Festa Italiana brings a Roman landmark to the Milwaukee lakefront
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When Festa Italiana opens this Friday at Henry Maier Festival Park, many will flock down to the lakefront to gulp down some authentic Italian food and wine. Yet some of the most revered tastes of Italian culture coming to town this weekend are wholly inedible: the lovingly crafted and almost identical replicas of the country's most famous sites.
The Italian Community Center, for instance, houses and occasionally unveils a rare duplicate of Michelangelo's "Pieta," while scale-sized replicas of statue of David and St. Mark's Campanile from Venice will grace and decorate the festival grounds this weekend. And joining those famed sites at Festa thi year around the festival ground's middle gate will be a recreation of arguably one of the most iconic Italian landmarks: the Trevi Fountain.
"It's almost a summary of Italy's history," said Blaise DiPronio, a lawyer, member of the Italian Community Center since its inception, and chairman and writer for the Italian Community newspaper. "It highlights the arts, and the historical aspects of it go back to the Roman times. It's like an encapsulation of what Italy is all about: beauty, art, past and present."
Started in 1732 by architect Nicola Salvi – after his design beat out Alessandro Galilei, a family descendent of the famed Galileo – and finished 30 years later by Pietro Bracci, the mammoth stone Trevi Fountain marked the intersection point of three roads – thus, according to DiPronio, the name meaning "three ways" – as well as a natural spring near the terminal point of the ancient Roman aqueduct Aqua Virgo and later the Acqua Vergine.
As one of the largest and grandest fountains in the country, the Trevi easily garnered attention and fame, but it truly became an iconic locale, as well as a popular tourist hot spot, with the help of the movies. The fountain has shown up on the big screen, from cinematic classics like Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" – in such famous fashion that, according to DiPronio, the fountain was turned off and draped in black when the film's star Marcello Mastroianni died in 1996 – to not quite cinematic classics like "The Lizzie McGuire Movie."
However, it was the 1954 romantic comedy "Three Coins in the Fountain" that helped launch the Trevi into becoming an internationally known destination. Since the ancient Roman times, the fountain was home to a coin tossing ritual where citizens would toss coins – traditionally, DiPronio says, with the right hand over the left shoulder – in the hopes of receiving protection on a journey or finding love.
The Oscar-nominated 1954 film used that tradition for its plot, and since then, the Trevi's popularity exploded, with people pouring into Italy to participate in the ritual – "more of a scam than a ritual," DiPronio jokingly admitted, though the coins gathered at the fountain go toward charitable causes. In the case of the replica coming to Milwaukee, all of the coins tossed in will fittingly go toward the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"The Trevi, I would say, is probably in the top five of things that people think about when they think about Italy," DiPronio notes. "(The replica) gives you a little feel of Italy itself, not just the food and the drinks." Plus, as he added, without the crowds of tourists taking the fun out things.
While the actual Trevi Fountain took three decades to finish – over a century, if you include early looks into renovating the earlier fountain by Pope Urban VIII – the 50-foot replicacoming to Festa this weekend, formed with rubber molds and fiberglass, took a slightly more reasonable eight months.
The man behind the creation is Giovanni Bucci, an Italian-born and now Chicago-based sculptor, designer and artist. When he first came to America, he worked in racing, making cars out of fiberglass in Chicago when he met the head of the Italian Government Travel Office.
"We became friends, and he told me about a contest in Italy – the Italian Tourism Commission – every year to determine who would best represent Italy at the trade shows around the world, particularly in the United States," Bucci recalled. "He asked me to submit an entry, so I came up with the idea – the Trevi Fountain – and felt that it was an iconic thing that everybody would recognize right away and that would allow everyone outside of Italy at the trade shows to make those wishes."
Bucci's final product – coming in at 20 feet wide, 12 feet tall and 8.5 feet in diameter – ended up winning the contest. He designed that first model based simply off of a postcard of the Italian landmark without ever having seen the actual fountain in person for himself.
"I was in Italy – of course – and I had been in a bar, talking about how I'd made a replica of the Trevi Fountain when a man said, 'You've never seen it?' I said no, and he said, 'Well, we need to go see it,'" Bucci remembered. "This was at two o'clock in the morning when I went to go see it for the first time.
"I was overly impressed, obviously, but then I really looked at it, and I saw all the mistakes that I had made," he laughed.
Since then, the Trevi Fountain – in a range of working sizes, from the original 20-foot model to the 50-foot piece coming to Milwaukee – has become one of Bucci's signature creations. And as one would imagine, even though it doesn't take decades like the original in Rome, crafting a replica is still a time-intensive process, first creating a model, then making a mold based off of that model and then working with the fiberglass.
"Everything has to be individually done, particularly the figures," Bucci said. "The fountain can be constructed and then put together, but the columns have to be done individually because they go on the fountain last. When we bring it in the fountain, we'll have to put on the columns, put the end rocks on … it's just a process."
Even with the laborious and meticulous process, however, Bucci still finds the Trevi Fountain "compelling." After all, is not imitation the fondest form of flattery?
"I most admire the artistic construction and its size; it's huge," Bucci noted. "It's a huge construction is a very small place to gather. It's overwhelming. You're going down these small streets to get there and then it blows open into this huge, huge fountain."
And now Festa goers will able to appreciate that impressive construction, artistic detail and history for themselves without having to leave the city – plus make a few wishes, whether they be for finding safe travel, love or just a really, really tasty authentic cannoli.
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