Why scagliola is better than marble

Left: Elisabetta Bianchi and Silvia Berlincioni in the workshop; Right: Alessandro Bianchi, master scagliolist, uses a chisel and mallet to engrave a centrepiece © Michele Borzoni/TerraProject

APRIL 22, 2016 by: Jonathan Foyle

Scagliola, or “scal-yo-lah”, is a fine word, with all the flourish of a flamenco dancer. Yet the ancient technique of creating this imitation stone is very much Italian, having re-emerged from workshops in the centre of the country centuries ago. Ever since Giorgio Vasari wrote Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1550), Florence has been sold as the crucible in which the Renaissance was stirred, reviving the arts of the classical world. Yet there is no doubt that scagliola makers are at home in this city of grand medieval buildings with marble façades.

Just east of the city, in Pontassieve, is the workshop of master scagliolist Alessandro Bianchi. Scagliola was described by Vitruvius in the first century BC, and its revival was a later achievement of the Renaissance. The finest ancient Roman columns were of genuine rose marble, purple porphyry and green serpentine — finite supplies that had been lugged at huge effort from Egypt and Greece — and many of these columns were chopped up in the middle ages. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the best available blue stone, Afghan lapis lazuli, was more expensive than gold. So Italians carved a market in pietra dure, the craft of cutting and cementing small pieces of colourful marble for tabletops and cabinets. In Emilia, artisans found a way of making ground marble dust into pastes that would set firmly into precisely cut holes in stone furniture and fittings. Scagliola had returned. A late 17th-century scagliola fireplace can be found in Ham House, Richmond upon Thames, south-west London. Though diverse examples were exported across Europe, its patronage and manufacture held a special relationship with Britain. The man credited with transforming the craft into an art form was Enrico Hugford, a monk of English extraction from Vallombrosa, an abbey 20 miles south-east of Florence. He experimented with crushed stones and powders of coloured oxides, mixed with clay and glue to depict landscapes and scenes, four of which were exhibited in 1737 in the Florentine church of Santissima Annunziata. His pupil, Lamberti Gori, took the technique into the city, beginning the tradition that Bianchi upholds today.

Restoring an 18th-century altarpiece © Michele Borzoni/TerraProject

Bianchi’s father, Bianco, founded his eponymous business in the early 1950s after war had racked Florence but left its prime monuments and art collections fairly intact. Bianchi, now the owner of Bianco Bianchi, explains how his father was “absorbed” by the display of Hugford’s work in the Museo Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence and the monastery in Vallombrosa. “He studied the 18th-century materials and techniques, then opened a workshop to make tables and panels inlaid in marble and scagliola,” he says.

Bianchi remembers well his father’s workshop, where he spent time out of school drawing, carving and incising “graffito” patterns into tabletops, panels, fireplaces and decorative floors. He retains his early appreciation for the material’s qualities. “Scagliola is a warmer material than marble and stones,” he says. “It is possible to make detailed and intricate patterns that cannot be made with marble. And to create many gradations of colours.”

The warmth he mentions is literal. Scagliola is a compound material with much greater thermal insulation than natural marble. This makes it well suited to floors and bathrooms, but it is also an easy way to touch-test what at first sight appears to be cool stone. The raw material Bianchi uses is selenite, a gypsum that is ground to a powder and mixed with natural coloured oxides and earth from a range of yellow ochre, terra di Siena, natural yellow oxide, warm red ochre, Pompeiian red and ultramarine. The tinted stone powder is bound with fine clays and casein (a protein derived from milk) or gum arabic from the acacia tree, following his father’s recipe.

So far, Bianchi’s explanation of materials and methods respects the traditions of scagliola that found favour during the age of the Grand Tour in the century after about 1715, when the British milordi trundled across Europe in search of antiquities. Beholding the great marble columns of a lost golden age, tourists demanded reflected glories in their own hallways and dining rooms from Scotland to Cornwall.

Oscar Urruela

Scagliolists achieved the look of ancient Roman marble monoliths by spreading a gypsum base around columns of brick or lath-and-plaster, adding a coloured layer with chips of alabaster and further colour or veining effects by wiping a web of silk threads dipped in pigment, polished to a glossy finish. Some effects were improbable: John Nash had blue columns imitate cylinders of lapis lazuli in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace. Nor was he the first. Such commissions encouraged not just Florentine pride, but a university chair in scagliola techniques at the city’s Accademia di Belle Arti.

