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A Centenarian Sicilian Cart Painter – “Minicu u pitturi”

November 4, 2013

On a sunny Summer day, accompanied by Marisa, I visited the oldest living Sicilian Cart painter in Sicily, Domenico di Mauro, known as “Minicu u pitturi” ( which in the Sicilian dialect means Domenico the painter).  I had contacted Marisa asking if she would introduce me to this artist as she had organized his 100th birthday celebration in his hometown of Aci Sant’Antonio just two months earlier.

  As Marisa and I arrived at Minicu’s home, we were greeted by his son, Nello.  Walking across the garden, as we arrived in the courtyard, there we found Minicu at work.

this is how i found di mauro when i arrived

Minicu u pitturi has been painting Sicilian carts for as long as he can remember. The process of making a Sicilian Cart, a traditional vehicle dating back centuries,  involves several different artisans each specializing in differents parts of the construction, and the painter is the final one. 

The Sicilian cart is mostly made of aged wood, often walnut, and  wrought iron on the bottom.  The painter who paints the various parts of the cart in rich colors usually paints scenes taken from the traditional popular stories of the land.

The structure of the  cart  has a flat-bed with sides, a door in back, the front extensions where the horses are hitched, and very large wheels which allow the cart stability.  The large wheels were fundamental when these vehicles were the main means of transportation traveling on steep unpaved country roads, quite abundant in Sicily.  Over time, Sicilian carts have become an icon of the traditional Sicilian culture and the artisans creating them fewer.

Side view of a Sicilian cart DSC01743      

Minicu started his career as a cart painter at a very young age.  He is so proud of his accomplishments  and very happy to share his passion and his stories.  As we started talking, he commented on how many visitors have come, over the years, to visit him  and that they have come from all parts of the world. Consequently, he stated, examples of his work can be found in the Vatican, Paris, Moscow, Australia, Canada and Japan. 

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As I asked Minicu to tell me about his early career, he talked about his initial experiences in the field when he was an apprentice with a “maestro”.  In retelling some of the lessons he learned from his maestro, he shared that his maestro would always tell him that it was passion that had to come first and, in his own words,  that if the artist had no passion for what they were doing they might as well stay  home. Furthermore, his maestro would warn him that through this work of passion the money earned could not be the priority.   So, Minicu’s message was that it is only passion that creates a true work of art.

With regards to what brought Minicu into this trade, he stated that he loved painting but had always enjoyed the theatre and opera and wanted to retell these stories through his painting.  These paintings depict scenes from the stories  belonging  to the Sicilian tradition, from literary works,  to the actions of the French paladins of the court of Charlemagne, so much a part of the traditional storytelling in Sicily,  to stories taken from the Bible.

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Minicu’s  son, Nello, holding a door of a Sicilian cart

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One literary work depicted by many Sicilian artists is Cavalleria Rusticana, a play written by Giovanni Verga, Sicilian playwright and that was also adapted into a melodrama by Pietro Mascagni.  The setting of Cavalleria Rusticana is the town of Vizzini, Sicilian country life in the nineteenth century, in a town located inland, on the southeastern part of the island.  Cavalleria Rusticana touches on many  themes such as love, betrayal, jealousy, and honor and the rules that are to be followed set by the culture.   

The painting below depicts the  toast that sets the date for a duel between the two male main characters, Turiddu and Alfio

Brindisi e' appuntamento per sfida dove muore Turiddu

It was truly a pleasure to see a centenarian still actively pursuing what he loves best and happy to share his passion and stories with those who visit his studio.  Of course, throughout our visit, his faithful friend stood guard and did not miss a beat!

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