Homage to the city of Catanzaro

Homage to the city of Kroton

Homage to the city of Caulonia (Reggio Calabria)

Homage to the city of Pizzo (Vibo Valentia)

Homage to the city of Paola (Cosenza)

I carry in my heart everything I observed and know in these many years about our territory. Every inch, corner, colour of Calabria are part of me. I cannot establish a rating system, but…

… I would start with Polsi. There, in the heart of the Aspromonte, one of the most important treasures of the Calabrian religious tradition is kept. Corrado Alvaro has dedicated beautiful pages to the centuries-old bond shared by thousands of faithful to the Madonna of the Mountain. Not even remotely possible it is a comparison with the ability of the great writer coming from San Luca, to describe this reality, but I saw with my own eyes, heard with my own ears, what happens during the party dedicated to the Lady of Polsi.

I witnessed the magic that envelops the sanctuary in those days, the flood of devotees who reach this piece of paradise, capable of enhancing the best qualities of man and helping him to erase grudges, conflicts, resentments. In honor of the Virgin I created the cross which, according to tradition, was found by Count Ruggiero during a hunting trip, and two gold high-reliefs, depicting the symbols of Polsi (on one side, the aforementioned cross; on the other one, the Madonna) adorned with eight small silver crosses.

I have added some gold rays, enriched with small precious gemstones that launch an intense beam of light, to the case that keeps the symbols. When I presented these works, I saw something I would never have imagined: an army of crying people looked at me like I was the man of Providence.

The Rai journalist Annarosa Macrì described that day successfully: “They crowd around him, they want to touch him, they try to talk to him. Thank you, thank you for doing such a beautiful thing for us! Master, a picture, please, a picture with the baby in your arms, please, otherwise my relatives in Canada will not believe that I, I!, have met Gerardo Sacco! “.

An unforgettable experience, through which it was possible to grasp the full sense of the spirituality that pervades this place. Polsi seems designed to understand the value of life. How wonderful it is to love yourself and how the time available to enjoy this awareness, for themselves and others, is very short.

An artist wrote Macrì who shook the hands of heads of state and movie stars, who received the compliments of tycoons and stylists, and also plaques and medals and diplomas and awards, well, posing in front of an unknown camera, with a child in her arms with bewildered eyes, the Master is touched”.

Everyone, at least once in a lifetime, no matter if they are believers or not, should visit Polsi. It would be nice if one day the great of the earth would do it too, to reflect on the value of peace and the destiny of the planet, drinking from the source of simplicity that flows copiously in the sanctuary dedicated to the Lady of the Mountain.

Macrì confirms: “… In Polsi there is truly another world. You arrive there in any season and you forget what season it is, and the day is suspended, and the night becomes day. It is a great effort to get there, from wherever you set out, but much greater is the effort of leaving it, that mystical and magical place, unique “. How had you prepared for that moment?
I never got over the pain of my wife’s death. I was lovingly welcomed by Don Pino Strangio, parish priest of San Luca and prior of the Sanctuary, and by the Bishop of Locri-Gerace Mons. Giancarlo Bregantini. I also benefited from the fraternal embrace of Totò Delfino and Pasquino Crupi, the intellectual, writer and southernist from Bova Marina, whom I did not know personally and I keep a memory full of esteem and gratitude of him Unfortunately, they are both missing. I really miss their affection and the wisdom which they looked at life. We spent unforgettable evenings together. Their willingness to penetrate into my suffering, the pressing solicitations to find the necessary strength to react to my difficulties, their sympathy, were providential to recover the serenity I needed. There was no light, no radio, no television. But it was not a privation, the silence was so restoring in that sacred place. I meditated a lot. On human miseries, first of all. And, therefore, also on my person.

I created important jewels, I am known all over the world, but that patch of land, in the heart of the Aspromonte, has managed to give me unique emotions. As well as the works created for Polsi, which I felt would have delivered me to an infinitely more true and uplifting story than the one told in the information and entertainment shrines.

He spoke about the sympathy of Delfino and Crupi.