Bianchi sees history and tradition as very important, but no less so than innovation because scagliola is still relatively unknown outside Italy, and the company’s marketplace has changed. Some of his own work can be found in a tabletop at Kensington Palace, it is true, but other pieces were commissioned by fashion houses such as Versace and Céline. The Sultan of Brunei is also a client, plus numerous architects with site-specific commissions. To evolve the craft, Bianchi has recently juxtaposed scagliola with other materials such as wood, Plexiglas and gold. Bianchi’s aim is to produce pieces that are detailed and more refined than those of his workshop’s competitors. “[A lot of scagliola] is made with synthetic resins, not natural materials, using cheap workers with a very poor artistic value,” he says. He leads by example: “We have a very important collection of antique scagliola works dated between the 17th and 19th centuries that can be visited by appointment — a unique museum in the world.” Take that as an invitation.

Oscar Urruela will be traveling from Spain for a demonstrative class on the art and method of Scagliola.   Saturday, September 23, 2017  www.ArtFusionEvent.com

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2017 ArtFusion Event

September 20 - 24, 2017


The hippest event of the year for Decorative Painters, Mural Artists, Decorative Concrete, Encaustics, Venetian Plaster pros and Designers is back!  

Take classes, watch demonstrations, and explore the latest tools and trends, in the industry. The best part is meeting others in the industry and forming great connections and friendships.

This 5 day event is the fusion of multi art forms and artists.  Professionals as well as interested newbies are welcome to attend.

Decorative Finishing . Murals . Encaustics . Venetian Plaster . Business . Bas Relief . Art Resin . Concrete Carving . Cabinet Refacing . Epoxy Countertop . Alcohol Ink . Gilding . Cold Wax . Canvas Art . Metal Reactive . Scagliola . Mixed Media

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That face you make when the power goes out.

So the crazy storms with their 90+mph high winds hit Wednesday night, and I am without power for going on 4 days.  Now, I wasn’t totally cut off from the world,  my phone and iPad were at 6% and 18% charged respectively, so I was able to post photos on Facebook of the massive trees downed over my drive and elicit sympathy about being trapped.  After cutting, hauling and cutting again for a couple of hours starting at the dreaded 5am, I got a ride from a friend and was able to buy one of the last 3 chain saws at Home Depot. They said it is the worst storm to affect its electrical system in the Duluth area in 15 years, with about 41,000 customers without power and massive trees were down everywhere you looked.
Did I mention it was in the 90's and humid?  I don't do well in the heat.  I really don't do well chain sawing and hauling wood all day in the heat. I really really don't do well chain sawing and hauling and forgetting to drink water in the heat. So the first night I really didn't have a problem going to bed at 7PM. 
The second day without electrIcity also went relatively well.  Kind of like camping except with this kind of camping the back of my legs get stuck to my leather sofa because it is so hot.  This might actually make a great Instagram photo (with someone else playing my part.)  Me, sitting on the sofa in shorts using a spatula to un-stick the back of my legs from the sofa so I can get up and drink some warm, soon to be hot water.  Oh my dear refrigerator....I did so take you for granted.   
7pm decide to read.  Crap!  My books are now on the uncharged iPad.  7:15pm found halfway working flashlight and start reading an actual hardcover book.  7:21pm the batteries die.  7:30pm decide to take a shower in the dark.  7:32pm the hot water is out.   Did go out and got some dinner at the closest grocery store that still has power, but made the mistake of bringing it home to eat.  Cold curry chicken is not good. Curse you non-workable microwave oven.  
Let's look at the positives.  I have been wanting to clean my fridge so now I got the chance.  Everything got thrown out and it has been scrubbed down.  If the power outage hadn't occurred, I probably wouldn't have found that shriveled up lemon on the bottom shelf for another few months.
Not being able to use the AC or fan has been great for sweating out the toxins in my body. 
My next electric bill should be noticeably lower.
I have stopped procrastinating about getting the BBQ propane tank filled up.
I can live without my weekly doses of Andy Griffith and Gunsmoke.  Someone will tell me how Festus and Opie made out.
Without having the distraction of the stereo I have more time to listen to the Paw Patrol theme song going through my head.
Now I can really listen to those voices in my head.
Tomorrow, day 5 without power I will be channeling my inner Little House on the Prairie and washing clothes in the creek, and for the third morning in a row I am now the reining champion for getting to the coffee shop as it opens and making a beeline for the "special" table with the 3 hidden outlets so I can charge my "stuff".  

