Steatite or soapstone is a variety of Serpentinite rocks that owes its specificity to the presence of talc.
Its beauty is reflected in the color tones that can vary from grey to green, tenuous and pale.
Known and worked in Valtellina and Valchiavenna probably since the Iron Age. Hundreds of active caves are located n these two valleys, and many lathes. This rock is suitable for many varied uses thanks to its characteristics: relatively soft and pliable, unscathed by stains and burns, long-lasting.
Artisans of the valley extracted blocks of rock in the winter using double ended pickaxes called “asisc”.
From the conic shaped blocks typical containers, saucepans called “lavecc” are carved, they are used to this day for slow-cooking; other containers suitable for preserving foods are derived from this rock, as well as containers to keep salt dry.
Nowadays the blocks in the caves are extracted using belts lathed in diamond inserted in the rock to cut it; the blocks are then transferred to the laboratories where they are reduced to slabs up to three centimeters thick using diamond tools (saws).
The rock slabs are very appreciated in the production of work tables, shower bases or sinks, as well as architectural elements like pillars and architraves.
One of the rarest varieties of soapstone is known by the name of Green Pirlo Soapstone, the most important vein is situated in Valmalenco. Constituted by small and thickly packed green plates that intertwine leaving voids, thus creating a compact stone of high thermal potential.
During the last few decades soapstone has been handcrafted for artistic purposes too with the creation of ornamental incisions as well as employing new techniques like Floriana Palmieri who experiments innovative procedures in her Valmalenco workshop creating unique pieces.
Production is mostly accomplished by lathe, it requires precision, patience and ability. To this day only a few artisans in Valtellina still work to produce artifacts that always result in unique pieces.