book making and photography, domestic design and the decorative arts, including furniture and woodwork, stained glass, leatherwork, lacemaking, embroidery, rug making and weaving, jewelry and metalwork, enameling and ceramics.
Characteristics of the Style in Residential Architecture
- 1-2 stories
- Low-pitched roof, hipped, gabled, sometimes with a clipped gable. Rooflines often complex and cross-gabled.
- Broad eaves
- Knee braces, exposed rafter tails and beams, elaborated rafter ends and verge boards, occasionally roof ridge finials are seen
- Natural materials indigenous to location
- Open floor plan
- Dormers: shed, gabled, hipped, sometimes in combination
- Fireplace, brick or native stone
- Handcrafted, built-in cabinetry including buffets, bookcases, colonnades
- Unique custom features such as inglenooks and window seats
- Craftsman-designed hardware, lighting, and tile work by notable design houses: Roycroft, Batchelder, and Yellin
- Broad covered porches
- Windows, double-hung, multiple lights over single pane below. Multiple windows appear together in banks. Casement windows are also seen.
- Shingle, lapped, and stucco siding is common.
- Attention to Detail
Honest details that reflect the true construction of an object and not covered or hidden by decoration is a hallmark of the Craftsman style and the design aesthetic of Stephen B. Chambers Architects' home design.
Reference sources for this research: Judith Miller Arts & Crafts, Dorlng Kindersley Limited Publishers; In The Arts & Crafts Style, Chronicle Books; Arts & Crafts Furniture, The Taunton Press.
To find Craftsman style bungalows and homes for sale in San Antonio, contact Tyler Willmann at this link: http://www.kwsanantonio.com/our-agents/tyler-willmann/
All photography in the San Antonio gallery of homes, below, by Stephanie Chambers, Chambers Architects
Recent advances in the speed and amount of information creates an overload that leads us to believe the world is in turmoil and change more intense than ever before. Tapping into fantasy and the imagination is one way of turning from anxiety and toward enchantment. The art and architecture we find around us helps to clarify and replace disconcerting memories and images.
Susan kae Grant, a photographer and friend of Stephen B. Chambers Architects, is one artist who takes her inspiration from collective memory and filters the imagery through the modern sensibility of her lens. Ms. Grant meticulously creates three-dimensional settings from street, field, and alleyway detritus and re-purposes them to conjure up dream-state photographs. Hula hoops, baby dolls, plastic bats and rats, rusted wire fencing, sticks and fabric are hung by thin wires from the ceiling and, through the use of strategically placed lighting, these found objects cast eerily soft long shadows onto an enormous sheet of white paper that she photographs. The result is inventive narrative photography with the appearance of late eighteenth century silhouette portraiture.
The resulting prints suggest dense childhood memories, dreams, and schemata, which whimsically spring from the imagination of a mature, self-actualized woman. Ms. Grant mines her subconscious and transports us, the viewers, into a world fecund with poetic imagery and playthings juxtaposed with objects of fear. We recognize these reveries as similar to our own nighttime excursions into involuntary underworlds of past and present snapshots of memory.
The day after visiting Susan's fascinating workplace, I read the NYT obituary of Geoffrey Crawley, the English photographic scientist. Mr. Crawley systematically debunked the 1910 Cottingley Fairies Hoax. It occurred to me that Ms. Grant's process of making art and the fairy mystery share a common thread
The atmosphere in 1910 Britain was every bit as jarring as it is today. The mystery in Cottingley emerged when two English schoolgirl cousins claimed to have taken photographs of fairy folk residing in the glen near their homes. It started with Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths deciding to play a prank on their parents by borrowing a glass-plate camera belonging to Elsie's father. They developed a photo, which showed a swirl of whitish figures surrounding Frances, the younger girl. Their parents dismissed the image as childish trickery. The girls stuck to their story and, on another occasion, snapped a second photo of a gnome who appeared in the same glen.
The images remained a private family affair until Edward Gardner, a leader of theosophy in England, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a trained physician, intervened. Hoping to advance spiritualism and the cause of the Theosophical Society in Britain, which believes in the existence of spirit life, Gardner and Doyle declared the images to be absolutely real. Impassioned champions of the photos, the men engaged a darkroom technician to create better negatives that produced more realistic-looking fairies. They asked the girls to ‘take' three more photos and the men began to use them in lectures and magazines to illustrate this epoch-making proof of human beings encountering fairies in everyday life. It took the rigorous empirical testing of Geoffrey Crawley 60 years later to deflate this tall tale of the Cottingley fairies.
