Origins of the Della Robbia WreathNov 12, 2015 -
Artistic Inspiration of Agency’s Largest Self-Help Project
W hile visiting Europe, Margaret Fowler came across an original Della Robbia ceramic. Mrs. Fowler was inspired by its unique fruit and flower border, so she brought the idea home with her in 1923. Thus began the “Della Robbia” wreath program. A Boys Republic founder, Mrs. Fowler started the wreath program as a craft project to teach children the value of honest labor. The first year, students fashioned wreaths from the natural materials they collected, then sold their finished holiday decorations door-to-door for $2.50 each.
The artistry of Della Robbia wreaths students continue to make and sell is indebted to the della Robbia family. The Florentine family owned and operated their own art studio in the 15th and 16th centuries, producing enameled terra cotta and marble sculptures. These detailed sculptures—created by patriarch Luca della Robbia, his nephew Andrea della Robbia, and the Andrea’s son, Giovanni della Robbia — largely depicted religious narratives. The della Robbia family’s oeuvre comprises a unique chapter in the history of Renaissance art that is primarily associated with Florence.
Among the della Robbias’ innovations: combining painting and sculpture in creative ways. The method of marrying the two materials enabled their artwork to decorate a building’s exterior and withstand the corroding elements. At left, Andrea Della Robbia’s well-preserved 500 year-old terra cotta shrine is pictured. The terra cotta sculpture depicts the Madonna and Child, subjects the della Robbia family members often portrayed in illuminated, monochrome white. The vivid floral border, so prevalent in the family’s sculptures, is the motif that inspired Mrs. Fowler’s Della Robbia wreath design.