Materially Speaking-logo

Materially Speaking

Arts & Culture Podcasts

A podcast where artists tell their stories through the materials they choose.


United Kingdom


A podcast where artists tell their stories through the materials they choose.



Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Notre-Dame: An acoustic reconstruction

See pictures and read more on On 15th April, 2019 a catastrophic fire broke out in Notre Dame Cathedral. Parisians watched in horror as the spire fell and most of the roof was destroyed. In the aftermath it became clear that a large area was contaminated with toxic dust and lead. The iconic building, which has dominated the Île de la Cité island in Paris since the Middle Ages, is a national symbol not only for the French but for people all over the world. President Macron pledged to build back the cathedral as it was before, and as the planned reopening in December 2024 looms, a huge office structure has mushroomed around it and 500 workers are on site daily as the team race to rebuild it. The eyes of the world are watching, but Materially Speaking has a story for our ears - the story of its sound. As a sound specialist himself, Mike Axinn was fascinated when he discovered there is a group exploring the restoration of the acoustics at Notre Dame. He approached Brian F.G. Katz and David Poirier-Quinot at the Sorbonne, and their colleague, sound archeologist Mylène Pardoen, who is co-coordinator with Brian of the scientific acoustics team assisting the reconstruction of Notre Dame, and soon we were off to Paris to hear their stories. We first met Brian and David at a restaurant and then visited their simulator inside the Sorbonne to discover more. Notre Dame has a special role in western European music’s history and is generally thought of as the cradle of polyphony. Sarah was attracted to this angle as her father, Christopher Monk, was part of the Early Music movement which restored the use of the Renaissance cornett, a woodwind instrument well known in Monteverdi’s music. He also made and played serpents, long snake-shaped instruments that had a central role in music that was performed in Notre Dame many centuries ago. So she approached Volny Hostiou, one of France’s leading serpent players, and we were delighted when he and singer Thomas Van Essen agreed to join us in Paris for some experiments with Brian and David. We then jumped on a train to Lyon to meet with Mylène Pardoen and learn more about her work as one of the world’s foremost sound archaeologists, tasked with recording the sounds made by stone masons and other artisans in their work, and re-imagining the church’s soundscape at various points in its history. A key person driving the physical restoration is Pascal Prunet, Chief architect of historic monuments in France and part of the team in charge of restoring Notre-Dame. Prunet explains that their work in restoring the church has revealed many secrets about its construction and the work done by artisans. We were fortunate to hear how his team was able to discover things they never would have learned had it not been for the fire. As we obviously could not go inside Notre-Dame, Volny and Thomas then kindly arranged for us to hear them play in the Abbey of Rouen, built on a similar scale to nearby Rouen Cathedral, the abbey is famous for both its architecture and its large, unaltered Cavaillé-Coll organ. Here they talked to us about the serpent and their group Les Meslanges, showed us a serpent fresco on the ceiling of the Abbey and played in three different locations. Finally Mike takes us back to Brian and David’s simulator to compare and contrast the sound of the musicians live in the Abbey of Rouen, and their simulated version of how the music would sound at different historical periods of Notre-Dame’s history. Thanks also to Frédéric Ménissier who made a great video recording of our visit to the Abbaye of Rouen. You will be able to watch the result on YouTube @materiallyspeakingpodcast nearer the scheduled reopening of Notre Dame, in December 2024. Thanks and links We are very grateful to Brian, David, Mylène, Pascal, Volny and Thomas for giving so generously of their time and sharing their expertise and passion. You can learn more about their projects in the following...


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Viareggio Carnival 2024: Confetti in their blood

