Hold on to Peace - Image courtesy Ira Mitchell-Kirk

Hold on to Peace - Image courtesy Ira Mitchell-Kirk

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Strong NZ - Italian links .

From "The Coromandel Peninsula Post" 11 March 2010 page 4, Number 102. Copied from the section Artspace with Sheenagh Gleeson.
(See the edition as referenced above for the article with photographs of the three artists).

Art all the way from Mercury Bay to Monte Cassino
By Sheenagh Gleeson

Margherita Giampietri used to play under the table during her Italian family’s long lunches at times like Christmas and Easter. But when the meal neared its end, she and the other children would gather round to hear their family’s war stories. Some were tragic, some were touching and some were funny. The children knew them all and would plead with the adults to tell them their favourites ones.

Last year Margherita went back to Tuscany in Italy and heard her uncle’s war stories again. She wrote them down and brought them home to Whitianga. Not long after she’d returned she learnt about an exhibition of New Zealand artists being organised at Monte Cassino. Artists with connection to the World War 11 battle of Monte Cassino or the war in Italy were invited to take part. The timing seemed like magic to Margherita. She applied and was accepted and is now working on two paintings she’ll take with her to the exhibition, which opens on May 15. Two other Mercury Bay artists, Rachel Olsen, from Cooks Beach, and Dave Fowell, from Flaxmill Bay, will also take part.

Margherita’s connection to the war is through her father and other family members, including her uncle and grandfather. Her father , who was in the Italian navy, was badly injured during an air strike while he was on shore leave. He ended up lying on top of his dead friend under a tone of rubble. He was rescued, his shattered leg rebuilt and he was sent home to recover. When the Italians changed sides, he and his father, along with all the men in their village in Massa-Carrara, were taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

One day an Italian escaped and the Germans picked out 10 men to shoot in retaliation. Margherita’s father was chosen but his father managed to replace him in the line. At the last moment, the escapee was found and the men weren’t shot. Margherita’s father was so shocked, he was struck dumb for a time.

She says her father was puzzled by the war. “The thing I remember is ‘why’. That’s what he would say.”

She’d like to capture some of that feeling in her paintings and is planning to take one work in watercolour and one in acrylic. Although she’s always loved art, she didn’t paint seriously until she came to Whitianga 14 years ago, following her husband Giorgio Allemano.“I was so homesick … I saw a sign for the Arts Centre and I thought if I’m going to stay here, I am going to do some art.”

She joined the Whitianga Art Group, learning much from people there and trying to fit in her art around raising two children and helping develop Villa Toscana into luxury accommodation and an event venue.

Two years ago she began studying art at The Learning Connection and is loving the correspondence course. “It’s very demanding but it has changed my mind. Now I do what I like not what I think someone else will like.”

She has joint New Zealand- Italian citizenship and will take part in the Monte Cassino exhibition as a Kiwi, although she’ll be helping with translation. She’s delighted that Dave Fowell and Rachel Olsen are taking part. “I know Italians are very critical, so it will be nice to hide among my Kiwi friends.”

Sculptor and painter Dave Fowell will create his exhibition entry in France. He’s leaving Flaxmill Bay at the end of this month to try his luck living and working as an artist in Europe. His connection to the war in Italy comes through his wife.
Denise’s Italian father was drafted into the army when he was 17 and was engaged in clearing bombs in the Genoa area. When Italy sided with the Allies, he joined the Partisans and fought the Germans. He too had his share of horror.

Dave is planning a piece of sculpture which will combine the suggestion of a war-ravaged building with the colour and fun of the Pacific.

Painter Rachel Olsen isn’t sure yet whether she’ll go to Cassino but will at least send a painting. She too has heard lots of war stories from her father, who spent 18 months in Italy during the war in New Zealand’s 21st infantry battalion, number 9 platoon, A company.

He fought along the Gothic Line, the German’s last major line of defence in Italy. He survived being buried under the remains of a bombed Italian farmhouse and being injured crossing the Senio River. In 1975 he revisited a town called Morro in the Marche region which he’d visited on leave during the war.

Rachel is still thinking through some ideas for her entry in the exhibition, which has a theme of peace. Thirty seven artists are presently listed as taking part in the show, which marks the 66th anniversary of the liberation of towns around Cassino.

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