For nearly a century, a marble soldier has stood atop Elmira’s war monument, his features weathered by snow and rain and time. Now the humble soldier is being included in a book about Italian Carrara marble, written by art historian Sandra Berresford.
The book is the third in a series on Carrara marble. This book documents the relationship between Carrara, Great Britain, and countries of the British Empire, including India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada.
Carrara marble is some of the finest in the world and comes from the quarries northeast of the Italian city of Carrara. It has been used since the time of Ancient Rome; the Pantheon, Michelangelo’s David and the Albert Memorial in London, England were carved from Carrara marble.
Berresford graduated in art history from the University of East Anglia, and began to specialize in 19th century Italian painting and ties between Italy and England. She then lived in Florence for a decade and curated the Italian sector of the post-Impressionist exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts and the National Gallery in Washington. From Florence, she moved to a small town near Carrara to research and write on funeral sculpture.
In 2007, Berresford edited the second volume of the series for the foundation of the local Carrara Savings Bank.
“In Italy, one of the ways local banks can contribute to conserving and publicizing local cultural heritage is to commission such books,” Berresford wrote in an e-mail.
The third book, titled “Sognando il Marmo: Cultura e Commercio tra Carrara Gran Bretagna e Impero 1820-1920 circa,” should be ready by the end of December.
The title of the book, which means “dreaming in marble,” comes from a popular Victorian operetta The Bohemian Girl; the best-known aria is “I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls.”
One of the topics addressed in the book is the company Walton, Gooddy & Cripps Ltd., which produced war memorials in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It was while researching the company on the Internet that Berresford discovered the Elmira monument was made of Carrara marble.
Berresford has family in Canada – her mother is from London, Ontario – so she contacted her Canadian cousins and asked them to take a photo of the monument for the book. When those photos proved not high enough quality for printing, searches on the Internet led her to Professor Robert Shipley of the University of Waterloo, who has written a history of Canadian war memorials. He referred her to the Observer for photos.
The book has been in the works for several years now; chapters on Great Britain and the Empire were slated to be included in the second book but had to be cut. Berresford, whose full-time job is teaching English, notes it can be hard work, but she’s fascinated by the topic. Even after three volumes, she feels there is still more to be written about Carrara marble in North America.
Her two teenage sons have threatened to move out if she does another book, but Berresford jokes it’s something to keep in mind if they show signs of wanting to live at home until age 30.
Anyone with information on Carrara marble monuments in Canada or the U.S. can contact Berresford at firstname.lastname@example.org.