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If you have received one of our Boxes, you probably have held and loved one of the amazing handmade items Giuliano makes. Whenever I walk into his bottega, I feel like a little girl in a candy store, with so many things to see that I don’t know which way to look first. I know my eyes are shining with delight at the sparkling shelves and drawers with many wonders inside. From cardholders to letter openers, potpourri balls, and ornaments, his goods look so delicate I am afraid to touch them even though I know they are made of metal and sturdy. Walking into Giuliano’s workshop is like opening your eyes on Christmas morning.
Within Giuliano’s small shop, a person can spend hours choosing among different designs and colors, his unique creations making one wonder if they have fallen into a magical world of stunning creations! Pins, key chains, pill boxes, Christmas ornaments, wine toppers, and napkin rings glint and glow from his shelves, the artistry, and colors mesmerizing. These are some of the impressive products he has been fabricating for the last 50 years for boutique shops in Milan, Paris, and New York, among other cities. If you have received a Box from My Box From Italy, you absolutely understand the allure of his treasures, but today, I want to tell you more about the day we met.
A friend took me to his magical Bottega a couple of years ago. It is a little place hidden so well that one must know the exact address and the campanello (doorbell) to push to find him. I remember peeking through the door before we entered, and the warm yellow light invited us in like an old friend. The building is old with thick walls, and once we crossed the threshold, we lost signal on our cell phones. This added to the feeling of going back to a simpler time when artisans weren’t just for special moments but part of everyday life. The rooms smelled the way an old book might smell, full of history, possibilities, and intriguing sights. Giuliano welcomed us into a tiny workspace where he had his: work area, warehouse, and sales store, and I knew I had found someone extraordinary.
But the bottega is more than just the shelves lined with beautiful metal; it is a spirit of creation brought to life by the man working there. The very first thing I noticed was his warm, approachable smile, followed by a welcoming Buongiorno as we shook hands. One might have expected a gentleman that worked with metals all day to have a hard handshake, but his shake was as gentle and warm as the man himself.
He introduced himself (this metal whispering magic maker) and humbly told us his story, one that reached back decades of his life and involved the years of learning his craft to become the master artisan that he is today.
At the age of 14, Giuliano was apprenticed to the bottega of Gianni Bricci. When his apprenticeship was complete, Giuliano decided to continue the tradition of elaborate, high-quality metal crafts made by hand, not machines. He has not wavered from this path since his young apprenticeship. It has not always been easy to continue his craft, and sometimes he worries about what will happen when he is gone, but he is a man that has followed his heart and his art, and this has allowed him to provide for his family all these years.
He works with his wife, Maria. A lovely, gentle lady who infuses every visit, whether to choose items for your Boxes or bring a new visitor, with a delightful conversation, warm smiles, and comforting hugs. Knowing Maria will be there to greet me, alongside Giuliano, is one of my favorite things about visiting the bottega. Her presence makes their shop feel like home.
On that day, several years ago, after introductions and conversation regarding his craft, Giuliano took me on a tour of his sales area, then led my friend and me to his studio, where Giuliano makes magic as he whispers to the metal. You will find machines over 100 years old in his workspace. This gives one pause to know that Giuliano is creating and crafting a tradition of hand-metal masterpieces on machines older than anyone in the room. He has continued the tradition of the old masters and brought their artistry into the present day. It is where the past meets the present, and beauty is created.
He shows me the different designs he has carved in his life and explains the transformation from plain to ornamental. Then he goes behind one of his old machines, the really old ones, and with a loud noise like the whir of a wheel and the smack of stone against metal, he engraves a mold of the Giglio (the Florentine lily) from Florence. from there he takes his engraving to a metal wheel under which he places a coin and feeds the engraving through. Ecco, a coin bearing the stamp of the Giglio shows the precision and expertise of his trade. And just like that, I have a souvenir to remind me of my time spent in the workshop of Giuliano.
Before we left his workspace, he explained the oven, how it works and how the fire softens the metal making it easier to shape. After many years of working by hand with his metals, he is precise and knowledgeable about exactly what heat the metal needs so he may bend it into the beautiful shapes for sale in his store.
Back upstairs, he took us to a room, which has become my favorite part of every visit to Giuliano's bottega. It is the room where he produces Cera Persa (Lost Wax). Every time I visit, I ask him to explain the process because I don't understand precisely how it works. Every time I ask, he patiently explains the process again, always with the warm, generous smile I associate with Giuliano.
Unfortunately, the lack of young apprentices is very concerning. Without anyone to pass on the craft to means that this ancient artistry may one day soon be lost forever. Giuliano keeps a positive attitude, saying that he loves what he does, and, for now, he will continue and will continue to hope that someone will come along who will love the metal, the machines, and the artistic expression that is released into every piece of as much as he does.
As a tour guide, this is one of my major concerns because this kind of art was born centuries ago and is part of our history. It allows us to travel to a time when artists were master craftsmen, and pieces of beauty were a part of everyday life made to be enjoyed each day. Through artisans like Giuliano, we can once again see a time of everyday beauty by watching how it is made.
I worry that we have lost appreciation for handmade objects, arguing that they take too long to make and are too expensive. But I remember that when I was a little girl, my grandmother would take out amazing treasures! Dresses, plates, and forks were handmade and belonged to her grandmother or mother. To my childlike eyes, they were breathtaking, and I beheld them with reverence for their unique beauty!
Now, we just google / amazon, and we buy items for our house with no history, soul, or passion as part of their making. The more time I spend looking for beautiful and unique objects to share with our clients, the more I start thinking that I prefer objects made by hand, ones created with passion, ones that have a history.
Elena actually reminded me of this! She has so many things in her home that have a history, a family history, or an artisanal history. And I think this is what I want my house to be, also.
I think it is likely we will continue to add precious pieces of art from Giuliano's bottega to our Boxes. with everything he creates, we will not run out of his unique pieces any time soon.
It is our way of helping to ensure that his traditions live on for centuries. So remember to pass on his objects because they will never go out of fashion!
Dina and Elena