Sunday, June 22, 2014

Interior design? Design on the interior

From the sidewalk, most older buildings in Florence are flat stone walls with small windows and dotted with ancient bits of iron. Doors are round-top portals of wood with big iron or bronze locks.

School sign on old printing stone
The open doors usually point to a "vault," which is a room as narrow as the doorway but that may go back 50-feet or more into the building. These almost always have arched stone ceilings. Small businesses occupy the front of these, using the rest for storage.

But occasionally you get surprises.  Many of these multi-story buildings have a central courtyard that is hidden from public view.  Sometimes these are gardens for the residents of the buildings, other times they are parking lots.

Vincenzo Burlizz
The other day, however, I wandered up a narrow lane near our apartment and peeked into a fabulous courtyard filled with antique wooden instruments and young people obviously absorbed in their work.   When I had time, I ventured through the portal and asked around until someone who spoke English could see me.
Horse stalls converted to cubicles
That someone was Vincenzo Burlizzi and the something was Il Bisonte Scuola International per  La Grafica  d'Arte, the Bison Foundation International School of Graphic Arts. This is a unique school that preserves the techniques of printing used by the Renaissance masters. Artist Maria Luigia Guaita adopted the bison image when she founded the school in 1959 as she believed the hairy beast was the first image etched by human kind.

Today it is a non-profit offering short courses and full degrees. And amazing sights.
Old press

Used litho stones and student bikes
Vincenzo gave me full access, so I wandered through the courtyard and alcoves with my camera.  The complex was once a stable. Some of the old hardwood horse stalls are still present and now used as cubical offices for the faculty. The names of the equine previous tenants are still on the walls in some cubicles.

Student at plate-cleaning station
The two most popular techniques in use the day I visited were stone lithography and copper etching.  Students were preparing the huge printing stones or drawing images on them.  In another corner, Vincenzo helped at student use an acid bath to etch his design on copper.

Very old press
The school has a combination of modern hand-turned presses and a beautiful set of centuries-old presses. Where new presses have chrome and composite parts,  the old presses stand out in hardwood and dark iron or bronze.  In both cases, students turn the big hand cranks to apply intense pressure to the inked plates.

This was what I really hoped for with this trip: An accidental discovery of a unique piece of Florentine life.  I like the museums, but I am ecstatic to see how the techniques of the masters are passed to young artists today.  In many ways, that was why I left the news industry to become a professor of journalism.  I hope I do as well as Vincenzo.

More photos.

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