See pictures and read more on The flags are out, the bunting too, and the red and white mascot Burlamacco is everywhere as Viareggio eagerly awaits the start of Carnival. The trees are heavy with oranges, the sweet fried dough, chiacchiere, are in the pastry shops - there’s excitement in the air! Dating back to 1873, Viareggio’s Carnival attracts thousands of visitors each year to watch the enormous, intricate papier-mâché sculptures dance their way along the seaside promenade. From September through March the Citta del Carnevale - a circular complex with 16 hangars - is a hub of energy for the artisan community using boat-making skills from Viareggio, and artistic creativity from Pietrasanta. Last year we learnt how they use newspaper, along with flour and water paste, to create papier-mâché floats. But between the audience watching and the artists creating, there’s another community: hundreds of volunteers or 'figurants' who turn up to rehearse, rain or shine, each weekend, to form the colourful dancing troupes in front of the floats. So Mike and I are here to revisit the LeBigre family on the 20th anniversary of their La Compagnia del Carnevale to learn why their 200 volunteers return each year, and what impact one creative project can have on the wider community. For this episode we are also proud to collaborate with Celia & Enzo of Piazza Talk Lucca - a popular YouTube channel sharing how life is in Lucca, and in the Tuscan hills. Celia, a book restorer, and Enzo, a sea captain dived right in to volunteer behind the scenes with the Le Bigre family creating papier-mâché items for the float. Check out the videos they made of their behind the scenes experience volunteering with the Le Bigre family on their YouTube channel. Links Carnival parades run through the end of February 2024. You can also visit the Cittadella museum during the rest of the year. Viareggio carnival info & & Enzo Youtube: Piazza Talk Le Bigre viareggio.ilcarnevale.comBenjamin Le Bigre’s theatre group in Producer: Sarah Monk Producer/Editor: Mike Axinn Music : courtesy of Audio Network Gypsy WorldSpecial thanks to Linda Nari for sharing her vibrant photos Carnevale 2024 Facebook


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Gabriele Gelatti: Like an insect

See pictures and read more on Gabriele talks to us about his upbringing in Genoa, his self-taught artistic training, his love for the history of art, and for photography. He explains the process of creating pebble mosaics, including the selection of stones and the use of lime mortar. He also discusses the importance of preserving the skills and techniques of mosaic making and the impact of climate change on the availability of materials. We met Gabriele in a city park called Campo Pisano – where Genoa once beat Pisa at the battle of Meloria, and confined more than 9,000 prisoners. Here he is restoring a memorial mosaic which was first made by Gabriele’s teacher Armando Porta. Further info and images on Wikipedia. For many centuries Genoa wielded enormous power as a maritime republic and was considered one of the wealthiest cities in the world. On our way to Gabriele’s studio he showed us the narrow streets and wonderful architecture, with layers of history. Liguria, is a region of northern Italy; a narrow strip bordered by sea on one side and densely wooded mountains on the other. The air here smells of salt from the sea, minerals from the rocks, and pine from the hills. Its traditional crafts are mostly inspired by materials from the sea and forests. Gabriele emphasises the need to pass on the craft to future generations. Gabriele's work is driven by his deep connection to nature and a desire to create beautiful and sustainable art.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Robin Bell: Pioneers and famous Canadians

See pictures and read more on We settle down to chat outside Robin Bell’s home at a sheltered table with a spectacular view of the sea, from Pisa to La Spezia, and the never ending horizon. An exterior storage space against a yellow wall reveals shelves laden with maquettes and sculptures in various stages of completion. Robin discusses his move from working with marble to bronze and his focus on creating larger sculptures. He shares stories about some of his notable commissions, including sculptures of Winston Churchill, Ulysses and the hockey star and Canadian politician, Ken Dryden. Robin talks about his Irish heritage and how he loves telling stories through his sculptures. He also describes his working process and how he immerses himself in the characters he sculpts. He recounts the preparations he took to sculpt a Canadian cutting horse called Peppy San, which took three years to make. Coming from a military family involved Robin in much travelling and he acknowledges the influence his grandfather’s pioneering spirit had on him. He reflects on how attached he is to the view of the horizon over the sea from his house near Pietrasanta. Nowadays Robin creates a drawing daily, which he posts on social media. Robin Bell on Facebook


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Janice Mehlman: Come fly with me

