The Antiques Diva Does Italia!

Toma Clark Haines definitely knows la dolce vita!

We’re speaking Italian on this Travel Tuesday with some exciting news. Our ONLY choice for European lifestyle tours, The Antiques Diva, is expanding to, you guessed it, Italia; and Toma is already working her magic on the romantic language by saying, “Buongiorno Baby” to anyone wanting to come along for the Tuscan ride!

Tuscan tastemaker Susan Pennington will create and direct the tours, which will amble through the best venues in Florence, Sienna, Arezzo and Lucca (here’s a feature in Belle Inspiration). A British expat living in the heart of Tuscany, Pennington was once an antiques buyer for Harrods in London and an auction-house specialist in New York City. She’s lived in Tuscany for the past two decades, running Montestigliano, a local agriturismo business known for its sumptuous Tuscan-style luxury décor.

Word up, Diva fans; this is Toma’s sixth country, and the list of destinations for gallivanting is impressive: France, England, Belgium, Holland, Germany and, now, Italy. Where’s my passport? Did someone say the University of Bologna is calling?

P.S. We understand there is a spot of royalty in The Antiques Diva’s future. Check in at adroyt in the next week or so and we’ll fill you in!


Grassroots Run Deep: Green Provocateur in Milan

 The World Expo 2015 being built in Milan.

The World Expo 2015 being built in Milan.

The world is heading to Milan for Salone Internazionale del Mobile forthwith and it’s likely that everyone in the design world is going to be met with an entirely different landscape than they’ve encountered in central Milan in the past, especially the Porta Nuova and Republica neighborhoods. I snapped this shot from my hotel room in the Principe Di Savoia last October as the city began to prepare for the World Expo 2015, which will carry the theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.” It reminded me of Miami once upon a time when the joke circulated that the construction crane had become the city’s official “bird”!

Our inbox is rocking and rolling with new launches at iSaloni as furniture manufacturers prepare for the show with great anticipation (and likely a bit of trepidation considering the global economy). Instead of covering these here, we ask that you check in on the Design Commotion Facebook page for news or click on over to Modenus where V and Tim are going to be doing previews of new products debuting at the fair and Tim will be reporting live), I’m taking a rather #TravelTuesday tack today to shed some light on an initiative that I believe bears watching.

It’s an effort by Paul Clemence and Jade Dressler called Green Provocateur (here’s the blog), which will launch on April 10 just as iSaloni gets underway.  They are calling their guerilla installations a “global urban art intervention” and the one in Milan is being sponsored by AMAZElab.

I’ve collaborated with Clemence on articles for Aishti magazine and celebrate his eye for an emotionally-charged architecture so I can only imagine the exhibitions they produce will be powerfully magnetic. “I find architecture’s poetry wherever I go,” says the photographer. Take the time to watch the video and you’ll understand more of the thrust of their vision. You can also follow their guest posts on Metropolis Magazine’s online site Metropolis P/O/V.

I can’t wait to see how Clemence’s and Dressler’s point of view ripples across the globe! You can like the Green Provocateur Facebook page here. And visit them on indiegogo here.


A Meaningful Mosaic Monday: Julie Richey Style

"La Corrente" by Julie Richey takes the 3-D Prize

“La Corrente” by Julie Richey takes the 3-D Prize

Julie Richey’s “La Corrente,” a marble, glass smalti and seashell dress sculpture, has won the Best 3-D Mosaic award, a distinction given to her by the 2011 Mosaic Arts International—an annual international juried exhibition of contemporary mosaic art. “La Corrente” means “The Current” and the piece exemplifies beauty amidst destruction, a theme that Julie was inspired to explore because she created the work of art during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis. We’ve followed Julie’s esteemed career since she won the Orsoni prize and love how her depth of feeling comes through in her work.

We thought we’d treat RBD readers to a sampling of how travel makes an impact on Richey’s creative expressions. She’s planning a Master Mosaic Tour in Italy this fall in case you’re so inspired you want to follow her to the ends of the earth (well, Italy qualifies as that for most of us who long to return again and again)! In her own words: I love to travel—anywhere—and I consider myself fortunate to have discovered a career that allows many interesting travel opportunities. I’ve been all over the US, to Mexico, Italy, the UK and Spain; and soon, I will travel to Australia—all for mosaic-related work.

