Painting on Location
by Donald A. Jusko

Intarsia, Precious Rock Painting
Petra Duro by C. Grundke

Gem and Lapidary Materials

Intarsia story. Excerpt from the Forward to Anna Maria Giusti's book Pietre Dure by Alvar Gonzalez Palacios and an Excerpt from the Preface to June, Culp Zeitner's book Gem and Lapidary Materials.

This fine artwork is one of the most durable masterpieces ever created. Little known outside their small circles, these fine artists labor long and hard to create beauty, only for itself and not for monetary gain, fame, or even recognition (although some have achieved such). Their dedication, humility, perseverance, and skill reflect what true Fine Art is all about.

The medium used is the hardest medium known: gemstones. The use of hard stones takes patience, supreme skill, and true love of the creative process. The natural colors, textures, and patterns of these pictures made of stone are exquisite and far superior to any man-made paint or other media.

This form of artwork is derived from the great Italian tradition of Florentine mosaics or pietre dure, petra duro. There are practitioners of this art left in Italy, but those that still use the traditional techniques are few. Here in America, this art form has been revived by a group of dedicated artists beginning in the 1930's, who developed their own techniques using whatever tools and machinery were available. In order to produce these difficult and time consuming masterpieces, years of living and experience are necessary to develop the mind set required; so most of these artists are or were elderly and retired from the workplace. However, among several tribes of the Native American community, this tradition now spans into a fourth generation.

These commessi di pietre dure e tenere (intarsias) represent one of the highest levels of creative achievement in American Art History. This Rock Painting was made by the great Conrad Grundke.

I'm so impressed and proud to have this DVD, Don.

Full Intarsia, Rock Painting

The first step in the creation of this type of work is to find the necessary material. Since one cannot go to a store and find a slab of blue rock, much searching, either in the field or through networking among fellow rockhounds and gem dealers is necessary to secure the materials needed to make a picture. This process can take many years to accomplish.

The next step is to slab the rocks into usable slices of the proper thickness. The Italians and Native Americans generally use thin slices. Many other artists use thicker slices, either those that are slabbed for cabochons or a slightly thinner slab used specifically for making commessi. Slabs available on the market are usually of the thicker variety, since most lapidaries make cabochons and not commessi. Some Italians still slab their material by hand with a wire saw. On the other hand, Americans use modern slab saws in order to slab sufficient material of the right thickness for assembly. This process can take thousands of hours over a period of several years to have enough material to produce pictures.

The next step is to cut and fit the pieces together. Here the techniques are as varied as the artists themselves. The Native Americans generally use ancient Zuni techniques. The members of the San Francisco Gem & Mineral Society use a modern router assembly for inlaying the stones. The Jewelry & Allied Arts Club of California developed many specialized techniques using a whole range of machinery and handwork. The Castro Valley Club members use a Fab-U-Lap machine for precise fitting, and others developed several unique methods on their own. The one thing that all of these artists have in common is that whatever technique is used, it is extremely labor intensive and the larger pieces can take thousands of hours just to assemble.

 Intarsia, Rock Painting

There have been hundreds of Native Americans (mostly Zuni) who have created beautiful works of art, and hundreds more who still are producing fine art.

The purpose of this article is to give this form of creativity the Fine Art status it once held during the more culturally enlightened European Renaissance. Commesso, intarsia, inlay, and jewelry making all were and still are fine arts.

It is ironic that to some scholars in many parts of the art world, using lost wax techniques of sculpture that involve bronze and plastic resins, or fabricating constructions of sheet metal are considered art whereas if the same techniques are used but silver or gold is the medium, it's considered a craft or merely decoration. In the same way, if a sculptor creates a piece of work in clay, wood or soft stone (pietre tenere), such as marble, alabaster, or soapstone, it is considered as fine art, whereas if an artist uses a much more difficult and time consuming media such as hard stone (pietre dure), ruby, sapphire, jade, quartz, agate, jasper, etc., it is called merely carving and relegated to craft shows or exhibits in Natural History Museum Mineralogy Departments.

Furthermore, if an artist using hard stones, sometimes mixing them with the hardest of soft stones (marbles), creates an image indistinguishable from that which the use of powdered stone (paint) produces, many people for the most part won't even know what it is, and the few that may be aware of this art form, denigrate it as just a craft done by hobbyists.

It is also interesting to note that some of the most beautiful fine artwork created in America is done by Native Americans, whether it be jewelry, pottery, textiles or painting and sculpture; it is still delegated away from the Fine Art Museums and into Folk Art or Anthropological Museum settings.

These artists deserve recognition for their permanent (stone artwork will last for millions of years) contributions to culture and for the delight they give to all of those who see the results of their labors.

This is truly an art form that is beyond me, when I was younger I saw a lampshade being cut from a green stone, but I never appreciated what I saw, I never knew what was possible.

Grist-Mill by Conrad Grundke

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