Carrara : Where the mountain tops look snow covered: and the rivers run white…. It’s marble.
I had been to Italy before but this time I was there to buy some stone. That meant finding my way to Carrara from Florence. The beauty of the European rail system is you can go to any place from anywhere conveniently. My route took me to the west and I got a good look at the leaning tower of Pisa as we hooked a right and headed north.
When the train reached Carrara I found that I was on one of the cars furthest from the station. By the time I walked to the cab stand all of the cabs were gone so I asked which way to the town and began to walk…and walk… and walk.
Eventually a bus came by and stopped but you had to have the correct change in lira to get on and I didn’t have it so. I continued to walk. Eventually I reached one of the squares in town and saw a cab. I went over to the driver and asked if he could take me to the Nicoli Atelier . He said I didn’t need a cab since it was just around the corner.
I rang the bell and was greeted by Nicoli’s wife. She brought me into the carving studio where several sculptors were carving work designed by various artist.. It is an entirely different system over there, The one who designs the piece is the artist. The one who carves his piece is the sculptor and few artists carved their own work. Nicoli came over to introduce himself and we went into the yard where I found stone from all over Europe as well as from the local quarries.
I picked out several blocks that I wanted shipped to the states. Nicoli was surprised that I had not picked out more from Carrara and I told him I was looking for the stone that Michelangelo used to carve the Pieta in Florence.
It had such a warm bone color and I had not seen any of that stone in the yard. He started to laugh and told me it is the same pure white that I had bought but He had stained the finished piece with tobacco juice to get that color.
When I got back to my own studio I carved a small piece out of Vermont marble and then stained it with some pipe tobacco juice that had been soaking for a few weeks. I brushed the pure white sculpture over a few times . Let dry. Waxed it and there was my warm bone colored marble . I had received a lesson from the master..
By the way, nobody is ever allowed behind the rope at the exhibit but I had a deal with the guards. When I told them I was a sculptor they let me go all over this piece to see how he worked..
I would show up early in the morning and leave as soon as the first tourist walked through the door. If you have ever been curious about what the back of the Pieta looks like… here you go. If Michelangelo had diamond cutters he would have used them but he did it the old fashion way, One mighty blow of the hammer at a time.