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Leslie Sinclair of Segreto Finishes

The world of decorative painting is limitless, ever-changing and richly complex. Finishes for walls, ceilings, floors and cabinetry are crucial to the embodiment of a home’s character. Segreto Finishes’ niche in the world of design motivates owner Leslie Sinclair to constantly explore new techniques and finishes that appeal to a vast multitude of styles and personal tastes.

Leslie lives by the philosophy that upon entering a room, your eyes should not draw a distinction to one element or finish but should see the surroundings as a whole. By developing a palette that complements a home’s architecture and design, surroundings are given a new perspective.

Graduating from the University of Texas with a business degree, Leslie, mother of three, left her corporate job in 1995 to start Segreto Finishes, naming the company after her husband’s family. Segreto, which means secret in Italian, rolls up all of Leslie’s passions — architecture, interior design, art, people and business– into her idea of the perfect job. Leslie’s talent for color, bringing innovative products to Houston, hiring and training a quality staff and working with people on their individual needs, built Segreto’ s reputation.

With a staff of over 35 artisans, the company has become a premier finish design firm with work featured in numerous publications including Architectural Digest, Veranda, Traditional Home, House Beautiful, Country French, Elegant Homes, Beautiful Homes and Beautiful Baths, to name a few. Leslie also regularly contributes to Antique Shops and Designers magazine.

Inspired by all aspects of artistic painting, she owns an art gallery, Segreto Studios, and writes a blog, Secrets of Segreto, about interiors, art and finishes. She has written two books, Segreto: The Secrets to Finishing Beautiful Interiors, and Segreto Style, and is working currently on her third book Segreto Vignettes.

Join Leslie at the ArtFusion Event in Estes Park, Colorado October 28 and October 29, 2016.

Beyond Technique: The Consulting Side of Fine Finishes

$150 Includes a signed Copy of either Segreto Style or the Newly released Segreto Vignettes 85$ value.

Two class choices.  Friday, 7pm or Saturday, 1pm  Class will not be more than 2 hours.

This class will explore how to walk into a home and advise clients on the way certain finishes can impact the overall allure of their space. You have an entire toolkit of finishing techniques, but knowing which finish and which color to use for different situations can be tricky. Rather than cover how to create a specific finish, this class is all about how to decide which finish to create and, more importantly, how to discuss those finish options with the client.

We'll talk about the latest finishing trends and the various ways you can enhance or downplay the architecture of a room, integrate old surfaces and fabrics into a new design scheme, and tweak or transform existing elements with finishes. Each participant will take home a signed copy of Leslie's newly released design book, Segreto Vignettes, so you'll have a resource to continue learning about the topics discussed in class.

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Darlene McElroy - Mixed Media Queen

As philosopher Joseph Campbell has told us, the saga of the hero in myth and folklore traditions across time is a journey of discovery leading from the real world into the primal depths of the unknown. Along the way, obstacles present themselves, challenging the hero to rely on training and instinct. At the point of revelation, it is the job of the hero to return to the real world and share this newfound understanding with the rest of the community—to give vision to the union of head and heart.

Throughout her career Darlene Olivia McElroy has combined head and heart in her journey of creating evocative mixed-media paintings. Trained as a painter and illustrator, she has an obsession for materials, passion for dreamlike imagery, and love of new technologies, which she uses to immerse herself in richly textured surfaces, mixtures of old and new, and brilliant and subdued tones. And always, there is a face or symbol of humanity that serves as a guide into mysterious layers which challenge reason and draw upon emotions.

Trained in the fine arts at Cal State University Fullerton, McElroy added illustration, graphics and design skills at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA. Throughout her career she has made art for herself, while creating award-winning illustrations, packaging, and collateral for small companies to large corporations. Never content in withholding her knowledge, she continues to teach art, design, and computer graphics across the country.

