The Italian American experience that gives beauty to America
- WTI Magazine #144 Oct 16, 2021
This is the foreword to the catalogue of the exhibition “Dolce color d’oriental zaffiro. Le gemme in Dante e nei bijoux americani” opened on September 24 at the Museo del Bijoux in Casalmaggiore, Lombardy, Italy
The history of Italian emigration to America and of the integration of our fellow Italians in a world that was unknown and often hostile to them, tells of a thousand different experiences that change according to the places, the decades, the professions and the lives of those who were forced to emigrate.
If there are differences in the events that describe the evolution of Italian communities and individuals in the 50 American states during the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, there are also some similarities, which Americans would call patterns, demonstrating that there is a common thread that unites each of the millions of our fellow Italians who decided or were forced to move their lives, their expectations and their future to the United States.
A first aspect common to almost all is the encounter between Italian talent, creativity and resilience and the American environment open to these gifts, fertile with opportunity and willing to reward hard work and creative imagination. It is the perfect storm that makes us say that Italy still needs more America, and vice versa: this is not a questionable intuition, as all intuitions are, but the tangible, concrete and truly fruitful result of an experiment that has been going on for decades. America is an additive to Italian talent, which has made every aspect of stars and stripes society better and continues to do so today.
If America is a superpower, even if it is ragged and sometimes in difficulty, but always ready to get up and start again, in many fields such as the economic, military, technological and financial one, Italy is one in the cultural and artistic fields, with a particular excellence in the art of manual work. It is incredible, and it is wonderfully described in this volume, how the Italians who emigrated to America - and in this case, in particular, the Italian women who emigrated - were able to use their talent to create, modify, and chisel objects, inventing them from nothing and giving them magnificent life. It is not only a matter of great skill in the use of one's hands. There is in the Italian DNA the knowledge and the habit of beauty, the gaze used to admire landscapes and buildings, nature and churches, traditions and inventions, works of art of every kind, in the everyday life that teaches us unconsciously to live surrounded by images and situations that all around us satisfy each of the five senses as in no other place in the world. Information, sensations and wisdoms that grow in those who have talent a skill in translating all this into art. A vocation for genius that cannot be taught if you are not here, that is born and grows in every minute that you live in Italy, and that leads the incredible Italian artists to create beauty with that naturalness that in the United States more than anywhere else they recognize to us and call "sprezzatura": the art of creating wonders with the nonchalance of someone who apparently is not doing anything particularly difficult. In America it is synonymous with Italy, and it is incredible for those here in Italy who are surrounded by a communication that often gives way to discouragement and never seems to want to exalt the qualities of the Italian people.
Our fellow Italians who emigrated to America created beauty from nothing, with poor materials, without million-dollar orders and thanks to their talent alone. Accustomed to beauty, they reproduced it in a thousand ways: this volume describes the bijoux that represented a very important aspect of their experience of integration in the new world. These works of art are not made of particularly precious, rare or expensive materials: but that is precisely what makes them so important. They are testimonies of life lived by people who are both ordinary and exceptional, talented but accustomed to living a simple life, who express an extraordinary grace in creating objects for popular use, sometimes daily and sometimes for exceptional moments, but always in the context of lives that make of their normality their strength, while struggling every day to survive and improve their condition and especially that of their children. These bijoux are metaphors of the Italian American experience much more than the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington DC designed by Costantino Brumidi or President Lincoln sculpted at Mount Rushmore by Luigi Del Bianco: extraordinary contributions of Italian talent, but far removed from the daily life of the millions of people who arrived in America with so much hope, no knowledge of the language and context they were going to, great creative talent, the habit of working a lot and with few if any real wages, and an enormous unknowing cultural baggage developed unbeknownst to them during their Italian childhoods and adolescence.
There are no titles of nobility, sumptuous villas, comfort or luxury in the lives of the artists who created these masterpieces from nothing, at once poor in economic value and extremely rich in culture, history and talent. They represent Italy in America like no other object. They speak of all of us, they describe us and give us the opportunity to be proud of them and to show once again how exceptional is the combination between Italy and the United States.