January 30th, 2012
05:42 PM ET

A world-class alchemist in New Jersey

Ubaldo Vitali doesn't neatly fit into our current crop of 'Next Listers' who are on the cutting edge of technology. He doesn't program robots or create interactive art. In fact the machinery and techniques he employs are centuries old.

Vitali is a master artisan – an alchemist. In layman terms, a silversmith. And his artistic output is split into two categories: uniquely contemporary creations and conservational restoration.


Vitali was born in Rome, Italy in 1944. He's part of a family of goldsmiths, reaching back four generations. While studying sculpture at an Italian college, he fell in love with an American girl and followed her back to New Jersey. Since then he hasn't left New Jersey and set up his workshop in the small town of Maplewood. Though an ocean away from his family, he's managed to create unparalleled works that have been recognized by American conservationists.

"He represents a moment in American craft history that's past, and yet he represents a standard that I hope just yet won't evaporate," said Ulysses Dietz, the Newark Museum Curator of Decorative Arts.

The pieces Vitali creates are breathtakingly beautiful, each containing a consciousness of the old world wrapped within contemporary modernist designs.

In 2011, Vitali received a phone call from the MacArthur Genius Grant committee with news that he was being honored with their top award. A prestigious honor in which the recipient receives $500,000 with no strings attached to continue their work.

"The committee who chooses the MacArthur Grant [recipients] look for people who are doing innovative research or looking at things in a new way, and pushing the field forward," said Janet Zapata, a former Tiffany & Co. archivist. "To me Ubaldo is one of the foremost silversmiths in this country, if not in the world."

The Next List is proud to present our profile of this kind soul and wonderful craftsman – Ubaldo Vitali.

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