Italian handcrafts: Ceramics in Calvello
- WTI Magazine #120 Oct 19, 2019
Calvello, in the heart of Basilicata, is a mountain town immersed in the quiet of the past, where the art of ceramics is still being cultivated. The Benedictine monks of Faenza introduced the art of working with clay as far back as 1200. Since that time, entire generations of families have learned the craft and handed down its precious secrets.
The skilled artisans, called “Faenzari”, worked out of the town’s workshops using rudimentary foot-operated lathes, manipulating the clay extracted in the local region to create objects, which they would then decorate and fire in wooden kilns.
At the time, the workshops were mainly family run, and each family member had a specific role: one person would prepare the colours, one person would draw, one person would turn the works and one person kneaded the clay. Work went on from the first light of dawn until the evening to meet local needs and the demand from surrounding towns.
The summer was dedicated to the production of tiles and bricks, while in autumn and winter the potters worked inside and mainly focussed on work requiring the lathe and painted the objects.
The firing took place in the kilns and was diversified depending on the products.
The items made in Calvello were recognisable because of their unmistakable decoration, which was inspired by the peculiarities of the ceramic body and by local products: an imaginary bird with the body of a sparrow and the tail of a peacock, surrounded by garlands of flowers and decorations dominated by forest greens and wheat field yellow, reminiscent of the colours of springs and Lucanian summers.
This ancient and mysterious art still survives. A perfect combination of history, culture and the local area, it conjures ideas of the past and memories of generations and lifestyles very different to those of today but still capable of arousing strong emotions and nostalgic feelings.
Throughout the years, various masters of the art have continued the tradition with the original characteristics of Calvello’s historic ceramics, the unmistakable elements of which are the artisanal manufacturing of the object, the tones of the glaze and the sophistication of the design.
For this reason, the products contain imperfect forms and variations in colour shades, which, far from being considered defects, actually attest to their authenticity and constitute the particularity of the products alongside the multiple traditional ceramic productions of the area, which still produce new creations equally as refined, original and unique as the result of careful research.
The Local Area
The Calvello region, which falls within the National Park of the Lucanian Apennines, Val D’Agri and Lagonegrese, is one of the most impressive and unspoiled places in the whole of Basilicata.
The small mountain town, crowned by a Lombard fortress, is surrounded by dense beech forests that descend from Monte Volturino, an ancient extinct volcano whose peak dominates the unique panorama with breathtaking depth and breadth, encompassing the valleys of Basento and Agri and almost reaching the Ionian Sea.
In spring and summer the nature makes it an ideal place for excursions on foot or on horseback, offering the possibility to observe fascinating flora and fauna and discover nooks with stunning landscapes, the very image of the old rural culture. Mushrooms, truffles, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries abound in the Calvello undergrowth, which is still intact.
The town is full of typical monuments, corners and alleyways, as well as stone piazzas and squares, from which the numerous churches jut out, attesting to the deep-rooted religious culture and preserve works of art of great value, such as the wooden statue of the Madonna, which dates back to the seventeenth century and is kept in the historic Church of Santa Maria de Plano.
Calvello lives at the slow and tranquil pace of the old peasant culture, and the ancient religious traditions have remained intact here over the centuries.
By Camera di Commercio di Potenza with Unioncamere