A History of Handcast Statuary and Florence & New Italian Art Company
In the northern part of Tuscany, near the town of Bagni di Lucca, lies a region of picturesque mountain valleys dotted with hillside villages that many consider to be the birthplace of handcast statuary. Handcasting statuary items has a distinguished history in the decorative arts. First, a precise mold is made from original artwork and each reproduction is then handpoured to ensure true, detailed replication. The item is then handfinished with paints, washes, or stains to highlight sculpted details and make each piece truly unique.
Early in the 17th century, local artisans from the Bagni di Lucca, known as "figurinai", developed methods for producing plaster statuettes with the use of reusable molds. These first items were mostly of a religious nature, but soon statues encompassing a variety of styles were being manufactured in small shops throughout the valley. The industry flourished during this period and seeking additional economic opportunities, statuemakers from Bagni di Lucca began moving to other cities and regions in order to ply their trade. In fact, the earliest known document about the "figurinai" tells the story of Simone Fontana, an artisan from Bagni di Lucca, who in 1676 was in Rome producing and selling statues. The bittersweet relationship between statuemaking and emigration for the residents of Bagni di Lucca was just beginning.
During the early 1800's, this relationship became even more evident as harsh economic conditions meant that many local artisans were forced to leave behind their beloved villages and families in order to make ends meet. Although a few eventually pursued other lines of work, the majority of emigrants from Bagni di Lucca relied on handcast statuary in order to provide for themselves and their families back home. Typically, a group of several men would form a company, or "compagnia", and set off to different cities, countries, or continents for that matter, to try their luck at making and selling statues. A "compagnia" generally consisted of a few men casting and finishing the statues and several men (or boys) selling them at church bazaars, street markets, or door to door. These groups of men would usually specify the duration of their stays away from home, known as "campagne", and return to their villages when they were finished.
By the end of the 19th century, however, many of the "figurinai" were not returning to their hillside towns. Many settled in the places that their "campagne" had taken them and started their own small businesses producing handcast statuary. In this manner, an art form that had such humble beginnings in the Bagni di Lucca became a permanent part of the economies of many countries throughout the world. From Germany to Australia, Brazil to the United States, almost every statue manufacturer in existence today can trace its beginnings to an artisan from Bagni di Lucca who left his home with no more than a few molds and the will to work.
No exception to the rule, Florence & New Italian Art Company was started in exactly this manner! In 1916, Tuscan artisans founded Florence Art Company in San Francisco, California. During the early 1950's, Florence Art Company was bought by New Italian Art Company, a leading San Francisco statuary manufacturer established in the 1920's. Thus, our unique name was born - a name with history, a name that today stands for selection, service, and quality! Our family-owned company has grown through the years to become one of the West Coast's premier manufacturers of quality garden decor, handcasting a wide variety of fountains, birdbaths, containers, and assorted garden accents. The Fontana family today continues a tradition of excellence as they combine modern production technology with the European crafting techniques used when Simone Fontana first produced statues in Rome in 1676. Carrying on the spirit of the "figurinai", the dedicated artisans at Florence & New Italian Art Company are proud to produce one of the most exciting, vibrant lines of garden decor on the market today.