Francesco Cuna's Italian Fresco

Virginia 1607 - 2007

Italian fresco

Town of South Boston and Leverano: Città Gemellate

Two towns located thousands of miles apart, are coming together as città gemellate or sister cities. Chris Jones, executive director of The Prizery, and Daniele Martina, an International School Coordinator from Leverano, Italy, have made a pact to join the towns of Leverano and South Boston in a sister-cities partnership.

The contract, signed by all participating parties, requires that the program promote local resources and act as an agency of peace while engaging in an exchange of social, cultural, political and educational ideas and practices.

The program has been on going since September 2006, beginning with videoconferences held between second grade classes in each city. Students held discussions, asking each other questions (only a child could think of). The idea was to allow children to reach out to other cultures in a peaceful, friendly environment and openly talk about their ways of life.

In effect we can build a foundation of young minds that are open and communicative because the children are supervised, informed and in a situation lacking hostility. The notion of friendly and open cultural exchange led Jones and Martina to include in this sister-cities contract, in conjunction with the Virginia Commission for the Arts and Virginia's Museum of Fine Arts, an art project that would captaue America's roots in Europe and beyond, while memorializing purely American strengths, our nation's diversity, tolerance and endurance.

The fresco project titled "Virginia 1607-2007" is first a bow to the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. However, the project ultimately becomes a tribute to the success of and dedication to the partnership between South Boston and Leverano as emissaries for the peaceful, effective and mutually beneficial "foreign exchange" in this new global society.

Jones and Martina, as ambassadors from the sister-cities, advertised in Italy for an artist interested in traveling to South Boston to create a traditional fresco paying homage to Columbus, Jamestown, the sister-cities agreement, and American heritage.

There were plenty of portfolios presented, but "none of them seemed complete," said Jones of the applications. Fortunately, fate stepped in and found the artist who will forever be a part of The Prizery and South Boston.

While touring the Italion countryside, Jones and Martina discussed the sister-cities fresco project with a tour guide. The tour guide had a friend who knew someone. That someone brought in "the most thorough and fresh portfolio." Jones continued, "it was important that the artist be well-trained and have something new to say"

Serendipity handed us Francesco Cuna, hailing from Cutrofiano, in the southern district of Lecce, in Italy. A 2005 graduate of the Academia Belle Arti di Bologna as a Master Painter, Cuna is primarily a painter (and a good one; see more at However, he also manages a varied and impressive curriculum vitae: Cuna has experience in sculpture, graphic arts (specifically animation), collaborative video and music work, and so much more. His talents are many, and his skill is fine-tuned.

Cuna brings to South Boston a combination of the tradition and craftsmanship of the Italian Renaissance masters and an innovative spirit of the young, new global experience. Both are important qualities since the term fresco literally translates as fresh, and frescoes flourished for the first time in modem history during the Italian Renaissance.

It didn't hurt that Cuna loves American music (played loudly), is a history buff ,and has an immense dedication to hard work (and at times, perfection). With the artist discovered, the fresco could now come into being.

Frescoes are unlike any other visual arts media. The term fresh is not so much a description of the spirit, as it is the labor involved in creating a traditional fresco. To successfully create a fresco, the artist must paint, using organic earth pigments (which the project imported from Italy) mixed with lime.onto wet plaster.

The paint then dries as part of the wall, instead of being on the wall. Thirty thousand year old, proto-frescoes have been found in limestone caves of France and Spain. During the height of Ancient Greek culture, frescoes were created as decorative pieces and used in cultural exchanges. Frescoes have always held importance as historical testimonies, and during the Italian Renaissance, masters such as Giotto, Michelangelo, Mantegna created some of the most significant frescoes in modem history.

Not since the Italian Renaissance, almost six hundred years ago at the dawn of the age of exploration, has the fresco been so important. Now, hundreds of years after Columbus first set his Italian boots on American shores, Francesco Cuna comes to America for the first time in his twenty-eight years to deliver an historical testimony personalized for our little town of South Boston.

"A Slave to the Wall" is Cuna's comic alternative title for the work that has been in progress for a month and as of Sunday May 20 is officially completed. The artist has slept in the Prizery's art gallery in order to keep a twenty-four hour watch on the plaster walls and keep them moist. He has spent countless hours mixing and applying plaster to the walls, measuring the pieces he could paint in one sitting, mixing the pigments with lime, designing, changing designs, painting, in essence "frescoing" for a solid month.

Cuna leaves the wall to take longer rests and eat a few decent meals, otherwise he is with the wall and having meals delivered. His dedication to the project, to the terms of the cultural contract and to the wall itself, has been fastidious and professional. His light and playful personality has not been daunted by the overwhelming nature of the fresco. Cuna enjoys his rare, free moments playing his classical guitar and blasting good old American rock and roll. Although he will be unable to really see America during this visit, the artist stays true to his calling and thinks only of the work at hand when reminded of how brief his atay will be in South Boston. And his attentiveness to his craft will make everyone in South Boston, in Virginia and hopefully throughout United States and the World, proud.

The original design of the fresco was meant for a ten by ten wall. However, upon seeing the actual size of the wall, Cuna expanded the design to fit the entire twenty by twenty space. The fresco incorporates a family of vignettes exploring the childlike innocence and innovation of the young America and its deep roots in friendship, acceptance of other cultures and, very specific to Virginia and the East Coast, tobacco.

One scene in the work depicts three ships on the horizon of the American shore. Christopher Columbus appears as a child, while the Old World carries the New World on her back. The fresco shows a solemn reverence for children, vitality, growth and cooperation.

The symbolism incorporates the city of Leverano's towers,the Prizery, music, economics, art, scocial and cultural revolutions, and good, old-fashioned playtime. The colors and scenes will make all audiences stop and ponder the wonder that is America. And, for the first time in long time, we need no tragedies, traumas or scandals to remind us to know and remember our country as a powerful model and player in a world where the pursuit of happiness should be an undeniable right for all.

Francesco Cuna's "Virginia 1607-2007" can be seen in the art gallery at the Prizery from now on. The fresco has become a permanent exhibit, and perpetual memorial to all that has made America a great place to be.

By Annette Woolard, Special to the Gazette-Virginian, May 25, 2007