See pictures and read more on The long, narrow, glass-walled studio of Janice Mehlman is perched half way up the steep garden of her home, on a hillside near Pietrasanta. Many of her abstract photographs are hung on crisp white walls, and she welcomes us inside to look at some of her work from the last 30 years. She explains how she started as a photographer, focusing on black-and-white images of architecture. After creating an image that captured a chance moment of light on a discarded photographic proof in her waste bin, she started to incorporate objects into her compositions. She shows us her workbench, where she finds inspiration. When light from the window shines in, it illuminates a cornucopia of materials in every colour and texture. We see swimwear, hats, netting and fluorescent wrapping – all glittering in the morning sun. Janice explains how her work has evolved over the years, particularly in relation to her exploration of her sensuality and sexuality as a woman. She talks about using her own intimate garments and other objects to create compositions that reflect her inner soul. She also recounts how her work has responded to different experiences, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and shows us a few pieces from that series. We hear how she was inspired by a disastrous trip to Chicago to create one of her most acclaimed series of work, choosing to find the positive even in adversity.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Steaven Richard: Artsmithing

See pictures and read more on Steaven Richard evolved his craft as an apprentice to several artisan blacksmiths over many years and in many countries, before establishing his own atelier in Paris specialising in artistic metalwork Soon demand for his work, from architects and designers, grew - and he needed more space. To accommodate this, he moved to a large warehouse in Valenton and expanded his team of blacksmiths and metalworkers who combine traditional skills, and new technology. Atelier Steaven Richard has become famous for its artistic metalwork. Prestigious designs include a bespoke metal floor for the studio of Karl Lagerfeld, the elevator doors for the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, and a ‘Steaven Richard’ limited edition bottle for Remy Martin. We started to interview him in front of his wall of gorgeous wall samples in a colourful array of textures, patinas and designs and then went through to the workshops. And we also tour his huge hangar-like workshop, which is buzzing with activity and the thrum of machinery. Enormous shelves hold sheets of carefully-labelled metals. There’s large-scale equipment, and workers hand-finishing on long benches. It’s artisans work on a grand-scale. We see some samples of his finished work. Mike Axinn and I took the train 50 km south of Paris, through the suburbs, to the dense wooded area of Bois le Roi, next to the forest of Fontainebleau. As the train slowed into the station, a bright blue sky is visible above the dense forest of wintry trees, and we see the lanky figure of Steaven waiting on the platform to greet us.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Xavier Montoy: Sternocera aequisignata

See pictures and read more on Xavier Montoy grew up in a family of doctors and was always keen on biology. When he chose an artistic route he wanted to focus attention on endangered insects to highlight how we should honour and conserve them. As part of our Paris series, Mike Axinn and I go to the 11th arrondissement of Paris to meet Xavier and see how he creates jewellery with the Sternocera beetle. Sternocera aequisignata live in Southeast Asia, especially in northeast Thailand. Their life cycle is two years, of which the period when they live above ground and reproduce and then die, lasts only a few weeks. Once a year, in September and October, villagers harvest and sort the elytra (fore-wings), and then Xavier sources them for his work. Xavier’s workshop is in the artisan complex at the Cité des Taillandiers, in rue des Taillandiers, where around twenty artists and artisans have workspaces thanks to an initiative of the mayor of the 11th who is working to support historic craft activities in the arrondissement. In his shared, neat workspace we find a magical display-box of beetles and butterflies, a case of jewellery tools and some 3D printing equipment. On a high shelf are some sheets of the precious material he has created from beetles in bright iridescent colours.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Judith Kraft: Early instrument maker

See pictures and read more on Judith’s workshop is in the 10th arrondissement, tucked away in a courtyard behind huge iron gates where tall white buildings house workshops, and motorbikes and cars are squeezed against the walls. There are lines of plants in terracotta pots and a small white dog. Judith greets us in her office where a history of her instruments line one wall – some with painted gold detail and others with fine marquetry work in wood. She makes instruments on commission for professional and amateur musicians, ranging from promising students through to well-established performers, from all over the world. She also creates instruments for Swiss and French music conservatories and does restoration work on old viols. In her light and airy workshops, we find a large store of seasoned wood including many triangular shapes ready to form the instrument, and shelves holding a rich assortment of spirits, glues and waxes. She speaks about how she sources the wood in the Jura and how you can tell the age of the wood in an old instrument, and judge the climate over the years, through the stripes you see in the wood. There’s a half finished instrument in a vice on a workbench and Judith runs through the process of creating her instruments for us, each of which takes a couple of months to complete. All the tools of Judith’s craft line the walls, including a fine selection of blades. Judith talks of the pleasure both of making the instruments, and of hearing them play in the hands of their final owner. In 2018, Judith Kraft was named Maître d’Art by the French Minister of Culture.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Sylvain Maenhout: Forging a new life

