During my travels throughout the beautiful Mediterranean island of Sicily I have been lucky to meet a myriad of interesting characters along the way. However, in all honesty, my favourite locals to discover are the delightfully cheeky Sicilian street cats. These audacious felines have always captured my attention for their boldness, vigilance and their complete and utter indifference to the world around them. In short, the Sicilian street cat is a breed unto its own. On my recent trip to the island I befriended one of the luckiest street cats in the world. Gigia, who once roamed the back alleyways of Bagheria looking for kitchen scraps, has now been rescued by a gentle and unassuming local who gave the pint sized grey cat a place to call home. Little did Gigia know that her days ahead would be spent lounging amongst the well-worn paint brushes and colourful debris of Sicily’s last master cart maker.
Michele Ducato has been involved in the world of cart painting since the day he was born. Although later becoming a trained architect it seemed destined that he felt the desire to follow the family tradition and immerse himself into the culture of his ancestry. Michele is now the last heir in a family of longstanding cart makers. In 1985 his grandfather opened the first workshop in their hometown of Bagheria, when the Sicilian carts were used by peasants for transporting goods. Since then the Ducato family has, often throughout difficult times, managed to successfully continue the legacy of this wonderfully unique Sicilian craft. Naturally Michele’s father joined the business and when young Michele himself was only five years old the famous Sicilian painter Renato Guttuso wrote him a dedication “May he be worthy of bearing the glorious name of the Ducato”.
I recently visited Michele in his workshop in a modest street in the working class town of Bagheria, where he and his lucky cat Gigia spend their days amongst an array of brightly coloured wooden panels and paint splattered surfaces to create some of the most beautiful and important artworks in Sicily.