Monthly Archives December 2016


While I was attending The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the school was awash with abstract modernist theory. This made things difficult for me because – I could draw. However, because I could draw AND conceptualize in 3D, I had a field day in sculpture and architecture.

There was a weekly extracurricular, after studio hours, foreign film viewing and lecture class in the ornately embellished late 19th century proscenium theater in the Art Institute of Chicago. The acoustically perfect theater, located in the palatial main building, was founded in 1879. It is the original structure, the seminal building, of the now sprawling museum & school we know today. The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest museums in the United States. It’s grand entrance remains protected by a pair of iconic oversized lion sculptures; perhaps a subliminal germ seed influence on the larger-than-life animal sculptures Karen and I create today.

Drawing of The Art Institute of Chicago

The films we saw directed by the Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman were boring and tedious. The French films all seemed to run together in a gray monochrome joined by an unemotional monotone. Both the Swedish and French cinemas appealed mostly to those artsy-smartsy students who were hanging on to the last vestiges of the – “like” – coffeehouse beatnik era.

For me, Italian films by Federico Fellini where magical. I couldn’t get enough. Fellini’s films immediately influenced my thinking. They changed how I saw the world and my creative output. They made me realize “movies”, not just paintings and sculpture, could be art. I would see each of the now classic creations repeatedly. I thought Italian actors like Marcello Mastroianni and Giancarlo Giannini were the coolest guys on the planet … my name, Tony Barone, possessed the same kind of melodic Italian sing-song and to me we had so much in common.

Portrait of Marcello Mastroianni
Portrait of Giancarlo Giannini

I continued to connect with contemporary Italian filmmakers like Lina Wertmuller (Seven Beauties, Swept Away) and Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, Malena). With Tornatore there was a double connection. He had set and filmed much of Cinema Paradiso, his Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, in the small town of Palazzo Adriano, the central Sicilian town where generations of my maternal ancestry lived before my grandfather, who had been seriously wounded during Mussolini’s African war in Ethiopia, told my grandmother he refused to fight anymore Fascist wars and was getting out of Italy. My mother was an infant in the arms of my grandmother when they all arrived at Ellis Island – America!

Fast-forward to when Karen & I were living in our massive, architecturally minimalist, three story studio sitting on the water’s edge of the Grand Canal in “The Venice of America “. Daily morning exercise was challenging each other to high-energy matches on the paddle-tennis courts on Venice Beach.

So many of our life changing adventures started with a telephone call. This time the call was from Ubaldo Grazia who, while in San Francisco, saw our hand decorated ceramic art charger-plates displayed in the high fashion storefront windows at Wilkes Bashford, the prestigious designer men’s and women’s boutique off Union Square. Before I met Wilkes and he commissioned our ceramics for his home furnishings department, I thought the store was owned by two people – Wilkes AND Bashford. Ubaldo flew down to L.A. and invited us to “come make-a-plates in Italy for my company”.

Photo of Grazia Factory – The form room at Grazia Deruta stores the archives of past works. Rows and rows of bisque ware preserve shapes and measurements and was the room Karen and Tony created their plates.

Ubaldo’s invitation resulted in Karen and I making several annual trips to Umbria to “make-a-da-plates” in the tiny Italian hill top town of Deruta, which was built entirely on Roman foundations.

Deruta is located north of Rome and Assisi and just 15 kilometers south of Perugia (famed for chocolate, the 14th century University and the American collegiate murder trials). Deruta was too small to offer evening restaurant and hotel accommodations so we spent our nights in Perugia, the lively capital city of Umbria. Each morning after coffee in our room, we set out on our brisk walking exercise through the ancient historical city sites and the morning’s farmer’s market for a tutorial on the seasons produce. We would drop into a fornio for fresh out-of-the oven and still hot vegetable topped flatbread. While at the fornio, we would engage Perugia’s matriarchs in morning conversation and gossip while surrounded by the warmth and aroma of baking panni as they purchased their “daily bread”.

Still early morning, we would return to our grand and elegant 16th century hotel with Edouard Manet balconies reaching out over the city’s main pedestrian-only stone paved promenade flanked with pastry and gelato shops. We would change into work clothes for creating ceramics. Of course Karen’s work clothes are as interestingly and artistically assembled and composed as any of her “Art is wear you find it” creations.

We packed my Moroccan water merchants coarsely crafted leather shoulder bag with its antique coin clad flap and pouch, an acquisition from yet another memorable escapade, as it was perfectly sized for sketch pads and art supplies. We exit the hotel and attempt to maneuver our tightly geared, low to the ground, pint sized Fiat through the cities narrow ancient streets in search of the main portal which will take us outside Perugia’s massive walls.

The city, with its mostly intact medieval origins, sits on a plateau high in the sky atop an almost sheer-sided mountain. Once outside the historic city’s walls, we lose altitude dropping quickly hair-pinning our way down to the main road and the short picturesque ride to the Grazia Majolica Ceramics Factory in Deruta. Ubaldo Grazia, whose family has owned and operated the factory for centuries, corrects me when I mention, “the kilns are 500 years old”. “Tony”, he explained, “the factory is 500 years old, but the kilns, they are from the Romans”.