See pictures and read more on Sylvain always loved cooking and when he discovered a passion for working with metal and wood he trained so he could create kitchen knives for chefs. Mike Axinn and I travelled to Paris to meet four artisans. In the first of our series we talk with Sylvain Maenhout who took the decision to retrain as an artisan in his late 30s. Becoming an artisan has given him the ability to work from home and have a more balanced, family-centred life. Finding workspace in Paris has become increasingly expensive and, as in most cities, there are restrictions on noise and dust. So Sylvain Maenhout made the move to an eastern suburb, 10 kilometres out of town in Nogent sur Marne. We chatted with Sylvain about his background, and how he worked in business before choosing a different path as a blacksmith making kitchen knives. We visited Sylvain’s workshops – the first dedicated to metal work which had a 1950s rolling mill, anvil & hammer, and hydraulic press. He tells of his passion for forging and how he loves working both with metal and with wood. He explains how he sources his materials – steel from Germany and wood from suppliers who have already seasoned it. Then we go down to the basement workspace where he has a space for woodwork and knife assembly. In the house’s former coal room he shows us where he does the heat treatments, and sharpens the knives with Japanese wet stones. Sylvain tells about the range of knives he creates and his experiences talking with professional chefs and private customers.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Trailer: Paris Transformations

See pictures and read more on This spring Mike Axinn and I went to Paris to see how artisans are able to practise their craft in a vibrant, urban setting. We wanted to discover more about the relevance of traditional skills in a world of 21st century technologies. First we met Sylvain Maenhout who gave up a conventional career and moved his family out of central Paris to devote his life to making kitchen knives. Release date: 26 May 2023 We also spoke with Judith Kraft who left America to establish herself in Paris as a Luthier, making viola da gambas. She tells of her process - from choosing the wood in the Jura to passing the instrument to its new owner and hearing it play in their hands. Release date: Summer 2023 Then we visited Steaven Richard, whose passion for horses took him around the world as a blacksmith, discovering architecture that inspired his fine artistic metalwork. As demand for his work grew he moved to a larger facility where his team of blacksmiths and metalworkers combine traditional skills with new technology. Release date: Summer 2023 Finally we met Xavier Montoy who grew up in a family of doctors and was always keen on biology. When he chose an artistic route he focussed on endangered insects to highlight their importance in the eco-system. He tells how his passion for insects led him to create jewellery with the Sternocera beetle. Release date: Summer 2023 All of these artisans told us tales of transformation and spoke of sourcing and creating from their chosen materials with passion and purpose.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Ron Mehlman: An artist of many parts

See pictures and read more on Ron Mehlman grew up in Brooklyn and came to Pietrasanta in the 1980s. No materials are off limits in his quest for creating sculpture infused with spirit and life. As we settle down to talk by his warm log-burning stove, Ron describes the two walls of his studio with their alphabet of colourful abstract sculptures – created from stone, wood and bronze – each one perched on its own individual shelf. The project started as a way of making thin sketches out of the stones available in the area. Ron talks about his family from the Ukraine, his neighbourhood and his upbringing in New York. He tells of his student days, his teaching work and how he originally came to Pietrasanta with Janice, a photographer and now his wife. One piece which Ron discusses is an abstract metal piece called Drawing in Space. It reflects his upbringing in New York where he salvaged scrap to use in his art. This three dimensional piece is created from parts of tools used to copy a marble sculpture, as well as an old bicycle seat. He also spoke about a work created from a stone which he fell in love with and reminded him of an intricate, Chinese drawing of a landscape. He bought the broken stone, put it together and carved a landscape in front and behind it. Many of Ron’s sculptures play with light, and he works with the stone to reveal the geological formations and their intrinsic natural beauty. Ron shares his home on the edge of town with his wife the photographer Janice Mehlman – It’s a pretty house on the hillside, with neat rows of vines below it and a stone studio with high glass windows set in the garden. The studio is surrounded by sculptures and stacks of stone waiting to be worked.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Nicola Stagetti: We can move the mountain