Looking at my mosaics from the last few years, some are inspired by traveling and finding an image imbedded in my head from the trip. This would be “Night Shirt,” a wall-relief mosaic of a shirt depicting San Francisco Bay at night. I was inspired by a 3 a.m. visit to a park overlooking the city. I held that image in my mind until eventually it came out as a mosaic sculpture. Other works can be inspired by a friend’s vacation stories (as with “La Corrente”), or are formed as a response to an opportunity, be it a commission, a juried show or a public art commission. I’ve made mosaic landscapes of my New Mexico vacation photos and utilized clients’ photos from summers in Canada to make a glass kitchen backsplash for a new home.

Julie Richey with "L'Ambasciatrice"; photo by Pete Lacker

Julie Richey with “L’Ambasciatrice”; photo by Pete Lacker.

For “L’Ambasciatrice,” I was inspired to create a sculptural dress depicting native Texas wildflowers and butterflies for a special event—an art auction benefiting the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX. I love Austin and will use almost any excuse to pop down from Dallas. In this case, I couldn’t finish the mosaic before the deadline, but just kept working on it (for nine months, off and on) until it was fully realized.

Although “L’Ambasciatrice” never made it to the Wildflower auction, it did travel to shows in Mesa, AZ, Galveston and Dallas. I named it “The Ambassadress” because throughout its construction, I carried it everywhere for art demos, including one at an arboretum, the arts center where I taught mosaics, even a church where a pastor used my mosaics to reinforce his theme of “brokenness and reconstruction” for his sermons.

That last one was a stretch, but in every case, this “little mosaic dress that could” allowed people to see a facet of mosaic-making up close. They were very curious about the methods, materials and structure, and the ambassadress did her job well. I’ve been fortunate to travel to Italy frequently—first as a college student for a Rome semester, then as a graduate scholar in Art History. Once I became fluent in Italian, there were return trips for sister-city cultural exchanges, tours with the Renaissance Polyphony chorus of my alma mater, and the invaluable learning experiences I had taking workshops at the Orsoni foundry in Venice.

Winning the Orsoni Prize in 2009 was a dream come true. It was an honor just to earn the recognition—but they sweetened the deal by including a full trip to Venice, a week in their workshop, and a full stay at the beautiful Domus Orsoni bed and breakfast. Talk about reinforcing your career choice! For the dedicated mosaic artist, there’s almost no better place in the world to spend a week wallowing in luscious colors and absorbing the Venetian setting. After more than two weeks at Orsoni and a subsequent family visit, the members of the staff there are my friends, not just professional contacts. I feel at home in Italy. I could spend weeks in Rome and rarely need a map. Put me in New York City and I’m as lost as last year’s Easter egg.

You can feel the sweep of sea grasses floating past...

You can feel the sweep of sea grasses floating past…

Now most of my days in Italy revolve around mosaics. Where are the truly great sites? How can I get there without spending a fortune and driving my fellow travelers crazy? Who wants to go with me to an obscure Tuscan seaside town to eat spaghetti alle vongole and explore Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden mosaics? Two years ago we were on a January choir tour of Italy, and we took a day trip to Palestrina, the birthplace of one of our favorite composers. As soon as we’d finished singing Mass, I bolted up the steep steps of the village to the archeological museum where I knew the famous Nile Mosaic was housed. The hike was crazily vertical, and I was gasping for breath when I arrived at the site but the mosaic was so worth the pilgrimage. Sometimes the desire to wallow in mosaics brings serendipitous moments.

In June 2009 I was leading a small mosaic tour of Rome and had made an appointment to visit Dr. Paolo di Buono, director of the Vatican Micromosaic Studios. He suggested a Wednesday morning. Travelers familiar with the Vatican know that the Pope holds his public audience each Wednesday morning. We expected the Vatican grounds to be quite chaotic, but instead they were quiet and deserted. The audience was set up outside in Piazza San Pietro where Jumbotrons flanked both sides of the colonnade and hundreds of chairs were lined up for special visitors. After we toured the studio with Dr. Di Buono, he offered to take us into Saint Peter’s Basilica through the side door.

When we passed the guard and entered, I realized we had come though Bernini’s famous “skeleton door,” the monument to Alexander VII, at the back of the basilica. I’ve been in St. Peter’s countless times, and have even attended Easter Vigil Mass there with thousands of pilgrims. This time was different: it was almost deserted.

As delicate as a lacy slip, sea shells ornament "La Corrente"

As delicate as a lacy slip, sea shells ornament “La Corrente.”

One worker on a miniature Zamboni-style machine drove up and down the nave, polishing the marble floors. Five guys in rappelling gear were perched on the Baldacchino, the high altar canopy, cleaning it with Swiffer dusters. Dr. Di Buono brought us to the entrance of the basilica to see the mosaic works his studio had restored, including an altar painting designed by Raphael that was actually a mosaic.

