Italian Paper mache or Carta Cartapesta

A true family business passed on to the younger Baldari

Do you  remember ‘art’ projects as a child that involved strips of newspaper and paste made from flour and water?  The practice of the “cartapesta” (paper mache)  has been practiced as art form in Lecce Italy for centuries.  

Used as an inexpensive substitute for plaster, stone or wood; paper ‘carvings’ were popular for church statues and embellishments.   A multi-step process that is now duplicated by machines in competing countries, Lecce continues to celebrate skilled artists of cartapesta and Yle Sambati arranged my private visit to meet maestro Baldari in his city labororatorio.

stock photo

I was fortunate to meet the family Baldari who have created pieces of art for years and are famous for their skill.   Although it was very cold outside Sig Baldari was kind enough to show me how the paper was created, pressed and dried.
His mother demonstrated how to create a figure from the sheets of the handmade, angles or religious figures.   It was amazing to watch her work so quickly.

On a quiet street near the center of Lecce I entered a stone gateway to a large open court yard.   The space was set up as a small assembly line where the entire family worked to produce the paper and the figurine or ornament that would become a family or church treasure.

Here is a time that a video tells a 1,000 word.  

My focus went to the large caldron of white material that resembled overcooked rice.   Quickly I learned this mixture would turn into paper sheets via dipping a “cascio”, a wooden frame with a mesh center, into the gelatinous mixture.  The cascio traps the fibers and a sheet of paper is formed. Each piece of paper is removed by hand and placed on a sheet of wool felt.  Paper is alternated with felt until you have a ‘stack’.    The stack is pressed in an ancient wood press to remove the remaining water.  Drying on a clothes line is the final stage. 


As I watched, Signora Baldariused the dried sheets of paper to quickly create a figurine with a flowing robe and a mantle (shawl).    Her fingers quickly folding and tucked paper to create the resulting angel.   The paper is crafted around skeletons made from wire.Ceramic heads, faces and hands can be used with the wire framework. 

 Iron rods of different sizes (they looked like curling irons, are heated in a brazier.   Once glowing the rods are used to shape, color and ‘burn’ the paper clothing.      Each figurine will be unique once painted and finished resulting in a unique artwork that is the perfect souvenir to bring home from Italy.      


Published by Lee Laurino

A traveler not a tourist, searching for experiences not in travel books. Solo traveler who travels as long and far as possible sharing photos of the people and places I discover

6 thoughts on “Italian Paper mache or Carta Cartapesta

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