See pictures and read more on Nicola Stagetti of Stagetti Studios in Pietrasanta, and Robin Sethi, the project coordinator from India, describe the creation of Pramashwar the Infinite. Artisan and studio head Nicola Stagetti spoke to us from his studios, where historic busts line the shelves and the familiar roar of his robot emanates from the next room. Nicola completed his art education in Pietrasanta and went on to become an apprentice in his father’s workshop, then called Stagetti & Cosci. In 1996 he changed the company name to Marble Studio Stagetti. Nicola approached this project with great passion. He talks about the joys and challenges of realising this piece of huge significance for the many followers of the holy saint in India. Nicola has been working on the project for the past three years from just one original photograph of the Indian saint who lived 100 years ago. Robin Sethi, the project co-ordinator from India, met us in the gardens of the Convent of San Francesco, which dates back to the 16th century and was once dedicated to prayer and meditation, but now offers community courses, conferences and internships, all in the area of the arts He talks of his admiration for how Nicola skillfully replicated in marble the shoe that the Saint wore. The original shoe was handcrafted in leather with fine thread work. All photos by Gail Skoff: – Stagetti Studios For Pramashwar The Infinite, visit Yogiraj Sarkar Godariwale Trust at


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

John Greer: Art is a language

See pictures and read more on John Greer finds art gives him an invaluable structure in life. Expressing himself in form is more important than a visual language. Professor of sculpture for 26 years at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, John was the catalyst for the ‘Halifax Sculpture’ movement in the 1990s which was rooted in minimalism and conceptualism. Inspiration for his sculpture often comes from Ancient Celtic stones and Greek sculpture and he likes the merging of cultural and natural history. He discusses a number of projects he has created over the years, and Gail Skoff took photographs of some of his more recent works. John has created about a dozen pieces on the theme of value, and he tells us why he finds the invention and history of money so fascinating. He speaks about the geology of materials, and how he takes this into account when he chooses what stone to work with. The Sleeper and The Rose (2021) was inspired by a Greek piece. John discusses how we live in a time where Western culture is trying to come to terms with its history and its colonial past. He feels it is important to let go without forgetting. John’s series on Sirens was inspired by Greek figures. Sometimes used as a memorial, sometimes to mark an event, and sometimes as a real person. John explains how in the Louvre everything was against the wall because it was considered a humiliation for an aristocrat to walk behind another person, and a sculpture was considered another person. Born in Canada, John now shares a studio in Pietrasanta with his wife the sculptor Vanessa Paschakarnis, and a lively community of frogs. Thanks to Gail Skoff for this collaboration and for the fantastic photographs of John. All photos: Gail Skoff, –


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Magic at the Carnevale: Artisans of Viareggio

See pictures and read more on Carnevale originated in pagan rituals celebrating winter turning to spring. For Christians it offers a brief hiatus before the rigours of Lent – hence the name ‘carnem levare’ – which means ‘to take away meat’. This is a time to create chaos, to question and poke fun at authority and, for the artisans of Viareggio, the opportunity to say something meaningful to the public and get them involved. La Cittadella del Carnevale, just outside Viareggio, is a circular complex with 16 hangar-like warehouses and a museum. It’s here that we meet some of the artisans whose dizzying array of skills include design, art, modelling, mechanics, puppetry, welding, choreography and scenography. However, as in a circus, everyone has to do a bit of everything. — — — The French Lebigre family travelled the world learning from other carnivals, and are credited with being the first to create a community theatre to perform in front of their floats. Each year they train 200 people from all walks of life to participate in their show. This year their grand float is entitled Laugh Pagliaccio, or the art of taking oneself seriously and features a clown looking at himself in the mirror as he readies himself for the show. Will he make us all laugh, or himself be the one to laugh at the world which has become a circus? — — — Libero Maggini is an artist based in Pietrasanta who creates works in bronze, terracotta and marble. He is the son of two artists and each winter he works with his father at the Carnevale. This year, the 150th anniversary of the carnival, they created six figures for the masquerade category as a homage to Queen Elizabeth II and her dogs. It is titled Anglicani as a joke – ‘cani’ means dog in Italian. — — — Edoardo Ceragioli started competing in the Carnevale in 1998. This year his creation is titled There was a boy like me, which quotes a famous song by Gianni Morandi denouncing the stupidity of war. His creations depict memories of a young boy’s life cut short in the rubble. Here you can see him working on the backpack representing the boy’s schoolboy years. Francesco Manfré has been assisting Edoardo for some years and works as a lifeguard in Viareggio during the summer months. — — — Matteo Raciti was born in Sicily and grew up in the artistic community of the Carnevale of Acireale studying architecture before coming to Pietrasanta to train as a sculptor with a special interest in puppetry. This year he called his masquerade Humanity has lost the thread, a modern retelling of the Ariadne and the minotaur myth. His minotaurs can’t get out of the labyrinths that our society has created. Will they be able to follow the red thread invented by a young Ariadne and find their way to a new humanity? Here you can see him working with a colleague placing papier-mâché inside a mould.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Silvano Cattaï: Into the Light