Photo of  Ubaldo Grazia (seated at the wheel) in the decoration room of his factory c. 1925. The tables visible in the background are still used today in the light-filled room which is set aside exclusively for the precise work of painting.

On this visit, which was not our first, our expectations were to create 8 or 10 original Majolica “Barone Art Platters”. Each was to be the seminal piece for the extraordinary decorators, some many generations deep, to hand paint exact copies of one by one. Our originals sit in a vault until requisitioned. An artist/proof (A/P) of each of the new works is created for immediate placement in the Deruta Regional Museum of Ceramics. While we were creating the designs, we were introduced to a professor visiting from the town of Faenza, not to be confused with Firenze (Florence) the capital of Tuscany. The professor had traveled to Deruta to work on a special Majolica Ceramics project. During the Renaissance, Majolica production was spread out over many central Italian cities. The twentieth century finds the skilled craft confined primarily to 3 Italian hubs: Deruta and Urbino, both in Umbria, and Faenza in the region of Emilia Romagna (Majolica from Faenza is referred to as “Faience”). The Professor invited Karen & I to visit The International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza and address his students – we accepted.

Our mission in Deruta accomplished, we squeezed into our Fiat and headed North. Faenza is 50 kilometers S/E of Bologna, and inland about the same distance from the Adriatic coastal city of Rimini – RIMINI! The birthplace and home of FEDERICO FELLINI – a god to me!

Portrait of Federico Fellini

We were not scheduled to speak at the School of the Museum until the next day – so, we diverted to Rimini.

It was early in the afternoon of a cold, damp and gray March day when we arrived in Rimini. We weaved our way to “Centro” and the main piazza, today named Piazza Fellini. Karen was wrapped in her dramatic pitch-black floor length silk velvet Little Red Riding Hood cape with the full draped hood slumped to her shoulders. The entire inside of the black cape and hood was completely lined in the same velvet only in a bright vibrant mandarin red. She resembled a Fellini character from his 1965 film “Juliet of the Spirits” (Italian: Gillette Deli Spiriti).

I was wearing my black ankle length constructed overlapping and layered topcoat by PASHU designer Shin Hosokawa. It was acquired during frequent trips to Japan. Hosokawa created dramatically structured and sculptural fashion much in the Japanese haute couture tradition of his well-known contemporary Issey Miyake.

In motion, I may have appeared to be a huge black floating origami fortress, a sort of Japanese Trojan Horse.  I once wore “the coat” to a live performance by the legendary Maria Callas at The Chicago Civic Opera. During the intermission, a gentleman approached me in the lobby and asked … “You are the Maestro, no?” I answered “yes, ‘no’ is correct”. He thought I was Luciano Pavarotti. His inquiry definitely accelerated my efforts to lose weight.

As we investigated the Piazza, we were confronted by large bright yellow posters with an early airbrushed black & white mid-century photo of the young angelic face of Fellini’s wife and muse, the actress, Giulietta Masina. They covered the walls of the ancient buildings surrounding the piazza. “GIULIETTA MASINA WILL ARRIVE TODAY … at the TEATRO NOVELLO … at 16:00 HOURS.”

The message on the poster was delivered in Italian, which I thought I had deciphered quite accurately. However, as we got closer to 4:00pm, the number of mostly shorter and older Italian women dressed in black and wearing black stockings, became a crowd lined up behind the carabinieri ropes and stanchions.  I had assumed Giulietta Masina was arriving for an appearance at the Teatro Novello in Rimini to eulogize her famous husband Federico who had passed away less than 6 month ago. However, now it dawned on me it might be something else! Turning to Karen, I said: “I think she died and this is her funeral”!

The Italians, mostly women, still dressed in mourning attire from the loss of their husbands some many years ago, began to step aside and ease us closer to the police cordon and entrance to the theater. As the late afternoon got colder and 4:00pm arrived, so did a sleek modern hearse that was more like an American station wagon. Although it was not black, but beige, it was a hearse non-the-less. To our surprise, the crowd erupted into loud applause as Giulietta’s casket was removed from the back of the vehicle and her coffin slowly made its way along the front of the Roman Arches to the pair of massive doors where it would enter the theater for Giulietta Masina’s last appearance. By this time the mourners, thinking we were either friends or colleagues of Federico & Giulietta, kept guiding us forward to a point where we were now with the family, completely surrounded by flowers, and positioned close to Giulietta’s casket – and there we stayed.

Portrait of Giulietta Masina

We had been scheduled to arrive at the hotel in Faenza by late afternoon, however, that was no longer a possibility, or important. I remember driving at night and being solemnly greeted by lamppost lit empty streets and the illuminated “HOTEL” sign at the center of town. It was like being on the set of a late night shoot of La Dolce Vita.

Early the next morning we were standing before a studio-classroom full of bright, fresh, young Italian students full of hope and waiting for us to speak …

“HOMAGE to Fellini” by Tony Barone, a ©1994 wax pencil drawing on raw linen executed following the passing of Federico Fellini.
Photo: ©Barone

FEDERICO FELLINI, 73 yrs. 1920 -1993

GIULIETTA MASINA, 73 yrs. 1921- 1994

A limited selection of signed & numbered original
Majolica plates & platters are available at the MUSEUM STORE