Living heritage: Diego Poloniato and the excellence of the ceramic tradition of Nove
Diego Poloniato is a master ceramicist who grew up in Nove, a small town renowned for the ceramic tradition.
He specializes in the creation of the typical Venetian “cuchi” and “arcicuchi”, whistling terracotta sculptures of different sizes, with varied and curious shapes; but he also creates home ornaments and clay sculptures, mastering various modeling and coloring techniques, from oxides to engobes, and making the most of the nuances of the earth.
His style is truly unmistakable, imaginative, whimsical and original, and gives life to cockerels, hussars on horseback, clowns, pinocchios and other animals, also combined in complex epic scenes.
In 2020 he gained the “MAM – Maestro d’Arte e Mestiere” title, bestowed by the Cologni Foundation.
How and why did you decide to dedicate yourself to ceramics?
I was born into a family where almost everyone worked in ceramics: father, mother, uncles and cousins. It is a material that has always been present in my life. Since I was a child, I used to watch my father working on tiny or impressive sculptures in clay, and try to imitate his gestures. I loved being next to him and trying to learn as much as possible, while he told me the stories of the past, of his childhood lived in poverty during the war. He became a ceramic molding teacher at the Istituto Statale d’ Arte of Nove, the school I attended for three years; and I, as a teenager, felt embarassed of having my father as a teacher.
At the end of the course I worked for about four years in a factory that produced sculptures. After that, I decided to open my own workshop. My father continued to teach me the secrets of the craft, while I was trying to find my identity as a ceramicist.
Nove (Vicenza) is a town famous for its ceramic production. How important was the bond with the territory for your career as a ceramicist?
The bond with the territory is, and has always been, fundamental for my professional and artistic growth: it gave me the opportunity to get in touch with an ancient tradition, and at the same time to confront myself with stylistic, technological and material innovations. Growing up in a town of fervent creativity and industriousness, provided me with the stimulus and knowledge to evolve my own style, differentiating myself from other ceramicists.
You specialize in making the typical Venetian “cuchi” and “arcicuchi”, terracotta whistles with curious shapes. How did this passion come about and what are the secrets of these particular artifacts?
In 1961 the director of the Civic Museum of Vicenza, Gino Barioli, invited many ceramic teachers and students of the area to create “arcicuchi”, large whistling sculptures. On that occasion, my father’s “Napoleonic soldier arcicuco” was purchased by the Museum, and it’s still exhibited there. Starting from that satirical sculpture, many ceramicists started an artistic and modern reinterpretation of the two-tone terracotta whistles, which had been, until then, a simple toy to give to children at village festivals, or as a gift to a loved one.
In my childhood I saw countless arcicuchi, different in size and shape, and I was inspired by them, always looking for new lines, materials and subjects that could better represent my personality and my style. I create riders on horseback, or on bulls and cocks; high relief panels, trees of life, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Pinocchios, clowns, policemen and animals of every species and shape. The real secret in making these artifacts is in following one’s creative flair, giving space to the imagination with caricatural and fairy-tale subjects.
What is your favorite working technique and what does it consist of?
For several years I created the clay model of objects requested by the ceramic factories in the area, from which the plaster mold was then created for mass production. In those years I dedicated my free time to creating my cuchi and arcicuchi, experimenting with techniques, materials and shapes. Refractory and semi-refractory clays are my favorite materials for their yield and plasticity. I love to prepare by myself the shades of the semi-refractory materials that I need, and try to obtain a harmonious polychrome whole.
Using polychrome semi-refractory clay requires technique and patience: you have to proceed by adding piece by piece, paying attention not to contaminate the colours. My pieces are made entirely by hand without the use of plaster molds, they are fired at a high-temperature and finished with engobes or pure oxides.
Your style is truly unique. Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from fairy tales, legends, local folk stories, and I use their stories and characters with delicate irony. They bring joy to people.
How many hours of work does the creation of one of your pieces require and what is the process?
My works require different timing, depending on the size and degree of finishing I wish to give to the sculpture. I never count the hours, I just stop when I have achieved the result I imagined.
I start by creating the base, on which I then proceed to build the subject that I have imagined by adding material.
Do you also organize courses in your workshop? Or other initiatives to promote this art?
I don’t run classes in my workshop, but I often do live crafting demonstrations at the events I attend. For the Civic Museum of Nove, I made a demonstration video with the curator Elena Agosti, to teach how to build a cuco. Other video footage of my work was made by Geo&Geo, by the Veneto region, by some universities and the Volksbank, to promote local craftsmanship in Italy and abroad, and to carry on research on this tradition.
I particularly love to run courses for children and teenagers in schools, because they know how to use limitless imagination and creativity, for the pure sake of creating, unlike adults, who often have very high expectations and are influenced by precise, existing models.
In 2020 you gained the “MAM – Maestro d’Arte e Mestiere” title from the Cologni Foundation. What was it like to receive this acknowledgement, dedicated to the authentic masters of craftsmanship?
I have won numerous awards in my career as a craftsman, both for cuchi and sculptures, with great pleasure and satisfaction. None of these equal the gratification and pride I felt in receiving this very important title, which I didn’t really expect. Receiving such a prestigious title in 2020, when the business was stopped by the pandemic, gave me the strength to continue resisting in a really dark moment.
Being recognized as a Master of Arts and Crafts pushes me to improve myself continuously to honor this acknowledgment.
Via Astronauti, 3 – Nove (VI)
Ph. +39 0424 592422