But, his writings dispelling the hoax display tenderness about a nation captivated by an idle boast of magical creatures during a time of tumultuous war and enormous change brought about by global modernization of society. Mr. Crawley gently states, "of course there are fairies, just as there is a Father Christmas, the trouble is making them corporeal. They are fine poetic concepts taking us out of this, at times, too ugly real world."
We need the Cottingley fairies and artists like Susan kae Grant more than ever. They remind us that our spirit world needs as much nurture as our material one. The poet Denise Levertov once said it this way, "one is in despair over the current manifestation of malevolent imbecility and the seemingly invincible power of rapacity, yet finds oneself writing a poem about the trout lilies in spring woods."
Susan Kae Grant inspires the imagination and artist in all of us to persevere, allow our dreams to inform our consciousness, recognize the beauty in the discarded elements in both the real and subconscious worlds. Just like an airy skybridge between two elegant pieces of architecture, the intersection of the two is a magical place to invite dreams.
Susan Kae Grant received a B.S. in 1976 and a MFA in Photography and Book Arts in 1979 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is a Professor and Head of the Photography & Bookmaking Program at Texas Woman's University and teaches workshops annually at the International Center for Photography in New York City. Grant's photography is in permanent collections of various national museums including the George Eastman House; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; the J. Paul Getty Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Susan is represented in Dallas by the Conduit Gallery. Her website is: http://www.susankaegrant.com
Dallas architect, Steve Chambers, recently visited the historic Domino Sugar Factory in New York City. He studied and photographed it in order to contrast the public dialogue surrounding its reuse with the recent demolition of the 1611 Main Street in Dallas, Texas. Preservationists in Brooklyn, the site of the vintage sugar factory, stirred spirited debate and rallied support to save at least a portion of the five-blocks of antique structures along the East River in Williamsburg. Construction and preservation are just beginning in New York, the results not yet realized. But, the contrast with Dallas' recent razing of an 1885 Romanesque Revival structure couldn't be more stark. In Dallas, a real estate developer was able to demolish a 129-year old terracotta façade treasure into history without allowing anyone with a clue of its value to Dallas' architectural heritage to enter the conversation. It took a single day to erase its lively history and make way for the retail expansion of The Joule Hotel.
History of the Brooklyn Factory
Built in 1856, the Domino Sugar Factory is a New York City architectural icon that dominates the East River waterfront of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was the first of many sugar refineries that contributed to the emergence of the Port of New York as the industrial center in the nineteenth century. By the turn of the century over half the sugar in the world was produced in Brooklyn.
By the end of the Civil War, the factory was the largest sugar refinery in the world. After a fire in 1882, it was completely rebuilt to include the two grand brick buildings and distinctive smokestack that still stand today. The immense “Domino Sugar” sign was added to the East River side of the building in the 1950s, transforming the 90,000-square-foot complex into a landmark of the city.
Decline of the Sugar Industry
Eventually the market pressures from artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and cheaper labor costs led to a decline in demand from the Brooklyn plant and on January 30th, 2004 all factory operations at the Williamsburg site ceased. At the same time much of the Brooklyn waterfront was rezoned for high rise residential development making the old refinery site an attractive property to real-estate developers.
The Community Opens a Dialogue With the Developer
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio led the standoff against the developer, insisting the developer increase the amount of affordable housing units at the site. In return, his administration would grant approval for taller towers at the site.The Save Domino! campaign intensified and The proposed design for the reuse of the sugar factory by developers, Two Trees, stirred conflict with preservationists over the fate of the site's existing structures and land use. With historic buildings along the Brooklyn waterfront rapidly disappearing, preservationists wanted to protect the industrial heritage of north Brooklyn and save the refinery structures from demolition. the $1.5 billion redevelopment of the sugar factory reached the breaking point mere days before a vote to seal its fate.
The developer increased the number of affordable housing units to be built in the development and made an effort to preserve salvageable relics from the refinery, including the Domino Sugar sign, in the new site and building designs. They also decided to build accessible waterfront parkland and a school as part of an agreement with the city.In addition to what the developers are voluntarily preserving, the Landmarks Preservation Commission granted Landmark Status to one of the Domino Sugar Buildings to protect it in perpetuity. Topping the more ornate upper portion of the building, the renovated structure will have an added four stories of glass clad offices. Once finished, the Filter, Pan and Finishing House will be used as office space marketed to creative tech industries.
Sweet Goodbye, Hello to Re-Use
In late spring of 2014, the building was given a two-week "goodbye" party. Kara Walker, an artist and faculty member at Columbia University, was commissioned to create her first large-scale public project within the walls of the sugar factory. Walker responded to the building's history and sited her massive, sugarcoated female sphinx, alongside the sprawling industrial relics inside Brooklyn’s legendary Domino factory. The sphinx’s “skin,” was coated in thirty tons of sugar and titled, A Subtlety, the Marvelous Sugar Baby, an homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the New World on the occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.