I would give I don’t know what to go back to relive those moments. They told funny stories, but also real events. One day a Milan teacher joined us, who had attended a Mariology conference organized in Polsi. She was sharply critical of the Calabrian school and teachers, who in her opinion were too permissive and tolerant. Delfino did not agree with those evaluations, considered by him inadequate and superficial in a reality with enormous economic, social and cultural problems. He told the story of an employee who was a few years away from retirement and who would have secured a more dignified pension if he had earned his eighth grade. The chairman of the commission was indifferent to the man. A plan had to be devised to prevent her from questioning the candidate. The teachers asked the school janitor to enter the classroom at a specific time with the excuse that it was desired on the phone. But things turned out differently than planned. The “accomplice” took a long time to play the part assigned to him and the inflexible teacher touched that poor fellow. Knowing that he was from San Luca, he asked him the year of Corrado Alvaro’s death. At that point the classroom was transformed into a small theater. It was like watching a play by Eduardo De Filippo. “Homie Alvaro died?”, The candidate asked desperately with his hands in his hair, “and when? My family doesn’t know anything! “. When it seemed that the situation was getting worse, the janitor knocked on the door. The exam was concluded at supersonic speed and when the president came back to the class she was told that, after the initial moment of uncertainty, the candidate answered to all questions. Seeking the teacher’s gaze, Delfino said firmly: “Simply saying that you have to be rigorous is easy, but reality often presents delicate situations that require analysis tools that are very different from prejudice and excessive simplification of problems”.

What did the Milan scholar answer?

She remained quiet. Thoughtful. Troubled by those words. A sign that they had hit the mark.

Did you come back to Polsi sometime?

A lot! And I always felt a new emotion. Polsi is never the same and nothing, in that sacred place, is repeated in a predictable way.

What’s the next step?

The Riace Bronzes. I remember when they were found by sub Stefano Mariottini during the summer 1972. They are two masterpieces of Greek art that I have always considered ambassadors of a beautiful message. Useful and always current: the titanic force of civilization to cross the centuries and to influence the fate of the world. Therefore they are symbols of ancient values, but also of man’s ability to express the best of himself. The design of the statues is amazing. I don’t know if it’s possible to talk about a perfect work, but I can’t imagine a more elegant harmonic development.

Would you send them around the world?

I have no doubt! It would be a choice capable, among other things, of promoting our territory. The historical wealth, the noble, true, authentic identity of Calabria. The South. More generally the country. There should be no contraindications, however: I am referring to the structural strength of the statues. This is a fundamental, unavoidable aspect. In my opinion, however, the goal must be another. Perhaps ambitious, but possible: to make the entire historical and cultural offer of our region attractive by involving the whole territory. And in Calabria there is plenty of choice!

You make your own part.

But that’s not the same thing. It is an important recovery, but linked to my artistic vocation. For example, you can take into consideration the dragon of Caulonia. I could not ignore that magnificent floor mosaic, which I observed dozens of times, from every angle, always capturing different stylistic lines. The same goes for the pinakes, which historians place between 490 and 460 BC.

They were terracotta tablets offered as ex voto in the temple of Persephone, located on the Mannella hill. I have recovered my memory with a series of jewels enriched by a frame formed by the material which the pinakes were made. I did the same with some jewels inspired by a coin minted in Locri, always in the same period, which depicts, on one side, a mule chariot, led by a charioteer crowned after a victory, and on the other one, a hare running towards right.

Now, to conclude your question, I understand – and it makes me happy – that my work is appreciated, but the speech must be different. Global.

In your exciting journey through the past, the works set in Seminara, Stilo and Palmi also stand out.

The masks, supposed to be able of warding off the evil eye, or the bum-bule, used for collecting water and still present on the roofs of houses, not only in Seminara, like the first considered capable of driving away negative influences, are some symbols of the local culture that I considered important to enhance. Very particular is also the terracotta hedgehog of Seminara, with silver eyes, mouth and quills, by which it has been possible to start a fruitful collaboration with the local potters.

The colours have an impact in the physiognomy of these works.

The polychromy certainly makes them even more suggestive. The different and intense shades: yellow, brown, blue, green, accentuate its typicality, its authentically popular characteristics.

His reproductions also stand out by innovative technical solutions.

The research of new materials is a constant commitment. A focal point of my work. In this case, for example, the use of Plexiglas allows me to create strong transparencies and to further improve the aesthetic level of the ceramics.

There is the Cattolica di Stilo then.

It was precisely this symbol of Byzantine art, and the particular interweaving of bricks that characterize the building, that suggested me to create a large centerpiece. An object made up of five containers whose lids depict the tiles from which the roof of the Cattolica is covered. But this church and, above all, the cross carved on a column inside, were the starting point for creating other jewels, particularly appreciated abroad.

An important chapter of your constant interaction with Calabrian history is dedicated to Palmi.

A wonderful city. I discovered original elements of peasant life there. Tools whose memory has been lost, such as the conch, used above all by the women of the shepherds to spin the wool. Objects with the most varied designs: flowers, animals, rhombuses, spirals, depicting scenes of agricultural and rural life, from which I took inspiration to create earrings, necklaces, bracelets, dessert pins, which I consider strongly expressive of the identity of this territory.

You couldn’t ignore the Vaira.

