Set In Stone
story: Melissa Mendonca photo: Brent Van Auken
Daniele Degli Esposti’s Art of the Old World
Italian stone mason Daniele Degli Esposti has a habit of tapping fine handmade items – anything from crystal goblets to salad bowls – for a familiar ting, a comforting sound that speaks of care and attention to detail in creation. It is a sound, he says, only emitted through items made by hand. For his wife, Redding native Grace Natina Degli Esposti, the sound of hand-forged care is actually a memory of her husband from the early days of their courtship. She would listen for the tap-tapping of her beloved’s chisels on the stone streets of Siena, Italy, and follow the sound until she found him hard at work restoring the city’s iconic infrastructure.
It was the sound of poetry, however, that brought the two together. Early in 2003, Grace was a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate struggling to find her niche on campus. While visiting a friend’s family in Carmel, a suggestion was made that she apply to an Agri Tourismo program in Italy, one which accepts only eight Americans a year. By June, she was working on a farm in Siena and beginning to study the language and culture of Italy.
On June 21, her birthday, she was invited to a neighboring farm for a poetry festival. The self-sustaining farm, La Comune Di Bagnaia, was the home in which Daniele had been raised and was still living. Grace laughs when recalling the story and the almost absurd romanticism of the night. “It was my birthday, there was poetry, he didn’t speak much English, I didn’t speak much Italian…” While many requests for dances were made, Grace had eyes for Daniele and overcame her newcomer’s shyness to say yes to him alone. The night began a courtship that would lead to an Italian wedding in 2005, and an eventual relocation to Redding in 2009, where Daniele is bringing his Old World artisan skills to North State residents seeking fine, hand-forged, commissioned architectural elements for homes and yards.
Daniele began learning his trade in 1993 while working for his brother. Their father, a farmer and sculptor who used the same techniques as Michelangelo, was a source of inspiration. Having apprenticed under two Italian craftsmen, now age 77 and 42, Daniele speaks with a passion about the importance of handmade creations made by true craftsmen. “Things last, are beautiful,” he says, “That’s it. What more do you want? And they’re unique.”
The city of Siena is designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO). With the city as his training ground and World Heritage specifications as his guide, Daniele has trained in the most Old World techniques known. He forges his collection of more than 200 chisels as needed each day on the job so he will always have the correct tool ready for the most precise line and detail. All of his tools have been sent over via container from Italy for work in the United States.
So far, Daniele’s American work has included stairways, a pizza oven, patios, fireplaces and a hood range in fine homes and a winery from Mount Shasta to Placerville, Napa and Piedmont. His work is done either on site or in a shop at Custom Creations on Eastside Road in Redding. A hallmark of his work is custom installation that results in superior quality and attention to detail not found with pre-fabricated work.
Daniele’s partnership with Andy Hursh of Custom Creations has resulted in a new business venture called Art of the Old World. Hursh will help market Daniele’s services, while Daniele’s extensive network in Italy will bring craftsman skilled in traditional stone, wood and iron work to the area for commissioned work. It’s all a way to bring “art inside your architectural elements,” says Hursh. For Daniele and Grace Degli Esposti, a blend of Italian and American influences is a family and a way of life. For North State residents seeking the sight – and sound – of fine, handcrafted Italian craftsmanship, Art of the Old World is now a drive to east Redding, not a flight to Italy.
Daniele Degli Esposti www.artoftheoldworld.com 6911 Eastside Road, Redding (877) 869-5308