Alabaster in Volterra
Certainly the working of the alabaster is one of the most ancient artisan techniques existing now. The connexion between this material and the community takes root in the very origin of the town; in fact, such as in other cases, the Etruscans, for their settlements, had a preference for lands and materials right for the necropolis so they chose the alabaster deposit. The origin of the word “alabaster” is certainly Egyptian and perhaps is derived from the Alabastron town, well-known in past times for the manufacture of pots and amphoras for perfumes. The Volterra's alabaster is a calcium sulphate, dehydrate, that corresponds to the chemical formula CaSO4 . 2H2O.
It dates back to the Miocene epoch (26-27 millions of years ago); the italian peninsula's structure and especially the Apennines chain formed in this epoch. The Volterra's subsoil is very rich in deposits of alabaster of many varieties and it is considered to be the most valuable in Europe, because of its compact texture, transparency, hardness, veining and smooth to the touch. It is in the subsoil in ovoidal compact blocks, called “arnioni” or eggs, they are at variable depths, from 2 to 280-300 metres, and have various colours and compositions.
The alabaster can be manufactured easier than the marble thanks to its very great malleability and it can reproduce decorative motifs with many details in scale. The creativity and the manual skills of the Volterra's artisans kept unchanged over the centuries and they make the working of the alabaster unequalled in its own way.
The products of the Artieri Co-operative are the result of a working schedule that often needs the artisans manufacture before putting them on the market. Therefore the manufacturing process actors are numerous: the squares are the artisans make the pieces square; the Turners make the pieces round, the ”letter cutters” or sculptors are artisans specialized in decoration. All the workings are handicraft with traditional techniques and materials.
The products are the result of a work cycle that often requires the intervention of several craftsmen before being marketed. The actors in the production process are: the "squadratori", those objects which are paintings, "turners" that the pieces are round or circular or spherical objects, the "decoration" specializing in the ornamentation and sculptors which the block obtained alabaster, freehand or with the help of plaster casts from which the observed measures, sculptures. All processes are performed by hand with techniques derived from tradition.