Four of us piled into a FIAT designed for 5, but realistically large enough for only 3. The air conditioner was broken, and it was nearly 100°F outside.
Perfect conditions to visit a family of artisans on the side of one of the history's most notorious volcanos, right? We thought so too… and so began our journey to Gruppo FIENGO, a family run one-stop-shop for everything volcanic rock and ceramics related built on the western foot of Mount Vesuvius.
Imagine Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory relocated to Naples and repurposed for carving stone, extracting volcanic rock and painting ceramics, that’s Gruppo FIENGO!
Undeterred by the heat, we were excited to have a tour around the whole facility. It was amazing to see how the Fiengo family has embraced technology to ensure that their company stays relevant, but has not abandoned tradition, especially in their ceramics workshop.
Despite the industrial-sized earth movers and two-story band saws sprinkled around their facility, Gruppo FIENGO has an unmistakable family atmosphere. You feel especially at home in their ceramics workshop, where two master artisans spend their time painting traditional designs on the array of ceramic objects that the company produces.
I'm happy to share a taste of traditional Neapolitan ceramic painting techniques that I learned from the lovely artisans that work in Fiengo's shop...
Entirely handmade from beginning to end. Everything from the ceramic baked volcanic rock tables (above), to the planters, to the mantle pieces and door frames. If it has painted ceramic on it, it passed through the Ceramic Workshop at Fiengo.
The amazing thing is that despite the formidable volume that these artisans turn out each day, their technique has not changed for centuries. In fact, their method is very similar to the process that Michelangelo used to paint the frescoes in the Sistene Chapel:
- Step 1: Sketch a design on a translucent sheet of tracing paper.
- Step 2: Using a needle, poke holes along the outline of the sketch.
- Step 3: Rub charcoal ash across the perforated trace sheet.
- Step 4: A carbon copy of your sketch will be transferred to your work surface... Time to paint!
Don't be fooled by the simple technique, though. Some of the landscapes and designs that these artisans paint onto ceramic tables have earned a spot on the dining patios of some of Italy's most ornate villas.
I'll be back soon with more about FIENGO, but until then, as they say in Naples.... Statt' buon'!! Stay well!!