Last sicilian cart painter may close shop

Tue, 12/09/2008 - 06:09

The last active painter of Sicily's famous, brightly-painted carts may be hanging up his brushes for good after a decision by the Palermo archdiocese to have him evicted from the shop he has been using for the past 25 years.

The family of Franco Bertolino has been engaged in upholding the old tradition of lavishly painting the two-wheeled wooden cart for five generations but this could all come to an end on December 30.

Not only will Bertolino be forced to leave the premises on that date, but a court has also ruled that he pay a fine for every year he occupied the shop illegally since the archdiocese decided not to renew his lease in 1996.

''If they kick me out I don't know what I'll do. This is the only thing our family knows how to do,'' Bertolino said.

''We are also an attraction for the many tourists who come here to see us. I hope some kind of solution can be found,'' he added.

The carts, first brought to the island by the Ancient Greeks, are covered in brightly painted episodes from Sicilian folklore or history but can also feature intricate geometrical designs.

At a time when most of the island's residents were illiterate, the carts were able to illustrate not only historical events but also provide information on the owners and their trade.

The most popular colors used in painting the carts are yellow and red, those of Palermo's flag, while bright greens and blues are often used to highlight details.

The horses and donkeys used to pull the carts are also often dressed up in colorful and elaborate costumes.

If Bertolino is forced to quit it will be the end of yet another traditional Sicilian trade which has lost its battle to modern times.

In 2007, the last person to make fishnets by hand in Sicily, and perhaps all Italy, died at the age of 78 without anyone to follow in his steps.

Antonio Vultaggio, a son and grandson of master net weavers in Trapani, began making nets for fishermen when he was five and for the next three-quarters of a century dedicated himself to a dying trade with passion, patience and sacrifice.

But the net business began to dry up in the 1970s with the arrival of cheap, factory-made nets.