This month’s interview is with Marcello Calvi, a talented young man who learned the art of casting from his father and cultivates it with passion and dedication.
Lost wax casting is an ancient technique that requires effort and dedication. Where did you do you learn it and what is your story?
The company was opened in 1973 by my father, Luciano Calvi, who, after having worked in a foundry with 100 employees for a number of years, started his career as a craftsman at the age of 23, with the opening of his own shop in Monza. In those years, the art market was booming, and demand was high. In the 1990s, thanks to the quality of his production, he started to work for the old established foundries in Milan: Battaglia, Cubro and M.A.F.
I was ten years old, and I remember – as if it were yesterday – the first time I entered foundry where lost wax casting was done: the smell from the furnaces in operation, the glow of the welders, the noise of the equipment and the fascinating moment of casting when the red hot metal looks like molten lava. For me, it was incredible to see all of those people move with so much mastery and dedication. What passion and dedication! From then on, I immediately realized what the right road for me to take was. The years went by and the desire to know more and more about this profession increased, to the point that, every year when school was over, I went to the shop to learn the rudiments of the trade, dreaming that I could one day have the same level of mastery as my father. Once I´d finished high school, at the age of nineteen, I went down that road that had fascinated me ever since I was a child and that still impassions me today, at the age of twenty-three.
I have met many artists and I hope to meet more in the course of my career. It’s wonderful to spend the day with them.
Today a young craftsman has a lot of obstacles to overcome: technology, growing bureaucracy, as well as taxes and the lack of work.
What is your workday like?
I’m pretty much a morning person. I get up at 5:30/6:00. At 7:00/7:30 I’m in the shop or in the foundries; there’s time to get changed and have coffee with my colleagues, then at 8:00 it’s time to start. We work until 12:00/12:30 and then have a break for 30 minutes /1 hour. When there’s a lot of work and deadlines are tight, I only stop for 15 minutes, just enough time to eat a sandwich. We start working again until 17:30 /18:00 most of the time, but it often happens that we have to continue until late at night.
Why might a young person choose this profession today?
It’s very hard, dangerous work that implies a certain degree of attention, determination, passion and outstanding artistic sensitivity. There aren’t very many young people who want to start this career. You have to be aware that many times there are no Saturdays or Sundays, and you have to be willing to make sacrifices. I think that a young person ought to choose this career because you learn a lot, you get to know people from cultures that are different than ours, you can travel and all day long you deal with “beauty”. It’s also very satisfying to receive compliments from clients for the quality of your work and know that you have contributed to making a monument that will be part of the history of a country and its people.
What type of clients do you have?
We mainly work with artists and sculptors, but we also do business with architects and engineers, churches, private parties and public organizations. There is a strong bond between the artistic foundry M.A.F. in Pioltello, and we collaborate with them. I take care of customer relations, with our rapport with the artists, and I am mainly concerned with the last part of the process: chasing, patinas and assembly.
Have you ever met famous artists or had important commissions?
I have met many artists and I hope to meet more in the course of my career. It’s wonderful to spend the day with them. They can teach you a lot, both in human terms as well as in the field of work. In some circumstances, the artist–client can also become an exceptional friend. This is the case with Kyoji Nagatani, a Japanese artist with whom I formed a strong working as well as human bond. I have a lot of esteem for him first of all as a person, and then I really admire him as a sculptor. His works are truly gems. As far as commissions are concerned, they are all important, in my opinion – from those that are 10 cm to those that are 16 m. Knowing that, once cast, the work will become part of an important cultural project is also awe-inspiring to me. At present, I have commissions in the shop from a sculptor for works from 5 to 30 metres, and I truly hope that they can be finished before long.
What channels do you use to promote your business?
The best is by word of mouth, through clients. Undoubtedly internet does its part, but nowadays, the foundries here in northern Italy can be counted on one hand, and direct knowledge is the best tool.
What space do you think should be given to young people in today’s craftsman scene in Italy?
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of space for them. Today a young craftsman has a lot of obstacles to overcome: technology, growing bureaucracy, as well as taxes and the lack of work. We can also add the difficult situation of the market in Italy, which is almost saturated and practically at a stalemate. On the other hand, however, in some towns, for example in Tuscany, we can see positive movement in the direction of rediscovering the world of the foundry by tourists, who are motivated to visit them through fascinating itineraries. I want to say this to all young people: always trust in yourselves, always believe in what you are doing and do not stop in the face of any obstacle. Life is hard, and if you want to make your way in the world, be humble, well-mannered and make yourself known for what you know how to do. Sooner or later, someone will take you seriously and one day that someone could be you.
Unfortunately, or by chance, I was not lucky enough to have a well-established business, because my father’s clients are old and business ran out with him. I worked for three years without pay to rebuild the workshop and I had to look for new clients. Fortunately today, at the age of twenty-three, I’m attaining what I’ve always pursued. Be patient!