Yesterday I had an interesting chat about stories to a fascinating young woman who is collecting the stories of artisans and collectors from around the world. We spoke of storytelling and how important stories are to artisans. I have been thinking about this idea and the importance of knowing the stories behind the work of an artisan and in what they create, as in everything that they do create, pieces of their own story remain.
I recalled a story from the time I visited Saint Peter's Basilica in the Vatican while staying in the old Centro Storico and the Pantheon district in Rome. Two of our children were with us and we stayed for a week wandering around the old quarters. We loved the experience and our children were especially spoilt. Lots of cheek pinching and extra ice creams and fruit given out to them as we stopped to poke around the tiny shops in the quaint lanes. We found so many artisans working away in tiny workshops as artisans have done in this sector for hundreds of years.
When we finally reached the Vatican, my hope was we would see the Sistine Chapel, but it was closed for a special audience (another story to tell) and so we went along into the Basilica (there must be at least a dozen stories about this visit I could tell you) After being completely awestruck I found we could climb up to the levels inside and outside the Cupola and as we had two active children who could be bored with history, this seemed like the best idea. There is a lift up to the first level and after taking it we stepped into a magical place. We looked down to a view of the Basilica below, into the sheer vastness of it all and we each felt the same. We were looking into a massive space built by people and it was so vast that to us, those on the floor walking around below liked like ants, just small specks.
To me I could not help but consider the artisans who worked on this and wonder about thestories they could tell. As I turned to face the wall covered in a mass of tiny hand cut tiles which make up the stunning mosaics inside the Cupola, I could not help it, the tears just flowed. My husband and our children couldn't understand why I could cry! it made no sense to them. I was so overwhelmed by standing next to Michael Angelo's work. We could touch it. (I might add we should not be able to touch it and I am not sure if this has since changed, maybe it should have)
The single thing that struck me, was the realisation that this was the work of his team of artisans under his instruction. It has helped me to better understand and appreciate the work of Fine Artists and Artisans. High quality craftsman did most of this work (and that is the reality of those times it is very hard to find information about any woman who may have worked on site as an artisan) Artists as we now consider them to be, were managing large teams of artisans to carry out their work. In order to be considered an artists it was necessary to spend often at least ten years as an apprentice to a master. The artists during these Ages worked to strict rules and Michael Angelo himself discovered rules could not be broken because an artist was not free to do what they might be inspired to do. Leonardo da Vinci did so much of his extraordinary art, that which pushed the boundaries and also extended himself in his private drawings, sketchbooks and notebooks.
Looking carefully at these mosaics it as clear that not only did mosaic artisans work on this but every mosaic pice is hand cut from particularly stone or marble from selcted quarries and the grouting and mix that thee sit on required many more artisans and craftsmen I had not thought about until this moment standing in the Cupola. So many stories to be told and each one contained in what I saw around me.
My story about this day taught me so much about how relevant artisans have been and still are how they can work on something that will last for hundreds of years and how ever piece they add has a story behind it. I only wish they had recorded their stories, how fascinating would they be today. It made me think that telling my own story about my work is important, even if nobody ever reads it! I actually no longer care about that, to me recording my stories enrich my work and allow me to look back in years to come (as I already often do through the many journals I have filled) and use the thoughts I have today to inspire new work in my future. I love that about wring stories and about drawing and sketching. It does no have to be good, just has to work for me. If others happen to be interested then how wonderful, and it was the reason why I was so happy to have someone I had never met wanting to and asking to hear my stories.
So, I am being heard in a way I never anticipated and I am also listening to ideas I never expected to be hearing from others. How to keep the past alive and keep building on that, as a way of surviving the future, it is an idea very close to my heart. I am sure that was one of the reasons for Guilds in the early ages. Stories become legends and myths but also stories create processes and strategies and stories help solve problems both now an into the future. One thing I know is that mass production and consumption of almost everything is not the way for the future, we should have listened to the wisdom of the past. The wisdom that helped create the mosaics in St Perter's Basilica or many other incredible works we still find amazing today are stories that are still relevant. I am feeling happy today that there are a few people this world who are doing something very positive about this. I am really looking forward to reading the stories that Megan, who is a Brand Mythologist has recorded by collecting our stories from all around the world. It is just fantastic this is happening.
And the point about the image I included in this post? It is a fence that was hand cut and handmade about 150 years ago and we have kept it and taken care of it has links back to the original owners of our property, and are so aware that it contains the stories played out over and since that time. Stories can be told of many ordinary things, we say sometimes if only this wall could talk, if we listen carefully it does.