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Fourth Generation Ceramic Artist Mario Iudici

June 19, 2013

When visiting Caltagirone, one can delight in visiting the many ceramic artists that are scattered all over the town. However, on one sunny June morning, my search was to visit not just any ceramic maker but an old time ceramic maker, Mr. Mario Iudici. I had asked friends I was visiting, Maria and Toto’, to help me locate an old time artisan and after some research we were told that the man to look for was Mr. Iudici.
We had a general idea of the area in which Mr. Iudici lived, close to the cemetery, and so on a Saturday morning, Toto’ and I hit the road. After a short trip through town, we reached the area of the cemetery and saw a building that just felt it may be the right place, and indeed, it was.
There was a building along the street and then a house behind a gate. Hanging on the outside wall of the building along the street was an old ceramic sign, half legible. Toto’ managed to decipher part of the name, Mario Iudici. We drove onto the property and reached the garage in back of the building, when suddenly a car drove up. Toto’ stated that the driver had to be the man we were looking for. Indeed, when the gentleman got out of the car, it was confirmed. As we had no appointment and just showed up, I got out of the car and quickly introduced myself, stating the purpose of my visit. After so many years abroad, I have come back to Sicily to explore the land, its traditions and the stories of its people. Today I was looking for a ceramic artist belonging to the old school, Mr. Iudici.
Mr. Iudici immediately welcomed both me and Toto’ and with no hesitation proceeded to invite us to follow him. He led us to the adjacent studio and when he opened the door, we found ourselves in front of a true treasure. Two very large connecting rooms were plastered with works of art each with its unique story to tell.

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As I visited the studio, Mr. Iudici told me that he had retired fifteen years earlier; today he is 85 years old. I was in awe just entering his studio. There in front of me lay scores of years of hard passionate labour; I could perceive the great sense of pride for all that beauty in front of us.
Mr. Iudici stated that his artwork was a reflection of the many traditions of Sicily. There were so many pieces of ceramic created over the years and he was the fourth generation in his family to carry out this trade with great passion and love, following the traditional method. He did not go into an in depth technical explanation, but did state he created the enamel for the ceramic all from scratch.
As we walked through his studio, he pointed out specific pieces. I did not want to take too much of his time, so we focused on just a few items.

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Mr. Iudici pointing out a bell he made and recalling how in the past the bells at Easter would toll at noon.
On more than one shelf, I stopped to admire the many fischietti (whistles) – he talked about the great tradition of fischietti and how their origins date back to ancient times. He handed me a research paper carried out at the University of Pisa on the history of fischietti and where a reference is made to the annual Fair held in Ostuni, Italy.
Then, of course, there were the nativity scene figurines made as fischietti. Below is the poster for his nativity scene fischietti which were on exhibit at the Museum of Ceramics in Caltagirone in 2012.

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Presepe Fischietti in Iudici’s studio

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Another item Mr. Iudici pointed out was the fangotti, the traditional large ceramic round dishes which were used to dry the tomato extract in the sun.

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DSC01468Ceramic oil lamp

Mr. Iudici has had a passion to preserve Sicilian traditions and not only those relating to the work of ceramics and figurines. On his walls you can see many posters relating to the art of Pupi Siciliani; when a very famous artist of Pupi Siciliani, NINO INSANGUINE, passed away, Mr. Iudici purchased what he could find of the work of the artist to and not let them get sold by the “rigattieri”(used goods sellers). Such a rich heritage in the tradition of Pupi Siciliani and the stories they told. Here are some examples of the pieces seen in Mr. Iudici’s studio.

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After our visit to the studio, Mr. Iudici invited me into his home where he showed me more artifacts and shared some literature on topics he wanted to share: the research project carried out at the University of Pisa on the history of fischietti (whistles), various articles written on his work.  Also the article that states the many museums in Italy and other countries in Europe where his artwork can be found and an ad for an art exhibit in Como where Iudici’s artwork was displayed. It was at this point that Iudici proudly pointed out that one of the artists presenting work at that exhibit was P.Picasso.

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His message to me was clear and loud and has been voiced by Mr. Iudici for quite some time. He is disappointed at the lack of interest shown by the institutions that govern the preservation of heritage and works of art. He would like to see his studio and all the treasures it contains be brought to good use. It should become a showcase for the art and traditions it represents and not go lost. His wish is that all that he has created and collected over the years would be available to the public to see and to learn. His wish is that young people would have the opportunity to visit and learn from his work and that this should all be done not as a business to make money, but that the minimal cost charged to the visitor would be only to defray the costs of those who would run the project.

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Kiln and wooden oven which need to be refurbished

Finally, I will let some pictures taken at Mr. Iudici’s do the talking.

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In conclusion, Toto’ asked Mr. Iudici the following question: “If I would like to purchase one of your presepi (nativity scenes) how much would it cost?” Mr. Iudici’s reply: “They are not for sale; they are for everybody.”

2 Comments
  1. pamela permalink

    love, love, love this post! His studio should become a little Museum!

  2. That is his dream!

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