The thousands of people around the imposing chariot, where on the top is placed the Animella, the girl representing the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, are the protagonists of an unparalleled spectacle. The Varia expresses what a Palmese feels, she wants to show her proud belonging to the city. A mixture of strength, feelings, passion, which literally kidnapped me, inspiring a line of jewelry characterized by a Botticellian face.

Then the Christ in the olive tree arrived and his link with the city, if we can say so, became eternal.

It is impossible to ignore the Ulivarella, the plant grown on a rock in the middle of the sea that further enhances the characteristics of the beach of Palmi. I matured the idea of Christ in the Olive Tree in the Nervi room in the Vatican, while together with hundreds of people I waited to meet John Paul II.

My gaze, at a certain point, focused on the Resurrection of Pericle Fazzini, the sculptural complex placed in the center of the stage of the Paul VI Hall, which is the backdrop to the papal audiences: perhaps the most viewed 20th century work world, according to the director of the Vatican museums Antonio Paolucci. Everything happened in an instant. Like a flash, I imagined the Ulivarella and, among its branches, the face of Jesus.

Even the students of the Institute of Art of Palmi had measured themselves with the theme of the cross, which I had asked them to develop as president of an art competition on the occasion of the Jubilee of 2000. Their works expressed taste, elegance. They embodied deep feelings, but they couldn’t be what I wanted, or expected: a different way of looking at the territory. They were convinced about this when the discussion reached the crucial point: the comparison between their proposals and my ideas. These ones did not have to be better by default: the stakes were obviously different. I pointed out to the boys that, if their artistic approach was certainly appreciable, it was detached from the specificity of Palmese. They agreed that they could develop the competition theme in a more lively, expressive way, linked precisely to local peculiarities. They humbly welcomed – and I liked this very much – the words with which I concluded that wonderful experience: “Your proposals are a reflection of what you have learned from books. It has been a commendable effort, but I advise you never to overlook your reality. What belongs to you. To observe the world you live in in a non-obvious way. This different approach is the right way to look at what is only apparently worthless, while remembering who we are and, therefore, our roots ”.

The distance between the Costa Viola and Reggio Calabria is short. Villa Genoese Zerbi from 26 October to 23 November 2008, hosted the exhibition Gerardo Sacco. Fragments of light, with Maria Grazia Cucinotta as godmother.

School groups from Calabria and Sicily, and a huge number of visitors, reached the city of the Strait in those days. An educational room was also set up where meetings dedicated to art, culture and the history of our region were held, told through my works. The jewel I dedicated to Villa Genoese Zerbi was also exhibited, with the characteristic shapes and styles of this splendid noble residence.

Now we stop in Catanzaro, Vibo, Cosenza and, of course, Crotone.

Also here history is at home. In 1528, Emperor Charles V stayed in the Calabrian capital, whose domains were so extensive that it could be said that the sun never set there! A coin, minted for the particular occasion, suggested to me the creation of some jewels; I did the same for Terina, today’s Lamezia Terme, to which I dedicated particular objects both in terms of style and for the corals that soften their characteristics. Organisms, these last ones, with multiple colors, which the sea enhances, as only a good craftsman can do with wood or iron.

A subject, corals, which he further enhanced through the works exhibited and awarded at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, at Naples Biennale and in the castle of San Giusto in Trieste. And, then, as the only goldsmith, at Lisbon Expo, where he demonstrated his ability to masterfully interpret the theme proposed by the organizers: the ocean! But let’s go back to the grand tour. The Vibonese is another territory that has been able to exploit as no one has ever managed to do before. I think of the pendant depicting the Gorgon mask. An artifact dating back to the first half of the fifth century BC, found in the sacred area of the Cava di Cordopatri, which decorated the roof of a building.

After observing a multiple-beaked oil lamp, dating from the 5th-6th century BC, I also made a gold necklace with authentic engraved sapphires. I am also thinking of the Hipponium coin, one of the symbols of this province, represented by an eagle with a snake in its mouth; Christ from Pizzo, jewelry inspired by pinakes, necklaces and key rings, for which I took inspiration from Magna Graecia coins, both from the third century BC, also found in this part of Calabria. One depicting the head of Hera on one side and Zeus on the other one; the second, with Athena sculpted on the main facade and an eagle on the back. But, I could not forget the culinary specialties, the flavors of the territory. Like onion.

