WMU News

WMU graduate student is 'heavy' into the art scene

Dec. 23, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- "Handling fine art that weighs as much as a piano is not an easy thing," reports Western Michigan University graduate art student and Grand Rapids native Kristin Casaletto, describing her recent work on a fresco commissioned by the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Working in an art form that combines physical strength and artistic skill, Casaletto spent more than 700 hours completing a reproduction of a 15th-century Italian piece by using classic fresco techniques that require painting directly on wet plaster so that the work dries to a luminous matte finish. Her work welcomes museum visitors to its "Ready for the Renaissance" exhibit.

The fresco and the rest of the exhibit are designed to give children an overview of Renaissance art. It was mounted in conjunction with the museum's heralded winter show, "Perugino: Master of the Italian Renaissance," which includes nine works by the famed 15th century artist that had never been shown outside of Italy. The Perugino works will be on display through Feb. 1. The rest of the Renaissance exhibits will be on display through June 7.

Casaletto spent four months in Florence earlier this year studying the techniques of fresco painting and viewing famous examples of the art form. One of those was the "Journey of the Magi," which was painted by Benozzo Gozzoli and is part of the Medici Palace. It was the piece she was commissioned to reproduce for the museum's Renaissance focus this year.

Fresco painting is an art form that reached its zenith in Renaissance Italy with works like Michelangelo's "Last Supper" gracing the walls of churches and palaces. Casaletto's rendition is more portable than most. It was done on four, 400-pound panels of plaster that, when assembled, measure 12 feet by five and a half feet.

"It's a wonderful medium, but a physically punishing one," says the artist, who is more accustomed to painting in oil on canvas.

Beginning last May, Casaletto spent four months in a basement studio building her strength through a daily regimen of hefting 80-pound sand bags, mixing lime, applying plaster for three hours and spending another eight hours painting.

"I'd do it again in a minute," she says, "only next time, I'll hire a plasterer."

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