The Massimo Del Chiaro Artistic Foundry is in Pietrasanta, in the province of Lucca. Massimo Del Chiaro and his son Roberto told us the story of the company and the reason why internationally renowned artists choose their foundry for creating their works.
When did you embark on this line of business, and what kind of training did you do?
I started back in 1949 in the Vittorio Lera Artistic Foundry at Viareggio; I had finished primary school and my father knew the owner of the foundry. Back then if you wanted to get into a line of work and learn the trade you had to pay the owner of the company, but as the owner was a friend of my father's they made an agreement: I wouldn't pay anything but I wouldn't be paid a salary either.
I had to be on the ball to learn the trade: I picked up all the tricks on my own because in those days nobody taught you anything. In the end I became the head of the foundry at eighteen. I stayed in Viareggio for about thirteen years, then I moved to Pietrasanta, where I was again the boss of a foundry. But the owners of the companies didn't always want to follow my advice! In 1967, following the requests I received from many prestigious sculptors from Liguria, I opened my own foundry in Genova, because in that moment that was where the work was, as there was no concurrence: I stayed there for ten years. In 1977 I came back to Pietrasanta, as I had been called to manage a local foundry; but even in this context the owners did not share my ideas of development, so I founded the Fonderia d'Arte Del Chiaro foundry in Pietrasanta in 1980.
They come because they know they will find a product of outstanding quality, and that we work with them through every phase of production: from the idea or model down to the most complicated finishes and installations.
I think the inspiration comes from the new challenges that arise very day, when the customer asks us for something that seems impossible yet we still manage to make it.
How do you handle the relationship between manual technique and creativity of the mind?
The technique we use is called "lost wax casting"; to give you an idea, it is the same and the only authentic one the Greeks used to use for their bronzes. It means our technique has remained unchanged through the centuries, although now we work in far safer conditions and we have very different materials and techniques for making the models. The greatest challenges come from those that ask us to make very large sculptures; in order for us to make them, our engineers have to project and make special reinforcements. An example is a horse 6 metres high, with a knight on its top, we recently made entirely out of bronze, which stands on just one hoof.
The Bonanno Pisano door displayed in the Duomo at Pisa (called the door of San Ranieri) dates back to 1186. It was controlled by the Superintendence because it was beginning to show signs of collapse: it was the only door that survived the blaze in the sixteenth century. We managed to remove it, make a perfectly similar copy and put it into service whilst respecting the strict guidelines of the Superintendence. Now it is really hard to make out that it is a replacement!
And your relationship with the new technologies?
The "lost wax casting" technique is actually the most ancient one, and the only real method for copper. Thanks to my many years of experience, I have managed to create and deposit an improvement to the casting process, that allows me to cast the most solid, single-piece casts one can make. In fact one might say it is the only technique. We thought about the possibility of including designs using specific computerised software but we preferred to remain faithful to our manual skills. Most of our customers are the artists themselves: they come and supervise the steps in the run up to the casting. Through the direct modelling of the wax or scale model, they also make the last alterations before the actual casting is done.
Are artists your only customers?
90% of our clients are abroad, they just come here to supervise production. Most are artists of international standing who have links with this area owing to the quantity and quality of craftsman workshops that work with materials such as bronze and marble. Anyone coming to Pietrasanta in July can meet many artists in the town square around lunchtime: for example one often sees Fernando Botero, for whom we have made many sculptures. We are linked to this area because our home is here. Not many people know this art as well as we do; it is the result of all the experience we have accumulated in all these years of work.
So it's the customers that come looking for you?
It's the quality of our work that brings them to us. They come because they know they will find a product of outstanding quality, and that we work with them through every phase of production: from the idea or model down to the most complicated finishes and installations. We have worked with Botero, who asks for the bronze to be as smooth as glass, with Brixel a Swedish artist for whom we made a bronze figure almost eight metres high, which leans all the way forward and balances itself upright with just one foot on the floor.
We have opted not to invest money in fairs and advertising; instead we concentrate on our work and let it "do the publicity for us".
What kind of part do the institutions play in your sphere?
I'm afraid they don't play any part, in fact we might say there are new obstacles all the time. It takes eight years of apprenticeship to train a worker that can work on his own in a foundry. Once upon a time the company was paid for the apprenticeship: nowadays many young people don't have the passion for the work, all they think about is how much money they are making.
What is the passion that drives you then? Where do you find your inspiration?
The passion has always been the same; for my work and for the object itself. I think the inspiration comes from the new challenges that arise very day, when the customer asks us for something that seems impossible yet we still manage to make it.