I have a big love for Italian gardens, and Italian garden ornament-no wonder. Rob has taken countless pictures on his trips there over the years to buy. I own an embarassing number of books on Italian culture, gardens, villas, terra cotta, art, interiors, flora and fauna-and the history thereof. Italian gardens-those two words evoke for me all things good about great gardens. I go so far as to have picture books of this region or that; I am quite sure heaven looks very much like Tuscany. My own collection of pots is almost entirely handmade Italian terra cotta-and three large English-made concrete pots in the manner of Italian terra cotta.
I am particularly interested in the faces. Italian pots, perhaps more so than pots from other countries, feature faces. The faces of women, satyrs, dogs, lions, putti, gargoyles, goats, birds. The faces of Italian life, I call them. It is astonishing how emotionally evocative those faces are, though made of fired earth.
In much the same way as I imagine the face of a person I have only talked to on the phone, I imagine plenty about Italy, based on these faces. This face, part cat, part lion, part sun, part satyr-what is the meaning behind those wrinkled brows, and intense gaze? I have my own mythology which I have enjoyed imagining.
Some faces of the women can recall the Italian paintings of the Renaissance. The modelling of the features of this face is quite extraordinarily soft and fluid. The contrast of this face, with the heft and solidity of the clay is beautiful.
Even the faces without so much detail make an impression. This imposing face, with a shell helmet, is surely the face of the guardian of the pot. I have never felt the need to actually research the history of the design of these pots-I like my own impressions. But after years of looking at garden ornament, I have no problem knowing what country they come from, based on how the figure is represented.
I see some of the history of Italian garden making and culture. This I get, before I ever fill them with dirt, and plant something in them. It also makes me careful about how I plant-so that a mature planting does not obscure what is represented on the pot.
This sculpture Rob brought back from Milan probably 14 years ago. The lion seems horrified by what he has had to do to eat, to live. This is a long way of saying-what a strong expression of angst. There are those who would make a distinction between art and craft-but that argument breaks down quickly for me. There is a story here, being eloquently and simply told. My Italian pots are beautiful sculptures in which I make things grow.
I like so much that the women have strong faces. She seems able and willing, her eyes wide open. Those who love the surfaces of their contemporary pots take just as much pleasure as I do from mine; everyone to their point of view.
This Bacchus with the goat horns and ropy beard is smiling; those smile wrinkles at the corners of his mischievious eyes make me smile. Italian garden figures, beautifully rendered faces, a story, a tale from a moment in the history of a culture, a myth-imagine getting so much from a terra cotta pot. I will confess I put them inside for the winter-I would not want to do without them.