See pictures and read more on Silvano Cattaï born in Belgium, of Italian parentage, came to be an artist in Italy by way of making films in New York. After years in sculpture he finally came back to painting but this time with a sculptural angle, using a plasma gun and paint on aluminium. Silvano’s studio houses his powerful plasma equipment, and protective gear. On the walls are metal-working tools, shelves with tubes of oil paints. Around the studio are neatly stacked rows of aluminium. Silvano mixed his own colours and worked in sculpture in Pietrasanta for many years until he came full circle back to art - this time using the plasma torch at the same time as paint, making sweeping cuts on the aluminium plates. With sculpture Silvano depended on other people but he came back to painting to be more instinctive, and to work all by himself. He finds painting gives him the freedom to express what pleases him. Silvano’s garden has myrtle bushes burgeoning with berries, persimmon, lemon and olive trees - all plump with fruit. The view is dominated by the peak of the mountain opposite, with the quarries and the familiar lines of mining scars. Thanks to Gail Skoff for this collaboration and for the fantastic photographs of Silvano.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Vanessa Paschakarnis: Feel with your eyes

See pictures and read more on German born Vanessa Paschakarnis migrated to Nova Scotia before coming to Pietrasanta in northern Italy. Hers is a philosophical approach to sculpture. I met Vanessa through Californian photographer, Gail Skoff, who took a special series of photos of Vanessa, which you can see on this page. In front of her studio-home is a dusty yard filled with her work. She works in large series’ and themes include horned and winged beings, beasts, and shadows. Behind us is the large hangar-like industrial building with huge windows, which is being transformed into studio space for her and her husband, sculptor John Greer. Vanessa is hugely inspired by nature and we settle to chat in a small oasis of flowers and water – where a pond, fed by a stream is home to fish and frogs. I also meet her spectacular Bengal cat, Tarzan von der Saffenburg.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Alvisé Boccanegra: Venice — A floating miracle

See pictures and read more on In the third of our Venice series, Mike and I are meeting furniture restorer Alvisé Boccanegra who trained in restoration in the workshops of the Church of San Marco. He tells how he repaired a crucifix after Venice flooded in 2019. Alvisé’s workshop is in the heart of San Polo on the ground floor of the building where he was born. Inside it smells of wood and linseed oil and there are neat shelves of brightly coloured powdered paints and a large selection of jam jars with oils and waxes. Over the years Alvisé has collected samples of wood which he keeps in his wood library. This helps him compare the density, and other features, of different woods from all over the world and understand better how to work with them. Alvisé tells of a very special project restoring a crucifix – a masterpiece by Guiseppe Torretti – which was found floating around the church of San Moisè after the aqua alta (high water) of November 2019. As he says in a Tweet (translated): Thanks to #VenitianHeritage the crucifix of #GiuseppeTorretti (18th century) of the church of San Moise was restored, damaged during the exceptional high water of 12.11.2019. It is now on display in the chapel of #PalazzoGrimani until next February. This catastrophic flood brought the second-highest waters since records began in 1923. It submerged St Mark’s square, caused enormous damage to homes and artworks, and left two people dead. The photograph of this statue immersed in water was widely shared and became a symbol of the need to preserve the special, and often sacred, beauty of Venice. Alvisé explains the delicate procedure, restoring materials that are no longer frequently used like mother of pearl and tortoiseshell.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Gabriele Gmeiner: Venice — Walking in their shoes

