- Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing;
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When I think of places I have travelled to, certain faces always stand out in my memory. Not only do I remember the faces, but also I remember their stories and what attracted me to them in the first place. Mixed between my other blog entries, I would like to share these stories. There is no order to these stories just like their is no order in life. On my journey on this Ocean of life, I am happy just to have made their acquaintance.
The first in this series is that of Traditional Sicilian painter Franco Bertolino taken in his studio in Palermo (Sicily) Italy.
When one visits Sicily, one often finds lavishly decorated two-wheeled wooden carts in museums and tourist shops. The carts, first brought to the island by the Ancient Greeks, are covered in brightly painted episodes from Sicilian folklore or history but can also feature intricate geometrical designs. The most popular colors used in painting the carts are yellow and red, those of Palermo’s flag, while bright greens and blues are often used to highlight details. At a time when most of the island’s residents were illiterate, the carts were able to illustrate not only historical events but also provide information on the owners and their trade.
Franco is the fifth generation of Sicilian Cart painters and perhaps the last great master to carry on this great tradition of story telling. In his workshop, Franco decorates by hand carts, wheels, motor scooters dolls and puppets in his own ornate style. Over his career, he has painted more than 500 of these carts, many of which have also been officially used in state and government ceremonies.
It was Franco who found me while I was photographing one of the abandoned cart’ wheels in one of the alleys near his workshop. He was curious to come and see what I found interesting and quietly unlocked many doors of garages containing his works of art. Language was not a barrier to his passion as he took the time to tell about his family and their long history in this craft. One could detect a hint of sadness as he spoke about no one in the future being able to carry on this tradition and I too felt that sadness to see another one of the living treasures in Sicily may be unable to pass on his trade to the next generation. I had read about Antonio Vultaggio, the last person to make fishnets by hand in Sicily, and perhaps all Italy, who died at the age of 78 in 2007 without anyone to follow in his steps. As Franco gave me a DVD of a puppet show which had used many of his family’s creations, he talked about workshops for children that he might do one day and I really hope that will attract many more future artists to this colorful world.