Milisa Galazzi

String Theory. M.101.102.103, 2020

paper, thread, encaustic, 36 x 13 x 6 inches. Photo: Dan Michel

Galazzi: Sewing and Tortellini

I am from a long line of Italians who came to the United States in the late 1800s during the first large wave of Italian immigration. My father’s family moved to the Boston area and mother’s to rural Pennsylvania. Both my paternal and maternal grandmothers were first-generation Italian Americans born in the early 1900s in the United States. Each of my grandmothers profoundly influenced me, yet both in quite different ways. 

When I was five my father’s mother taught me to embroider and needlepoint, providing me with seemingly endless amounts of materials with which to work. She helped me organize my threads in a beautiful mahogany cigar box given to me by my grandfather, and she frequently reminded me that “good girls learn to sew.” My father is an only child, so relating to a young girl was not my grandmother’s strong suit. I found these interactions annoying at best, yet I appreciated learning the sewing skills.

My mother’s mother, my Nona, came from a large family and she had four children, the youngest of whom is my mother. Nona was a fabulous cook, and she made all of our large holiday meals not from recipes but from memory. I had nine first cousins so Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners frequently sat 25 people at her dining room table. Nona often began folding handmade tortellini in the late summer in preparation for these winter holiday meals. Before I was allowed to learn to fold the tortellini, my job was to crank the pasta machine evenly and slowly, rolling out the three-foot-long lengths of flour, egg, and olive oil dough.

For my 13th birthday in early August, I requested that Nona come visit me for a few days so that I could learn to fold the tortellini. At the time, I lived in a very small house on Cape Cod with my mother and brother. With little room in our galley kitchen, we set up shop in my upstairs bedroom where Nona also slept when she visited. Together, we rolled and folded the delicate noodles for three days straight, talking and laughing. She loved me in a pure and simple way and I truly adored her. She understood me. Each year, I handmake the tortellini. My two sons and three nieces help me now, so the tradition continues.

My ongoing series of shadow drawings, called String Theory, is directly influenced by both of my Italian grandmothers. When I hand sew the delicate stitches, I remember learning to embroider and needlepoint. Once the sewing is complete, I cut the paper away from the stitching. Handling the long pieces of hand sewn paper and dipping them into molten beeswax wax feels just like maneuvering the delicate pieces of long pasta as they make their way from the rolling machine to the cutting and filling table. In a deeply familiar way, my hands remember these early skills. When I am making artwork in my studio, my body knows what to do and my head and heart follow my hands. 

String Theory for Nancy and Ron, 2020, 48 x 20 x 4 inches; Super String Theory, 2015, 93 x 40 x 22 inches 

Both paper, thread, encaustic; photos: Karen Philippi

Milisa Galazzi

Photo: Karen Philippi