Her books, which are published by F&W Publications, are testaments to her inherent need to experiment. Working with co-author Sandra Duran Wilson, in Image Transfer Workshop, McElroy explains the image transfer process and offers tips for fixing mishaps. Her second book, Surface Treatment Workshop, outlines the mixed-media techniques that add depth and texture to her own artwork. Her third title, Mixed Media Revolution, due out in December 2012, examines ways to evaluate and reconfigure a work of art, taking it to the next level.

McElroy's exhibition record, which began in the early 1990s in the Bay area and Newport Beach, CA, includes numerous solo and group exhibitions. Among her suggestive show titles are Stigmata, Odd Thoughts, Scattered, Beneath the Temple, Novellas, Modern Myths, and Lost Thoughts and Ancient Cultures. A participant in Santa Fe's annual juried Contemporary Hispanic Market since 2002, she received the Best of Show award in 2010 and continues to serve as a CHM board volunteer, as well as for other arts organizations. Her work is represented at La Posada in Santa Fe, NM, and Muse Gallery, Columbus, OH. McElroy has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, since 1995.

She works in a great-room-turned- studio with large windows that let in New Mexico's ubiquitous sunshine, while looking out to a rustic yard, complete with ponds, waterfalls and wisteria-covered arbors. Her "casa de chaos" overflows with furniture parts, antique frames, ephemera, and cabinets filled with what she identifies as "S.H.I.T. (second-hand interesting things)."

You can find any of Darlene's numerous books, DVD's and artwork on her website, book stores and galleries throughout the country.

Darlene will be teaching at the ArtFusion Event in October 2016.  For more information you can go to www.ArtFusionEvent.com


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Do you know about SALON?

The SALON is a world wide gathering of some of the top
 artists and decorative painters. It is an exciting and unique
 Art show of masters  from different counties who  exhibit  their work; teach master-classes; discuss old and new techniques; products and information in the field.

 The Salon is non-profit organization, which began in
 1992 in  Belgium with a small  gathering of professionals,
 reconvened in 1996 and has been coming together in
 growing numbers every year  since.

 The Salon is now recognized as the most important and
 significant gathering of decorative painters in the world.
 Participants of The Salon include owners and teachers of
 Art school, businesses, independent and commercial
 companies. The Salon is a way for some of the most unique
 traditions within the field  of many  styles of arts and to be
 shared amongst one another and ultimately, passed onto
 participants’ students and future generations.
 Salon is an opportunity to enhances and extend the level of
 communication and cooperation between professional
 artists and  masters-craftsmen from many countries.  As
 well as great source for designers and architects: of ideas,
 styles and options of artistic designs for walls and ceiling in
 private houses or offices.

 The Salon is also a great way for visitors to experience the
 high quality of work present and meet true masters of this
 craft. Everyday ongoing demonstrations and exhibitions
 allow visitors and  participants to view  paintings
 specifically created for  Salon as well as during Salon.
  This is a very unique event and a great opportunity to
 discover the International world of artists and masters-
 craftsmen  at it's best.


Countries of Salon members are:
France - Great Brittan - Norway - Sweden - Canada-
Germany - Italy - Belgium - USA - Denmark - Spain -
Japan - China - Austria - Russia - Holland - Netherlands -
Ireland - Libya - Israel - Greece - Latvia

 Previous Salon Exhibitions:
1992- Salon founded
1996 Quimiac/France
1997 Utrecht/The Netherlands
1998 Alexandria/USA
1999 Norrkoping/Sweden
2000 London/Great Britain
2001 Paris/France
2002 San Antonio/USA
2003 Bruges/Belgium
2004 Oslo/Norway
2005 Philadelphia/USA
2006 Utrecht/The Netherlands
2007 Aarhus/Denmark
2008 Chicago/USA
2009 Bergamo/Italy
2010 Versailles/France
2011 Atlanta/USA
2012 Hamburg/Germany
2013 Tokyo/Japan
2014 Seattle/ USA
2015 Lecce/Italy

For information on the 2017 SALONhttps://www.facebook.com/Salon-New-York-2017-257726774582079/?fref=ts

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