There have been ebbs and flows over the years: Amalfi’s shipbuilding trade, for example, blossomed in the early Middle Ages but was largely over by the 13th century, only to be succeeded by the boatyards of Sorrento and Meta, which specialized in fishing vessels. The area’s most celebrated craft, ceramics, can be traced back to classical times. Gradually, from the seventeenth century onwards, it became focused on the town of Vietri sul Mare, but other towns and villages in the Salerno area – like Rufoli, where the family firm of Fornace De Martino fire their wares in a couple of thousand-year-old kilns – can boast even older traditions.
What follows is a curated selection of some of our favourite craftspeople and artists based in and around the Amalfi Coast. We’ve left out food artisans – cheesemakers, limoncello distillers, etcetera – as that’s such a rich vein we’d rather dedicate a separate section of the guide to it. Note that while these places welcome serious and well-informed visitors, most are small enterprises that work on commission, and few have their own dedicated shops or sales points.
Fornace De Martino, Salerno
This historic ceramics firm based in the village of Rufoli, in the hills above Salerno, has been in the same family for more than five hundred years, but the pair of kilns it still uses today to fire its wares are even older, dating back to date back tothe tenth and eleventh centuries. Run today by four De Martino brothers, the Fornace specializes in tiles, both glazed and in natural terracotta (they make and restore most of the floor tiles you see at Le Sirenuse and Franco’s Bar). Working with skilled tile painters, the firm has developed an important sideline in the reproduction of antique tiles – an activity encouraged by the late Franco Sersale, who reached out to De Martino to match some of Le Sirenuse’s ancient floor tilesin the 1990s.
Lucio Liguori, Raito
One of the coast’s most talented ceramicists lives and works not in Vietri sul Mare but in the nearby mountain village of Raito. As a boy, Liguori used to help out his baker father, before graduating from dough to clay. Today, he is one of the best-known artist-artisans on the coast. Some of his graceful creations, which often feature anchovies, cuttlefish and other denizens of the sea, can be viewed in Praiano, where Liguori is one of eight ceramicists whose works were chosen to decorate the lanes and stairs of the town as part of the NaturArte project. More of his playful marine creatures adorn the kitchen and serving hatch of Aldo’s at Le Sirenuse. A selection of Liguori’s plates and other items are on sale at the Emporio Sirenuse store in Positano.
Paolo Sandulli, Praiano
The gentle magic emanated by this Campanian artist, sculptor and poet’s works is only enhanced by the place they’re created: an ancient Saracen watchtower that stands in proud isolation at the top of a Praiano sea-cliff. Here, Sandulli creates everything from delicate terracotta portrait busts to pen-and-ink drawings, ceramic tile murals and dialect poetry. He’s famous for his female busts, some of which sport flamboyant hairdos made from sea sponges, and for a range of equally feminine terracotta planters, where the idealized subject’s hair is supplied by the fronds and leaves of the plants that grow inside. Although he works across the border that divides art from craft, the affable Sandulli is every inch an artist, and no two of his creations are ever the same.
Pasquale Scala, Praiano
In the village of Praiano, behind a high dry-stone wall, lies an old, trellissed citrus grove. Beyond, an unassuming door leads into a low, arched workshop. Hanging from the ceiling and walls, in various stages of completion, is a dizzying array of mandolins, guitars and other, rarer stringed instruments. This is the realm of Pasquale Scala, one of southern Italy’s very few artisanal luthiers. Scala specializes in the construction and restoration of traditional folk and period instruments for musicians and ensembles worldwide, taking months over each one and releasing no more than ten each year. Today, Pasquale is assisted by his son Leonardo, whose speciality is making the intricately carved ox-bone rosettes that adorn many period guitars and mandolins.
La Bottega del Gozzo, Marina di Sorrento
The gozzo sorrentino is the typical wooden fishing boat of the Amalfi Coast and the Sorrentine peninsula. It’s both practical and elegant with its rounded stern and its polished gunwales curving gently up to the raised bow. Today only a handful of artisanal boatbuilders still turn out these traditional vessels, among them Bottega del Gozzo, which still operates out of the old Sorrento fishing port of Marina Grande. Run by maestro d’ascia (skilled boatbuilding carpenter) Vincenzo Aprea, the Bottega is kept alive today by the handful of collectors and discerning coastal sailors who prefer solid, graceful, old-school boats to their modern fiberglass and resin cousins.
Photos © Roberto Salomone
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