Artisans' Shops In The 20th Century


Beside important works for rich clients, stone-cutters made objects used by peasants in every-day life, like mangers and drinking troughs for the animals, well-brims, mortars and other kitchen tools. During the 20th century stone-cutting was mainly a family-run business. Quarry excavation took place in winter only, when workers from the fields were available. In 1930 some stone artifacts were presented at the 4th International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Art at Villa Reale in Monza, when the Thiene Giulio from Longare, Grassi Brothers from Nanto and Vittorio Guelfi from Vicenza ateliers took part. It is a proof that local ateliers were already able to provide national market with consistent and state-of-the-art products, made of a poor material that has increased its value through centuries of dedicated and skilled work. Excavation and working techniques were nevertheless rudimental, basically the same since ever. Excavation began by making a square hole of about 4 mtrs in an area on the side of a hill where stone was visible; then the digging went deeper as blocks of stone were cut off the hillside by shaping them out carefully with a picchetto, a small heavy pickaxe. It was hard labour: the cutters had to do it standing, bent on their kneels or lying on their side, often on scaffoldings that stood high on the side of the hill. It was not unusual for ill-balanced blocks to suddenly fall upon workers. If that happened, it meant that the stone there was too crumbly to become building material, and the quarry was abandoned. But if the quarry was a good one, a couple of cutters could cut up to five blocks of about 2.5x1.0x0.8 mtrs every month. To cut bigger blocks meant extraordinary hard job and danger, and was not ordinarily done. Blocks were carried from the quarry to ateliers on four-wheeled charts drawn by numerous oxen, sometimes even sixteen. Actually, quarries are nowadays like open history books: the slashes, dents and holes on the hills' stony sides are the evidence of hard century-long labour carried out by people who lived in close dependance on the natural features of the places they lived in. As soon as the block arrived in the atelier it was cut into smaller pieces with a saw; this job was done by two people, and could take days. It was then shaped and polished with sand and many other tools. Stone-cutting was a hard job, but not much harder then working in the fields as a peasant, and the satisfaction and pride of making things that will last for centuries was a fine compensation for it. It was not a job you could learn at school: apprentices learned it from the masters in their ateliers, by imitation, as they still do today.