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Interview and studio visit #5

Bottega Costantini

Keeping a tradition alive

Ph. Francesca Iovene
Ed. Francesca Iovene
Special contributor: Francesca Morini


F.I: We should first talk about the place: we’re in Laveno Mombello, on Lake Maggiore, and that is where Marco Costantini founded his Bottega in 1966. What is striking is the cosiness and the feeling of being at home on the ground floor, that is the actual studio where ceramic is decorated.
Now it’s you, Lena, daughter of Marco, who manages the studio, with Franco Toci, your husband, and Serena, your daughter. How were you influenced by this strong and deeply-rooted tradition in your lives? A tradition which, by the way, is the base (both literally and structurally) of your house?

L.C: Currently it’s our daughter Serena who manages our “Bottega”, whereas my husband and I are retired, though we keep giving our support somehow.
I’m going to answer to these questions, naturally in cooperation with Franco and Serena, since I’m the one who has been involved for the longest time: I’ve been living close to the world of pottery and etching from an early age. I started very early the training with the iron burin, which is used to etch directly on metal sheets, and I was supervised by my father and the goldsmith Ambrogio Nicolini, who was his teacher. I went ahead with my artistic studies at the Liceo Artistico of Brera in Milan and then at the Istituto d’arte in Sesto Fiorentino.
When I left school, I started working both in the fields of pottery and graphics: I entered international contests in Faenza with some success, various international graphic group shows and many retrospectives.

F.I: A big window through which light gets in and a long workbench full of tools, rags, plates and sheets made of irony copper. Burin and etching are the two techniques you historically excel at. Can you briefly explain them? Has there been any innovation over time? Who are your works now made for?

L.C: Burin is the instrument used to engrave different metals by hand. It’s a little bar made of steel with an oblique and diagonal cut  at one end which forms a pointed tip and that is fastened in a wooden handle. Unlike etching, burin engraving does not provide for acid etching, since the sheet is grooved by the iron’s action that removes a metal swirl. The technique hasn’t changed very much over the years, it improved with increase of our experience and the kinds of decoration adapted to the times.
Ours is a direct sale to private and advertised only by word of mouth.


F.I: Marco Costantini was not only a performer but also and above all an important author. You told us he used to draw the reproductions on plates and he also created “Incisa oro zecchino" ("Pure gold etched”) decorations. I wonder, therefore, what were his relations with galleries and purchasers, as an author; and, as a performer, who were the artists who have taken an interest in his works and used these finest techniques. 

L.C: My father worked at the factories of Ceramica Lavenese, he was involved in etching for crockery and pottery decoration but he continued working on his own. He produced not only personal works but also transpositions of drawings by Guido Andlovitz, Antonia Campi, Leonor Fini and Mario Villani Marchi.  Some of these works have been exhibited at Triennale di Milano in 1951. My father, as an author, exhibited his works both in Italy, at Venice Biennale, for instance, and abroad: in Bruxelles, Nancy, at São Paulo Art Biennial and in Russia.
He created the "Incisa Oro Zecchino" decoration together with other chemists approximately in the 1950s and 1960s, while he was working in Laveno. It was also used to produce the tableware for the Negus Emperor of  Ethiopia, with a drawing specially designed for that. My father was able to balance his work as an author with the work as a performer: besides being a devoted worker, he always carried on working in the arts, searching for his own way of expression that allowed him to achieve a great success.

F.I: Marco Costantini was born and raised in Laveno Mombello. He chose to stay and open his Bottega right there, why was that? Has the town an important story to tell?

L.C: Laveno Mombello was considered as in important place of pottery and crockery international production for many years. Currently it’s part of the network of “Città della Ceramica” (“Cities of Ceramics”).
The manufacturing department, where he was working, was closed down in 1966, so he decided to open his studio with his sons, Lena and Pietro, of whom the latter passed away in 1968 due to a serious illness. The studio was called “Bottega dei Costantini” for the first time during the presentation made by Luciano Gallina at the exhibition of Marco, Lena and Pietro’s works at Chiostro di Voltorre – Gavirate in 1980.

F.I: Your job is now becoming increasingly rare, especially the way you carry it out. You use very specific raw materials to produce your artworks, are there any essential tools or materials that are hard to find on the market?

L.C: Of course, everything change: our job is mainly based on manual work and it can’t be competitive, to this day, so it’s endangered – not to say completely extinct. And by extension everything we need to produce our artworks is hard to find.

«One day the painter Luigi Russolo came in that place to see the rudimentary press I had, thinking it was a practical instrument. He eyed it up and immediately said it wasn’t built the way it was supposed to, saying: -Who’s the idiot who built it?-»

F.I: In another room there’s a beautiful printing press which was entirely built by your grandfather, Giuseppe. You told me he was a cyclist and had a bike shop: in fact, he used bicycle chains to make belts. Why and how this instrument was made? What is its story?

L.C: The press, the old printing press used for copper engraving was made because my father, Marco Costantini, needed to print his etchings in the early 1940s, since there was no one in town that could do this for him. Luigi Russolo printed his etchings with this press too, he was one of the founders of Futurism and was living in Cerro di Laveno in those years.
My father met Russolo during the period of war in 1940/1945 and spent time with him until 1947, the year of his death. A mutual friend, the violinist Turati Sartori, took the painter to his studio to show him the printing press. And this is a story personally told by Marco Costantini:
“One day the painter Luigi Russolo came in that place to see the rudimentary press I had, thinking it was a practical instrument. He eyed it up and immediately said it wasn’t built the way it was supposed to, saying: -Who’s the idiot who built it?- I answered: -The cyclist Spertini (my grandfather) who owns the bottega out there.- He answered: -Tell him to do his job, I’m never going to put my “branches” on this thing. You have to understand that the lower press roll’s movement should have been pertinent to that of the higher press roll and vice versa. He was really angry and then he walked away, followed by Turati, who was very sorry maybe for having involuntarily wasted his friend’s time. The next day I saw Russolo walking in here, he was really upset: -Let’s go – he said to me – let’s go print, it’s me who is the idiot: the printing press is great like that.”

Translated by Silvia Niro
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