Skip to main content

Artist brings new meaning to the term ‘boat traffic’

Livio De Marchi carves inboard wooden car-boats that transit the canals of Venice

Livio De Marchi carves inboard wooden car-boats that transit the canals of Venice

Like many people living in Venice, Livio De Marchi often gets around by rowing a boat on the Italian city’s renowned canals. One day nearly 10 years ago, De Marchi and his son, Mattia, who was 11, set out in a small rowboat on Venice’s Grand Canal and encountered a snarl of water taxis, buses and other vessels. Unable to proceed, De Marchi thought, “This is not a canal; it’s a highway. We need a car, not a boat.”

Feeling inspired, the woodworker went back to his studio and carved a life-size 1937 inboard Jaguar car-boat. The wooden Jaguar didn’t do much about the canal traffic, but it certainly made his time on the water a bit more interesting.

“I like humor and irony,” says De Marchi, who is 62, in an e-mail. “I really enjoyed driving the wooden car on the canals of Venice and Amsterdam. Please imagine how fun it would be to see a wooden car on the [Grand] Canal of Venice.”

De Marchi’s Jaguar is one of his many unusual sculptures, which include several wooden car-boats. He was born in Venice and as a teenager apprenticed at a woodcarving shop in the city’s Santa Croce district. De Marchi attended the Accademia di Belle Arti, where he continued working with wood and began experimenting with marble and bronze.

“I made a number of interesting things,” says De Marchi. “I made a sponge in marble, some faces in marble. I made a horse of bronze, a bra in bronze and a shirt in bronze.”

Working with wood, though, proved to be his passion. “The wooden material is alive, so that the wood gives me a great energy and gives me fragrant smell,” he explains. “I love and enjoy working with wood, and I believe that my wooden pieces give everybody a positive energy.”

At age 18, after graduating from the art school, De Marchi opened his own studio in Venice. Over the next 20 years he continued to carve unusual pieces, honing his skills. In 1985 he completed his first large wooden project: a Japanese origami-style floating hat. De Marchi had been teaching art at his son’s elementary school and thought the boy and his son’s friends would enjoy rowing the canals aboard the hat.

The following year Di Marchi carved a woman’s shoe propelled by 16 oarsmen, and later a floating dove, also in origami style. After the Jaguar, he carved a life-size Fiat Topolino, Mercedes 300 SL, 1964 Volkswagen Beetle, and, most recently, a Ferrari F50. He powers his wooden car-boats with single-cylinder Yanmar diesels.

“When I make a wooden car, first I see the model which I like and take some pictures, and then make some sketches and calculate dimensions,” he explains. “Then I make preparations. I begin working with some glued pieces of wood. It depends on what time I work a day, but it takes about eight months to complete one.”

Another of De Marchi’s unusual large projects is one he calls “A Dream in Venice,” a floating pumpkin drawn by four horses. The pumpkin accommodates up to four people, and the horses rear when the driver tugs on the reins. He often uses a number of woods when creating large projects, but he says he prefers working with pine, walnut, cherry, linden, rosewood and ebony.

De Marchi’s wooden projects have been featured in exhibits around the world, including Milan, London, New York, Paris and Tokyo. “I make all of my pieces for myself but enjoy bringing joy to other people, too,” he says.

For more of De Marchi’s work, visit .