Looking past the Swiss guards in profile through the open doors, we could see thousands of people outside in the piazza, awaiting the Pope. Inside, it was just the four of us, the Zamboni driver and the Swiffer duster men. We exited as we had come in, via the Bernini door, and as we turned in our security badges and got our passports back, I glanced over to the basilica. Not 30 feet away was the iconic white Popemobile, awaiting Benedict XVI. The guards hurried us along so that the Pope could come out, get into his little car, and start toward his audience. We exited Vatican City, wove our way through the colonnade and popped out into the piazza. There he was, larger than life, on the Jumbotron.

In the two minutes it had taken us to get to the piazza, he’d climbed into his car and beaten us to the starting gate! We’d like to thank Julie for gracing our blog on this Twitter #MosaicMonday, and wish her happy Roaming as she inspires artisans far afield and close at home! Photos of “Night Shirt” and “La Corrente” by Stacey Bratton.


Cleto Munari’s New York Debut (Finally!)

Detail of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Table: Can't Beat That!

Detail of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Table: Can’t Beat That!

There is something to be said for waiting patiently for “the next big thing.” That said, I have absolutely no patience when it comes to postponing visionaries being celebrated in our American design milieu, which in so many ways lacks the spark that I’ve been seeing in Europe. We’re about to get an important infusion of that brilliance when Cleto Munari finally debuts the talent he’s fostered for over four decades in New York City on February 2nd, and I believe this exhibition will prove Munari’s lasting impact on the world of design.

Here’s some background on the man I like to refer to as the “Modern Design Poet”: In 1973, through his close friendship with Carlo Scarpa, Cleto Munari began collaborations with a stellar list of international architects and artists that resulted in functional items of beauty such as furniture, rugs, glassware, jewelry, watches and pens. Scarpa and Munari produced cutlery and sterling silver tableware, and Munari went on to design products with Aulenti, Botta, Portoghesi, Ito, Sottsass, Hollein, Mangiarotti, Tusquets, Paladino, Siza, Mendini, R. Meyer, Graves, Isozaki, Hoppenheim, Shire, Eisenmann, Venturi, Tigerman, Pelli, Bellini, Sipek, Thun, and Zanuso.

Cleto Munari in the Proust Chair

Cleto Munari in the Proust Chair.

In 1980 Munari created a silverware and gold jewelry collection, called Masterpieces, with contributions by more than 50 architects and artists from around the world. The collection has been exhibited in 120 museums, and is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Munari has now collaborated with Alessandro Mendini for over 30 years.

Together they have been responsible for silver accessories, jewelry, a pen dedicated to Toni Morrison (from the Book of 5 Pens Collection), and a new 2008 collection of furniture, rugs and silver sculptures. Munari had only briefly worked with furniture in the past and has just recently felt ready for the challenge of creating new collections, including a line he designed with Mendini in 2008, which expresses the architect’s lyrical way of looking at life and includes etchings taken from his personal drawings that he refers to as “decorative doilies.”

Munari does not understand how anyone can live with furniture devoid of color. He has told me that each time he enters his house he has the impression that he is “invaded by the music of all the colors.” To him, it is poetry. His newest collection is entitled “I Magfinci 7,” a series of tables designed by Cleto, the beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet Mark Strand, painter Sandro Chia, artist Mimmo Paladino, architect Mario Botta, and Mendini.


Ceramic Tile: The Perfect Bedfellow

Doesn't get sexier than Gio Ponti's Hotel Parco Dei Principi in Sorrento; tiles by Ceramica Bardelli

Doesn’t get sexier than Gio Ponti’s Hotel Parco Dei Principi in Sorrento; tiles by Ceramica Bardelli.

You might not think of ceramic tile as the perfect bedfellow, but that’s exactly what was on our minds in May when I participated in a panel with Bart Bettiga, the executive director of the National Tile Contractors Association, and Christine Abbate of Novita Communications in Las Vegas during the Hospitality Design show. Ceramic Tiles of Italy has been a forerunner in the concept of using nonporous surfacing materials throughout hospitality design projects in order to create cleaner, easier-to-maintain environments without sacrificing style for decades.

Many hotels have learned that hard surfaces like ceramic tile are perfect for common areas but so many venues, especially in the U.S., haven’t quite gotten the message that it’s great to take it into the bedroom. They taped our workshop and I thought it might be interesting to share the three-parter with you, especially with the subject of bed bugs being such a hot topic right now, one that won’t likely go away any time soon.


Handwriting on the Wall?

