Studio Spotlight: Mario Fruendi
With massive hands, a guileless smile, and unending patience, Mario Fruendi is an irreplaceable member of the Erdman Studios team. Richard first met the artist, stoneworker, and entrepreneur nearly four decades ago in Carrara, and Mario has since become one of his closest collaborators.
As Richard well knows, monumental sculpture cannot be created by artist alone. His team, which he likens to an orchestra, must be skilled in their craft and every bit as invested in the final work as he is. When Mario and partners Silvio Santini and Paolo Grassi founded SGF Scultura (for Santini, Grassi, and Fruendi) in 1971, they envisioned building precisely the type of studio that would foster fluid and dynamic relationships between artist and stoneworker.
“They took a chance — they wanted to work directly for the artist,” explains Richard. “They become your right and left hand.”
Mario is “the opposite of the temperamental artist,” Richard says. His deep familiarity of the stone he works with began early; he grew up alongside the quarries of Torano, apprenticed as a stonemason in the English studio of Anselm Odling and in Zurich for Osvaldo Pedretti, finally returning to his native Italy to work in the traditionalist studios of Carlo Nicoli.
Mario’s career has been in many ways defined by a willingness to experiment and take risks — not only in helping to establish a new type of studio that fosters contemporary uses of ancient materials, but through an artistic career of his own.
In his catalog essay about Mario’s varied works of stone sculpture, Belgian artist Dominique Stroobant notes that, “Our trade…leaves room for all sorts of contradictions: art and/or science, craftsmanship and/or menial labor.” But for a man whom Richard describes as “a study in contradiction,” perhaps it’s not surprising that Mario manages to channel both artisan and artist. From sinuous, organ-like abstractions created in the late 1970s to his recent monolithic studies of optics and geometric tensions, Mario continues to test new ideas in stone. One of Fruendi's collaborative works, made with Paolo and Silvio in the 1980s, is a massive, larger-than-life Cadillac Coup de Ville that sits outside of Carrara's historic Teatro Degli Animosi.
“Mario is a gem of a human being,” says Richard, for whom one memory in particular stands out. When Richard’s monumental Passage was commissioned, it was to be the largest sculpture ever created from a single block of travertine. The cutting of the massive stone from the quarry — headed by Mario — was thus an utterly nerve-wracking undertaking, with little room for error.
The evening following the successful cutting of the stone, Richard, Mario, and other members of the team celebrated over a long and leisurely dinner. After Mario had several glasses of wine, Richard remembers, he all of a sudden lept into action and executed a perfect, silent handstand on the back of his chair. “It just blew me away,” Richard laughed.
Over the decades, through small works and major commissions, celebrations and setbacks, Richard and Mario have developed a brotherly bond through stone, working together to bring the ancient material to life. As their critical partnership nears its 40th anniversary, we’d like to express our deepest gratitude to Mario for his indispensable partnership. Saluti!