“The pandemic stopped us in our tracks.”
The stunning vaulted rooms of the Art Lab Todi have lain silent for weeks since the early spring.
Having opened in July 2019, the jewellery making school had promised to be a new adventure for goldsmith Stephen Saliba, with learners coming to class and the rooms ringing with the sounds of hammers and files.
Setting up shop in a listed building in Todi, Umbria, he had hoped the breath-taking surroundings and cultural and historic delights of the hill-top town would provide an inspiring space for learners to pick up new skills.
A goldsmith and bespoke jeweller for over 20 years, following a BA hons degree in 3D design, specialising in metalwork and jewellery at Sheffield Hallam University, Stephen taught jewellery techniques for 10 years at colleges and private schools in the UK.
In setting up the Art Lab Todi – Il laboratorio – Stephen shipped over a variety of his tools and supplemented his kit with a variety of secondhand buys including a centrifuge casting machine and equipment to teach “lost wax” processes.
Stephen, who is also proficient in cutting coloured gemstones, had hoped to expand on simple jewellery holiday courses, to teach more challenging classes and invite guest teachers in to host specialist courses.
But when the Covid 19 lockdown began in Italy, Stephen found himself having to fight for the school’s survival.
“The lock down happened quite suddenly in Italy, one of the first countries to take restrictive measures,” he said.
“I was unable to set up a home workshop so I worked on my home and designing jewellery to make when I could return to my workshop, so tantalisingly close and yet out of bounds, less than a kilometre away from my home.”
Lockdown meant Art Lab Todi suddenly had no students, therefore no income and suddenly help was needed to cover vital bills, never mind in thinking about expansion.
Stephen added: “We wanted to get more tools such as kilns for metal fusion and enamelling and stone polishing equipment for lapidary work, but without students we were unable to self fund. We launched a Gofundme campaign to raise funds to get additional equipment to expand our courses and attract more students as we were planning to do before the crisis, but the first priority is to pay the rent and bills to keep our wonderful space and continue to offer creative respite.”
Creativity normally reserved for design and work at the bench, had to be turned to finding new ways to support the school.
“I kept busy by changing my advertising strategies – I asked people who were interested in classes for advanced bookings and more recently offering remote design sessions for pieces to be made immediately after lock down,” explained Stephen.
As time passed during the crisis and restrictions started to ease enough to allow people back into workspaces, Stephen returned to work.
He said: “My first piece on returning to the workshop in early May was a pendant incorporating a favourite opal from my collection for a student’s birthday. It was an emotional new beginning which made me rediscover the wonderful stock of gems I have, especially opals. So much potential.”
Now, as lockdown eases further, the small town of Todi, which only suffered five cases of Covid in March, is starting to spring back to life. Classes are now able to restart at the school too. Stephen hopes that as borders reopen that they will soon welcome students old and new back into their vaulted studios.
Art Lab Todi offers a variety of courses – beginners and intermediate courses of one day, two days, 20 and 25 hours. In the shorter workshops beginners or returning students learn how make a ring or other pieces in silver using all the basic tools and techniques. Longer courses focus on helping students achieve their personal goals and are tailored to individual needs.
To support Art Lab Todi in the recovery from Covid 19 visit their gofundme here.