The New City Notebooks

The New City Notebooks

Hi everyone: remember these fresh new Moleskine City Notebooks I took with me to Europe several weeks ago? I had a blast filling them with notes about London and Milan, and jotting down everything I didn’t want to miss given the jet-lagged fog I knew would accompany me back to the states! As I was zipping through the countryside on the trains between Lake Como and Milan, and Milan and Siena (with stops in Florence, of course), I was jotting down sensory information about what I was seeing through the windows. This means they’re not new anymore but that’s the beauty of a heartily used bound book that holds delicious and important memories.

Used and Improved?

Used and Improved?

At one point I decided to see how it felt to make some notes in my iPhone. Is there a difference between the typed and the handwritten word, I wondered, as I pulled the slim smartphone from my pocket? As I began typing, I thought about how I happen to like to see my own handwriting scroll along a fresh page; how very attached I am to getting everything down in ink. But as the dark letters appeared one-by-one on the yellow-pad background of the iPhone “Notes” application, the entries were pretty jazzy.

Now I find myself torn, asking myself if there will come a point when my back, which takes the brunt of all the flotsam and jetsam I carry with me when I travel, makes the decision? Lugging a suitcase and heavy backpack up and down train stairs has its physical challenges so there may very well be a point when the lighter electronics win out but I do not by any means believe the handwriting is on the wall for giving up my journals or my city notebooks any time soon! After all, I’ve never had a notebook lose a charge on its battery!

Always a Sucker for a Cool Font!

Always a Sucker for a Cool Font!

I’m heading back to England and France in two weeks so I’ll let the argument continue to play out as I zip between London and Trouville, France, then back to Brighton, England, on Rail Europe. Stay tuned my roaming compatriots as I’ll be making notes along the way–both handwritten and electronic! What’s your preferred way to take notes when you travel? I’d love to know!


The Heft of Time

Journaling in the Piazza di Castel Monastero

Journaling in the Piazza di Castel Monastero

So, today’s #LetsBlogOff topic is “Are blogs as important as bloggers think they are?” Now what kind of question is that, Paul Anater, you instigator you? I can only seriously answer this in one way: “I have absolutely no idea whether anyone would consider my blogs important (Yes, plural; the amount of attention I’ve gotten from my internet platform has created a virtual monster!).” I’ve been thinking about the subject as I’ve traveled through Italy so some surprising things have come to mind as I’ve wondered what I might post.

Until yesterday, I was ensconced in the Tuscan countryside in a remarkable retreat called Castel Monastero that was a former nunnery. Several of the buildings surrounding the soulfully beautiful piazza date back to medieval times so strolling through the setting made me feel as if I’d stepped back in time. I sat in my room with the windows thrown open yesterday morning listening to Hildegard von Bingen, one of music’s most prolific contributors to the spiritual genre, while working on my memoir about the mission field, The Road to Promise. It was an incredible experience and I felt as if I’d transcended my humanity to reach into a realm I’d never touched before.

As I thought about von Bingen and all she represents to musicians and feminists as I zipped through the Tuscan countryside on the train to Milan yesterday afternoon, I realized that whether anyone thought her writings or musical compositions were important was likely a secondary concern if a consideration at all. She was simply involved in her deepest creative spirit, which is exactly what my blogs, particularly The Road to Promise, have given me—a depth of experience that is remarkable and invaluable to me spiritually and creatively.

Before I traveled to Tuscany, I spent three luscious days at CastaDiva Resort on Lago di Como. My duplex suite was in the tower of Villa Roccabruna, which was the original home of Giuditta Pasta, who became an important muse to the composer Vincenzo Bellini. Pasta’s first appearance in London was a flop, and yet legend has it that when Bellini—who was staying in a villa across from the soprano on Lake Como—heard her singing he rowed across the lake to find the woman with such an incredible voice.

She was the inspiration for two of his greatest works, “Norma” and “La Sonnambula.” Of course, Pasta cared how others felt about her performances and it must have been crushing to have received such bad reviews, but it never stopped her from studying with better mentors and performing to great acclaim in some of the most important cultural capitals in Europe.

I feel a connection to such a story because I have tried for decades to secure a book contract for The Road to Promise so that I could share my experiences. Not only have I been unable to interest anyone in publishing it, I have received some scathing feedback along the way, one particular editor at the University of Nebraska Press telling me to “get over myself” on a sticky note affixed to the manuscript.

The printed book proposal with his confetti of rejecting notes peppering its pages is in my war chest—the box of past challenges I have saved to keep me from giving up when the going gets tough! So blogging has given me the opportunity to do what I set out to do—send my thoughts and my ideas out into the world—and I truly appreciate all of you who have taken the time to read the material and to comment or support me in the varied ways that you have; it’s been a beautiful thing for me to experience.