Dallas, A City in Contrast
According to the National Register of Historic Places, 1611 Main Street was one of downtown Dallas’ oldest buildings, but had no local historic designation and thus no protection from a wrecking ball. Now, this piece of Dallas history is history.
Historic preservationist and architect Marcel Quimby, a former member of Dallas’ Landmark Commission, refers to this latest demolition as a “desecration.” The building was “representative of what was in Dallas 130 years ago, and like everyone else I am stunned that it was done without any public discourse and with a lack of appreciation for Dallas’ heritage,” said Quimby. The recent demolition signals to us at Chambers Architects that Dallas is still behind the times in community dialogue and public policy that governs new development in the fabric of its historic urban landscape. Link to Dallas architecture critic article: "We regret to inform you that your city has been destroyed." by Mark Lamster
Inside the Domino Factory at Night
Video Homage to the Factory
Proposed Plan for the Domino Sugar Factory
In the gallery, below, photos of the five-block area in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that includes the historic Domino Sugar Factory and other surrounding snapshots of the mixed-use neighborhood. Photo credit: unless otherwise noted, Stephanie Chambers, Stephen B. Chambers Architects, Inc.
We’re among the travelers who’ve toured Europe’s ancient cities in the last decade and lamented the rapid gentrification of all the central city squares. Increasing property values attracted real estate developers, who acquired the most valuable properties in each city core. Wealthy fashion giants and corporations were lured to plazas and square, squeezing out quaint boutiques and artists’ studios. Our visit to Florence this year proved that even the small and lovely birthplace of the Renaissance was not immune to this structural shift in culture.
But a chance meeting on LinkedIn with Fiorenza Bartolozzi restored our faith in the tenacity of the arts to thrive in times of seismic economic change. Senora Bartolozzi invited us to visit her atelier, Bartolozzi and Maioli, in Florence. Her shop is tucked in a neighborhood just a few blocks from the Pitti Palace, on the southern edge of the Ponte Vecchio. This neighborhood is one of Florence's best-kept secrets: a warren of ateliers and workshops whose handcrafted arts make you feel as though the city never changed. As thousands trek through the Florence’s famous religious, artistic and commercial buildings, where we did our share of walking, there are smaller, but just as attractive treasures, to be found tucked in other neighborhoods of the city.
Florence’s historic New Town was brought to life in the 12th century when the old Roman settlement outgrew its borders. This southern outpost at the time, Oltr'arno, "the other side of the Arno," spilled into land that had once been home to vineyards, olive groves, and market gardens. Smaller merchants, choked out of their old quarters near the main thoroughfares north of the Duomo, found plenty of space in Oltr'arno. The district was soon populated by them and the people whose livelihood depended on their patronage: servants, laborers, shopkeepers, and most importantly, skilled artisans.
Bottega d'Arte Bartolozzi e Maioli is led today by Fiorenza, the daughter of Fiorenzo Bartolozzi. She maintains a continuation of the typical Renaissance workshop in Florence, where her atelier is one of the most famous woodworking studios. Its restoration of monuments like the Monastery at Montecassino badly damaged in WWI, The Quirinale in Rome and the Kremlin in Moscow allowed its two founders to amass a staggering collection of carved wooden elements from dismantled churches throughout Italy. The reference collection allowed them to understand and follow traditional Italian woodcraft and plaster arts, methods they employed in countless restorations. The remains are scattered throughout this showroom off the Via Maggio.
Walking through the rooms of collections is a bit like walking through Florence’s historical artistic periods. Carved madonnas share the space with Moors and elephants. Monkeys and swine hold up candlesticks and signs. A tangle of fanciful chandeliers hugs the ceiling. It’s hard to tell what is truly old and what is their faithful reproduction. Fiorenza has done numerous projects in the United States. We were proud to learn that she has a Texas connection as well. A number of years ago, she collaborated with well-known San Antonio architect, Roger Rasbach, on furniture for a modern home.
In the darker back rooms religious statues and reliquaries are stacked in between the workbenches that are still occupied by aging colleagues of the original masters, Bartolozzi and Maioli. Today a second generation oversees the business side of things, but the scary part is that there are few young apprentices eagerly learning the arts of carving, design, and restoration. We’re thrilled to have been invited to Florence by Fiorenza and hope that Bartolozzi e Maioli may continue to pass on the traditional handicrafts of Italy’s early tradition. We don’t want it to go the way of fantastic places that exist only in our memory, giving way to an Italy that has no time for making things by hand.
Photography credit: Stephanie Chambers, Chambers Architects; matching chairs above and in gallery below from the website of Bartolozzi e Maioli