Published on March 3, 2014
Comenius Project “Lost in Time” IS “Majorana” Palermo (Italy)
Preparation of a Silver Panel to be chiseled. First video Here we have a silver panel in which we are pouring lead. First we put the panel in a clay lay, then we make a clay cage and after that we fix the panel with nails to avoid the lifting by the pressure. We are pouring liquid lead which melt at 400°C. We use a locking device in the middle of the plate to avoid the lifting up. The heat arches the plate under the central pressure. It takes 10 minutes to cool the plate. We try to speed up the cooling down. Here we have the lead panel. Silver is detached from lead . We preserve the clay with wet pieces of fabric to reuse it. Second video The mould is ready. We remove all the dry clay from the cage. Modeling procedure by hammer and chisel.
Adaptation and summary of the interview with chiseler craftsman, Maestro Benedetto Gelardi , at his workshop in the old city centre of Palermo.
Mr Benedetto Gelardi is a chiseler craftsman and he has been working in his workshop for 30 years. He started his apprenticeship when he was 16 with Maestro Lopez and at 21 he began on his own. His workshop is specialized in restoration and manufacturing of religious objects (Cup, Pix, Monstrance, Font, holy water buckets, etc ), but they also realize non-religious silverware such as bowls, coffee sets, trays, candleholders mostly in Baroque and Empire artistic style.
It is a labored and demanding job and the best apprenticeship is one to one person (pupil and teacher) in a workshop. They perform all kinds of work, but there is no danger except some burns by tar. Chisel does not fear technology because craftsmen still work with steel handmade chisels and hammers of different measures and sizes . They do not use machinery as embossed work and chisel are done by hand. Machinery is used in other silverware sectors such as turning, pressing.
They work for the local demand ( Church ) and produce various religious object mainly for American customers from Jewish origin. But nowadays the international trade decreases due to the global financial crisis and cheaper foreign handicrafts. The first-class quality of Italian raw material and the refined characteristics of the products determine higher prices.
A drawing is reproduced by carbon paper on the flat silver plate on which they hammer modeling the figure and the volume for the mould. They work on a soft tar frame to perform the lengthening of the metal. The aim of the tar surface is to avoid the panel break and to chisel gently. During this procedure they often reheat the plate to get a constant soft surface for the embossed works.
Silver and lead are not compatible and lead makes holes in silver by heating. Therefore to avoid this corrosion, they isolate the metals with a light powder layer called “ terra d’ombra “, a powder that cabinetmakers use to fill up woodworms holes in furniture. It is diluted with water and this slight protection on the surface separates the two metals. When it is cold they clean the surface with a sponge to start modelling.
Video and Interview Courtesy of CRICD Centro Regionale per l’Inventario, la Catalogazione e la Documentazione dei Beni Culturali della Regione Sicilia. Regional Centre for Inventory, Cataloguing and Documentation of Cultural Heritage of the Sicilian Region.
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