Not just because it is rich in nutritional and therapeutic properties, it helps digestion, purifies the body and facilitates blood circulation. They are, actually, peculiarities well known since ancient times. In the Naturalis Historia , in fact, Pliny the Elder indicates the red onion (which is grown in Tropea and in the neighboring areas, between Briatico and Capo Vaticano, but also in Campora San Giovanni and along the Tyrrhenian coast of Cosenza) , as a remedy to cure some physical ailments. My attention, however, went beyond the goodness and organoleptic qualities of this plant. It is the universality of its appreciation, the identification that, especially in recent decades gradually took place between the onion and the Vibonese, have highlighted the importance, also and above all cultural, of this vegetable. Its ability to enhance the territory. An expressive force from which some thematic jewels derived, which pay homage to the flavors and cuisine of the area.

So the line dedicated to Soriano’s mostaccioli was born, which has become an international success?

I couldn’t ignore this important tradition either. Its historical and cultural substratum, which has its roots in antiquity. In Theocritus works, probably the greatest poet of the Hellenistic age, who lived between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, they are called mustacea. Soriano’s mostacciolari are famous all over the world and for generations they have been baking sweets in the shape of a horse, fish, rooster: symbols of the relationship between man and nature; and others, dedicated to St. Dominic, protector of the town, which reflect the deep bond between the Soriano community and the local religious identity.
They were once used as tokens of love. After a phase of unofficial courtship, the young man, as a promise of marriage, brought as a gift to the future bride and her family a silk handkerchief with four mostaccioli depicting a heart, a “papà” (i.e. a doll), a fish and a “S”; symbols with a winking and transparent meaning. Too much wealth of meanings to go unnoticed!

The appreciation for the works dedicated to these sweets is amazing. This is confirmed by the decision of the mayor Francesco Bartone to host them in the town museum, which houses artifacts from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.

Could I ask for more? But this line of jewelry more generally contributes to rediscover Soriano, which played a very important role in the past centuries. A center that today, thanks to enlightened choices, tries to give a different meaning to the memory of the calamities it has been hit over the centuries. The “house of the earthquake”, for example, represents a significant quantum leap in the interpretation of the relationship between society and natural risks. The reversal of the approach that led to the guilty underestimation of testimonies (such as the facade of the ancient Dominican convent) which, on the other hand, maintain a concrete adherence to the seismic reality of the region.

Now Cosenza. And Crotone, your town.

For the province where the Athens of Calabria dominates (as Cosenza was defined, due to its important cultural tradition), I have no hesitation in indicating St. Francis of Paola as first. I always admired the humble friar who loved the poor and derelict and was not afraid of the powerful. Thinking about this wonderful character, I created enameled icons and the St. Francis cross: works through which I not only intended to pay homage to his extraordinary human and spiritual experience, but to express the conviction that charity, attention to the least, represent always examples of extraordinary value and meaning. Deep feelings also inspired the works dedicated to the Codex Purpureus Rossanensise al Liber Figurarum (already mentioned). In front of the magnificence of these testimonies, I felt indescribable awe. A huge awe. I closed my eyes, imagining gliding over the particular atmosphere in which these works took shape, trying to absorb as much energy, strength, and inspiring motivations as possible. In the list of symbols of Cosenza, I also add the church of San Adriano, in San Demetrio Corone, to whose artistic peculiarities (housing the splendid floor, the mosaics, the masks) I dedicated various pendants and jewels. Also important are the lemons of Rocca Imperiale, whose organoleptic characteristics compete with the renowned fruits of Sorrento, and the chili pepper, to which I dedicated two very lucky lines of jewels.

Enzo Monaco has even created an Academy to make this plant known.

And he got it! Its “stronghold”, Diamante, pearl of Calabrian tourism, is the seat of an important cultural project. Among other things, Enzo wrote a beautiful book and organizes crowded summer events where the creations I make using dried chillies are donated to the guests.

Your world now! The place that made you realize how the apparent silence of the past is representing an inexhaustible source of inspiration indeed.

Crotone, as I have already said, offers the extraordinary opportunity to scrutinize the roots of the Magna Graecia civilization. An awareness that I tried to honor in the best possible way. The coin of the ancient Kroton, with the tripod in the shape of a lion’s paw, which recalls the myth linked to the founding of the city; the stork, with the Greek inscription KRO; the palm trees and lotus flowers, found near the temple of Hera, on the Lacinium promontory, and several engravings inspired by the beautiful flooring of the thermal building found in the Capo Colonna area, are some of the various creations through which I wanted to pay homage to the ancient history of my city.

Therefore the jewels, as a means to arrive at a more realistic awareness of one’s roots.

Wearing them does not only mean showing their features, beauty, peculiarities, but being part of an effort aimed at recovering one’s historical and cultural heritage. This is the real meaning and – I think – the most important of my job.

Freely based on the book “I’m Nobody! My long journey between art and life. Gerardo Sacco, conversation with Francesco Kostner”