See pictures and read more on In this, the second of our Venice series, Mike Axinn and I met Austrian born shoemaker Gabriele Gmeiner who makes high quality made-to-measure shoes in her workshop at Campiello del Sol. She speaks of her craft, her journey from Austria and why she chose Venice. As we turned into Gabriele’s courtyard we found her sitting at a large wooden desk by her shop window, wearing a work apron, and smiling. A shoe was jammed between her knees as she filed the base of it. In front of her were a wide selection of hammers, tapes, knives and glues. Leather ribbons were stapled on the walls and dozens of wooden handled tools were slotted inside their curves. Above her head, suspended from the ceiling, was a forest of wooden shoe lasts. Gabriele studied at Cordwainers College in London, and in Paris at the Centre Formation Technologique Grégoire for saddlery. She honed her skills over ten years working throughout Europe before she came to Italy and made her home in Venice. Every July Gabriele directs the shoemaking workshop of the Salzburg Festival making shoes to measure for opera singers and actors to support their performances. She talks us through the process of creating the perfect shoe: from measuring the client, crafting the shoe, to the final fitting. She keeps the original last and also repairs shoes, ensuring they have a long life, and that their beauty grows with wear. Gabriele talks about sustainability and explains how she tries to source sustainable cowhides from the food industry.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Piero Dri: Venice — Rowing through time

See pictures and read more on Piero Dri is the fourth and youngest remer in Venice, making oars and oarlocks - or in Italian ‘forcolai’. Since he learnt to row aged 4, rowing has been his passion. I came to Venice with sound specialist Mike Axinn for a special Venice series of Materially Speaking, during the Homo Faber celebration of artisans, in April 2022. We met three young artisans who are now bringing a fresh energy to the community with a particular eye on repair, re-use and sustainability. Venice is an extraordinary Island city with a rich history, magnificent art and great beauty. However there are no cars and a frail infrastructure. And of course there are the tourists. So we were keen to discover what these artisans bring to Venice and why they like to call it home. Piero’s vibrant personality has earned him the name of the ‘mad forcolai maker’ and so his workshop is called ‘Il Forcolaio Matto.’ As we arrive, Piero is opening up his shop - hooking flower boxes onto his window cill, and leaning a red and white striped oar against the wall. He tells us how it was growing up in Venice, and how he escaped to the lagoon when he needed some peace, and to be with nature. He tells us of his studies as an astronomer and how he then changed direction and became an artisan. Piero’s workshops have painted and varnished oars suspended from the ceiling. He speaks about the different woods he uses and the boat community in Venice. In one window is a display of decorative forcolai, which hold their own as art objects in a variety of gorgeous woods. He speaks of a competition where he created a forcolai to express the natural beauty of the lagoon (see green and yellow forcolai below).


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Trailer: If you love Venice

See pictures and read more on In the Spring of 2022, sound specialist Mike Axinn and I went to Venice during Homo Faber, an event created by the Michelangelo Foundation to celebrate master craftsmanship. We wanted to discover more about the community of younger artisans in Venice - what brought them there, and why they liked it. First we met Piero Dri, a remer who makes oars and oarlocks, or as the Italians call them, ‘forcolai’. Since he learnt to row aged 4, rowing has been his passion. Release date: 16 November 2022 Then we chatted with Austrian-born shoemaker Gabriele Gmeiner who makes high quality shoes to measure in her workshop at Campiello del Sol. She speaks of her craft, her journey from Austria, and why she chose Venice. Release date: 30 November 2022 Finally we had an illuminating talk with furniture restorer Alvise Boccanegra, who painstakingly repaired a crucifix which was found floating in the church of San Moisè after the floods of November 2019. Release date: 14 December 2022 All three young artisans bring a fresh energy to the community and discuss the materials they choose with a keen eye on sustainability, re-use and repair.