Interview with Enzo Liverino, coral engraver and carver.

What is the history of your company?

The company was founded in 1894 by my great grandfather Basilio Liverino and it has always remained in the family, handed down from father to son. Vincenzo, the founder’s son, introduced cameos and Asian coral imported from Japan, and started exporting outside Italy. The company expanded at the beginning of the 1970s and it now employs almost one hundred people, including contractors. My father was granted the title of Cavaliere del Lavoro on account of the passion with which he developed this craft. In order to repay the territory for everything he had received, he decided to create a professional school, where young people can learn the processing techniques of this precious material.

What type of training did you have? When did you start working in the company?

I started working right after my high-school diploma, because we were receiving many orders and it was virtually impossible for me to sit my exams at university. Also, at that time I was living in Taiwan, where I was buying coral for the company. Even while I was studying, I used to spend my free time in the workshop, mainly sitting next to the carver, who taught me how to recognise the value of coral. When coral is cut following its natural shape, it reveals whether it is more suitable for one type of processing or another. A little like Michelangelo’s block of marble, which contained the sculpture within itself and the work of the artist consisted in making it come out. This type of experience was very useful to me, especially when I went out to buy coral, because I knew how to recognise the value of the rough piece and which one was most appropriate for our clientele.

The school was born at the beginning of the 1990s. It offers three years of general training, during which students take subjects like Italian and art history and attend their first courses in the workshop. Then there are two years of specialisation, where the students can choose between goldsmithing, coral engraving and carving.

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My father founded the museum in 1986, and the objects exhibited are all part of our private collection. The museum was carved into the rock and it was designed to withstand the event of a sudden eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

What is the passion that still inspires and motivates you?

It is the passion for my work and for the history of my family: of those who contributed to handing down the tradition of this noble art. I rediscover the passion to go on with my work every time I see the breathtaking new works made by our engravers.

The relationship between the skill of the hand and the creativity of the mind is always hard to deal with. How are your young apprentices “helped”? Do you have your own school?

More than providing in-company training, my father founded a school of higher education (now officially recognised by the State) to pass this knowledge down to young people. The school was born at the beginning of the 1990s. It offers three years of general training, during which students take subjects like Italian and art history and attend their first courses in the workshop. Then there are two years of specialisation, where the students can choose between goldsmithing, coral engraving and carving. For the first fifteen years, my father would not let me hire any of the students, so as to show that the school had not been conceived as “ours”, but rather as a resource for the entire community. As my father used to say again and again: “There is no future without training.”

Is your work affected by new technologies?

In this field, the working techniques have remained more or less the same, but new machines are created almost always in Japan and Taiwan. When I find a machine that is truly cutting-edge, I often buy two: one for us and the other as a gift to the school. I think it is important for young people to learn to work on modern machines, to keep up with the market and its timing. Sometimes we personalise existing machines, like those we use for cutting, and we do it in collaboration with a few specialised companies in Valenza Po, the famous jewellery district.

In your opinion, what is the importance of the artistic crafts in a company like yours? Are they properly recognised?

The artistic crafts are very important, because they encourage the regeneration of the territory and its connections. Unfortunately, such occupations are not adequately recognised or supported. I think it would be very interesting to organise travelling exhibitions, in order to spread the passion for both this material and our profession. It would also be important to create more contemporary subjects, so as to diversify our offer and create even more beautiful objects.

In the past, artistic crafts were taught in the workshops themselves, but now more and more specialised schools are being created. What do you think is more important: to experience the reality of a workshop or to attend lessons in a classroom?

Classroom lessons are certainly important: students must assimilate theoretical notions as well as drawing skills and the study of proportions, in order to transfer this knowledge to the material they are shaping. In any event, in the classroom the students do not work on the same precious materials that we use in the workshop. Thus it is necessary that skills and ideas are safe inside the mind, before they are transmitted to the hand.

Tell us about the Museo Liverino.

My father founded the museum in 1986, and the objects exhibited are all part of our private collection. The museum was carved into the rock and it was designed to withstand the event of a sudden eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The exhibits were collected over the years by my grandfather, my father and myself. A few of the older pieces were made by the historical Milanese goldsmith Romolo Grassi with the collaboration of Carlo Parlati, an engraver from Torre del Greco.