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The Peace Frame is part of a cultural exchange between Alabama and Pietrasanta, Italy. From left, Daniele Spina, Pietrasanta minister of culture; Albert Head, executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts; Alabama artist Fred Nall Hollis, who created the sculpture seen above; and Pietrasanta Mayor Massimo Mallegni gathered to celebrate.
Courtesy photo by Jeanie Thompson
The Peace Frame is part of a cultural exchange between Alabama and Pietrasanta, Italy. From left, Daniele Spina, Pietrasanta minister of culture; Albert Head, executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts; Alabama artist Fred Nall Hollis, who created the sculpture seen above; and Pietrasanta Mayor Massimo Mallegni gathered to celebrate.

Alabama artist forges arts exchange across oceans

By M.J. Ellington
mjellington@decaturdaily.com (334) 262-1104

MONTGOMERY — The artistry of an internationally know painter, sculptor and former North Alabama resident, Fred Nall Hollis, is responsible for a cultural exchange between Alabama and a centuries-old Italian arts mecca.

His skill and his loyalty to his home state helped provide the reason for officials in Alabama and Italy to discuss the possibilities.

He is known professionally as Nall, and his work hangs in Decatur homes. The artist and sculptor is the first American with work permanently displayed in the city described as a mecca for artists and collectors.

Placed outdoors in a busy Pietrasanta square, Nall's sculpture is a large open picture frame. The frame is tall enough and wide enough to hold half a dozen adults for photographs or curious children and dogs who like to climb along its base.

Albert Head, executive director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, described the frame as a symbol of friendship between Alabama and Pietrasanta. The town lies between the Mediterranean coast and the Apuane Alps.

Peace Frame

The Peace Frame includes mosaic tiles, polished bronze and cast images that Nall frequently includes in his work. The cast images include pomegranates that symbolize life, bones that represent death and pinecones to show his allegiance to Alabama, his home state.

When unadorned with human visitors, the work forms a frame for different views of the bustling town.

Nall designed the Pietrasanta frame at his studio in Vence, France, near Nice. He and his wife, Tuschia, live much of the time in that city, where they operate an art institute. The couple have a home and studio in Fairhope.

The University of Alabama-trained artist and sculptor was born in Troy. He spent part of his career in Huntsville.

Head took a delegation to the small Tuscan village of Pietrasanta last August for ceremonies celebrating installation of the bronze sculpture in the busy town square.

Alabama-Italy exchange

During the festivities, Head said, members of the Alabama arts community who attended began discussions about a cultural exchange with arts administrators and elected officials. They wanted to promote Alabama arts and artists, and propose an arts exchange between the state and the Italian region of Lucca, where Pietrasanta is located, he said.

The effort worked.

In the first step of the cultural exchange in June 2008, Pietrasanta will host a group of Alabama artists, Head said. Alabama expects to host a group from Italy in June 2009. Exchange plans include visual, performing and literary arts representatives, Head said.

"Seeing an Alabama artist's work so prominently displayed in this city known for the best in marble, bronze and mosaic work makes us all very proud of our Alabama artistic talent," Head said. "We look forward to continuing these discussions and will have more information forthcoming for the entire arts community in Alabama about opportunities for participation."

He hopes the state will forge cultural exchange ties with other areas of the world after the Pietrasanta exchange becomes established.

Head said he wants the Italian exchange to include arts education opportunities, including internships for artists from both Alabama and Tuscany to study with masters of the respective countries.

Generations of the same families have operated Pietrasanta's bronze foundries, passing from one generation to the next casting and patina techniques.

The community's links to sculpting reminded Head of Alabama's high-quality marble that sculptors say is comparable to fine Italian marble.

Marble

Many Alabamians connect Sylacauga marble with flooring, counter tops and furniture. Head said Sylacauga's pure white marble, with few blemishes, is comparable to Italy's world-renowned marble, but not as well-known. He hopes the cultural exchange will help promote Sylacauga quarries as a source for sculptors.

While Nall is the only American artist with a permanent display in Pietrasanta, works by about 30 other well-known sculptors from other parts of the world are in outdoor displays there.

Michelangelo Buonarroti was perhaps the most famous artist to live there, according to Arts Council records. He supposedly spent eight months in the area while he hunted one perfect piece of white marble in quarries in nearby Carrara.

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