Walking the medieval, cobblestone streets of Volterra on my recent trip to Tuscany felt surreal! Besides the historic splendor I was met with upon approaching the towering walls of this ancient city, I immediately recognized public art and galleries devoted to the stone, alabaster. Ask any stone sculptor about the medium of alabaster and you will typically get oohs and aahs. This stone has been prized by sculptors and craftsmen since the time of the ancient Egyptians. The alabaster craftsmen of Volterra, also known as “alabastrai” have been working with this stone since the time of the Etruscans and generations have passed down the love, wisdom, and traditions still present today. While the galleries and workshops have dwindled over the years, it still remains a rich symbol of the culture here.
The chalky alabaster that is quarried and worked in this region formed in the Miocene period by a process of sedimentation and concentration of calcium sulfate and seawater. Its malleable quality made it particularly suitable for small, richly detailed motifs. It can be opaque or translucent and come in a variety of colors. For me, alabaster has a mysterious, sensual quality. Carve deeply into it, especially the translucent type, and you’re likely to discover the most wonderful surprises of color and character. My sculpture “Love” pictured below is one example.
In search of the finest alabaster we could find, we visited one of the top Alabaster suppliers in the region, Paolo Vanzi. He and his wife, Stephania welcomed us with warm Italian hospitality and I was in alabaster heaven! Being able to see and choose a few pieces to take home for my Creative Pinellas, Professional Artist Grant project was literally a dream come true!
I walked away from Volterra with the powerfully moving sense of connection this stone has to this beautiful place, its people, its history, and the art that is ultimately created from it. I feel a deep sense of honor to be able to carve it for you.