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On working in southern Italy

June 8, 2010

Written by Valerie Constantino

As an artist, I am drawn to the methods and metaphorical properties of textiles and material studies. The poetics of everyday objects and intimate spaces as conveyed through my southern Italian heritage have a major effect on my creative process and aesthetics. This passage from a journal of 1997 illustrates:

Marriage of Carmellina Milo to Peter Constantino. Brooklyn, New York, c. 1890

Grandma Belize, as we called her, had come from Italy when she was fourteen years old, from a small village in southern Italy. She worked in the New York City garment center for $2.00 a week. When I was about eight or nine years old, she took out her stainless steel crochet hooks and taught me how to use them. I loved the cool shine of those hooks, and I loved even more, the enigmatic way I could, by slipping a hook through a loop of thread, create a thing of beauty and use. I was exhilarated by this process, and felt as if I had learned a secret language.

My grandfather too, though blind when I knew him, was a craftsman. In healthier times he’d been a tailor, and I remember with great affection, that first stuffed dog of wooly yellow cloth that he made for me. I explored sewing, crochet and other forms of textile techniques early in my creative journey. Their meanings still resonate, as they point to the notion that one may, through such modest activities, self-actualize.

The opportunity to trace the practical and elegiac roots of my artistic processes, to share these insights with others who have uncovered this wealth of influence, and to work together in the primary communities of southern Italy would to my mind realize the vision of art itself, illuminating the links between art and life.

©2010 Valerie Constantino

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