So, for now, I am happy to continue to post every Wednesday so that I can share the journey I had, hoping that a publisher will recognize at some point that the material has merit. If not, maybe I’ll self-publish, but at the very least I will have been able—through the experience of posting online—to express myself in a way that’s rewarding, and that’s what makes my blogging important to me. Whether it’s of any consequence to anyone else, I’m not at all sure, but I’d like to think it is…

I’m now enjoying a stay at the incredible Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan, which at one time hosted celebrities the likes of Josephine Baker, Charlie Chaplin and Maria Callas. I leave you with a video of Callas’ version of Casta Diva, a song that Bellini wrote for Pasta to perform, as Callas was compared to Pasta early in her career. I have to say that the parallels in life, even in three such diverse locales as I have stayed over the past week, can be quite breathtaking when one is roaming by design!

I’m posting The Road to Promise a day early this week so that those of you who’ve seen last Wednesday’s post will have something new to read if you decide to stop in. Thanks again for sharing my journey, everyone. I have to say you all mean so very much to me and I look forward to many rewarding interactions to come! To see other #LetsBlogOff posts, click here and enjoy the ride!


Tapping Into Tuscany

This trip to Italy has been one that has brought me a mind-blowing loss for words. I’ll be putting a more comprehensive post together about my time here at Castel Monastero tomorrow. For now, I give you this tease from the former nunnery that dates back to a bygone time when church bells pealed across the rolling hills of a very different Toscana.


You’ll Find Me in the Garden

Floral Perfection at Orticolario

Floral Perfection at Orticolario

I took a tour of the Figini Pagani Progettazioni offices in Lake Como this morning. The firm, which was founded by Erasmo Figini and Susanna Pagani, designed the villas and other buildings on the grounds of the CastaDiva Resort and I have been impressed with the range of their talents–from whimsical elements in the restored Villa Roccabruna (the former home of Giuditta Pasta, one of the world’s top sopranos) to Scandinavian influences in the Villa Amina. Stafania Tambani from their offices was an amazing escort, taking me around Como and to the Orticolario fair, a gathering of exhibitors who make and/or grow products for and from the garden, for most of the day.

Statuary fit for kings at Villa Antica

Statuary fit for kings at Villa Antica

The day dawned rainy and stayed drizzly for most of the  morning but by the time we reached the grounds of the Spazio Villa Erba in Cernobbio where Orticolario was held, the sun peeked from the clouds and lit the drenching colors of the flowers being exhibited. I met Figini, who walked me through the beautiful products to the Villa Antica where the opening reception was being held on the terrace facing Lake Como, and understood how such a diverse repertoire could spring from the same mind.

He was a force of creativity, something that was clear the minute I shook his hand. The grand nineteenth-century Villa was the former residence of Luchino Visconti, whose heirs sold it to a public consortium so that it could be maintained as an event space. Villa Erba was added to the property, designed by architect Mario Bellini after the many greenhouses typical of the nobility who built residences surrounding the Lago di Como, in 1990.

The view of Lake Como from Villa Antica.

The view of Lake Como from Villa Antica.

I met Moritz Mantero and Arturo Croci, the masterminds behind the Orticolario, now only in its second year but already one of the most popular events in the area. Though it was a bit early in the day for donning my ball-gown (and those of you who know me well know what a joke it is that I’d even own one), I could feel those Italian beauties of a bygone age swishing past me with their silk trains trailing behind them as they exited the grand salon on their way to the terrace to take in the sparkling of stars in the dome of Lake Como’s velvety sky.

How’s that for an operatic sized drama on a Friday afternoon in Italia?


What is Heaven?

I took a tour of CastaDiva this morning with Silvia Ballerini and am wowed by the property. I’m guessing once you see this brief moment of beauty from my terrace and the above image by Paul Clemence, you will be, too! I’ll be writing several comprehensive pieces on the resort as the weeks move along but thought I’d give you a glimpse this evening before a glass of Prosecco calls me away from the computer! I spend a great deal of time in my life with this running through my mind: “I want to know what I want.”

I can certainly say being able to spend even a few days in this little slice of heaven along Lake Como’s shores is on that list of wants. Speaking of heaven: I leave you with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s last stanza to “Ode to Heaven,” a poem he wrote while traveling through Italy:

What is Heaven? a globe of dew,

Filling in the morning new

Some eyed flower whose young leaves waken

On an unimagined world:

Constellated suns unshaken,

Orbits measureless, are furled

In that frail and fading sphere,

With ten millions gathered there,

To tremble, gleam, and disappear.”