Monte San Savino has been and gone and I have finally, finally, finally been able to collect my thoughts after a stunning weekend filled with models, mead and many beautiful people. Before I give you an account of the event and the immensely warm community surrounding it, I just have to say that Monte San Savino (MSS) is the best competition in the world and if you haven’t gone, you must go, make boats, craft cars, sell you kidneys, hell, loan your kids out! Do what you can to make it to MSS next year, because it is an utterly immense weekend that is unmatched in the miniature painting world, everything about the event is built upon passion, ambition and community, it strives and succeeds to be the best on every front.
I started my journey to MSS on Thursday afternoon, heading down to London to meet up with my fellow attendee Mr John Keys, aka Megazord_Man, we got a (kinda) early night before heading to Gatwick in the morning, flying over relatively problem free to Pisa before picking up our death trap, sorry, rentacar (no, actually, death trap is more accurate!) and we drove from Pisa to MSS. Now, whilst this might seem like a bit of a trek, Italy does reward you for the journey, the rolling hills turn to snow dusted mountain peaks, the amusement of driving on the wrong side of the road turns to deep contemplation of how any Italian passes there driving test and then further answer seeking as the thought of whether Italy even has driving tests (serious, they are/you are total loons!) and the time flew by, the icing on the cake, (the chorizo on the butty) is MSS itself, as you handbrake turn into the town (in all seriousness it would make a great rally special stage) the age of the town slowly begins to emerge.
The town of Monte San Savino was established in the 12th century and, you can feel it, every step you take is surrounded by stone, every building is medieval in form and lovingly finished with Italian flair, the town oozes age and it honestly would have been no surprise to my ears to hear the clang of sword on shield as medieval knights defended the venue for MSS, The Museo Del Cassero, the towns medieval keep.
I had to give John some new eyes, he blinked during the photo!!
We parked up and heading in to drop off our models after some hearty back slaps and hugs from das crazy Deutchlanders, we had pre-registered for the contest so dropping our models off was very quick and straightforward. We headed back to our place of rest, the Villa Scannagallo, a fantastic 16th century farm house with a huge extra 4 beds we didn’t need or book! After a little rest and a quick change we headed back to the venue mid-evening for the festivities that ensued, every year a special brew is lovingly creating for the painters of MSS known as Idromele (a honey mead with a huge variant of spices), as a rite of passage the newbies are summoned forth to take a deep quaff of the heavenly brew, whilst I wouldn’t recommend having a pint of it with your fish and chips (or your currywurst for that matter!), it is the ideal drink for a heartfelt celebration! After socialising for much of the night we headed home.
We arrived at MSS at around 10 the next morning, it was actually a lot quieter then I was expecting, UK events are usually very hectic with people queuing up to get into the venue when they first open, however MSS has quite a different atmosphere, with the event not closing until gone 7 there really is no need to rush, it’s all pretty laid back! The master model room grew busier and busier as the morning progressed, over 1000 models had been pre-registered for the contest with an estimated 400-500 still to arrive on the day.
After a little bit of exploration and some lovely Italian food we returned to the venue to find all the entries were now in place and the difficult task of trying to find the difference in quality between them began, and I genuinely mean that, usually when you head to a competition even if the standard is really high you can usually order the models by their quality or their standard fairly quickly, picking out the best models there with ease, but at Monte, everything in the master category is top standard, everything, and most of those entries are a step above that, it is with no exaggeration that I say the standard at MSS is the highest I’ve ever seen, it literally took hours of looking at models over 2 days to work out what my top 5, top 10 models were, even now, after the show, I am still spotting really cool models in people’s galleries that I missed on the day.
As the day drew to a close about a hundred of us headed over for the official painter’s meal, I was surrounded by a literal who’s who of the top painters and sculptors in the world, luckily due to the great painters meals the Germans throw at Gamesday, I knew most of them and the people I didn’t know I was quickly introduced to! (Shout out to the Austrians, DAKKA, DAKKA!! It was great to get to know you guys and girls, you’ve established a really strong painting group and there is no doubt in my mind you’ll be progressing very quickly! Hopefully it won’t be too long before we shout Dakka loudly together again!) We were there till the early hours, the French were playing cards, the Germans were telling jokes (and listening to awful ones!) and there might have been the odd mention of squirrels (and ducks for that matter!) it was a really enjoyable evening!
The last day saw us rise early to see John Rosengrant’s presentation, John has worked in the special effects industry for over 20 years, he has worked on some of the biggest movies around and it turns out he is a keen military modeller, so not only did we get to see the highlights of his special effects career, but we also got to see some really nicely painted models! The presentation lasted nearly 2 hours and was held in the wonderful local theatre (about 100 meters from the venue) which would hold the medal ceremony a handful of hours later.
Bohun's epic gundam leg....
Further miniature viewing was slotted in either side of lunch and then came the medal ceremony. For me the ceremony really underlines how much MSS does to create a really positive atmosphere, everyone who attends seems so heavily invested in everyone else doing well, every winner is cheered, every name is clapped, especially the youngsters, the atmosphere at time had more in common with a football match than an award ceremony!
John won his prize early on (1st in cow category) and was awarded a 50 Euro voucher for the local butchers (I kid you not! Was the best laugh I had all weekend, such an epic prize!), I had to wait a little longer for my own award (bronze in fantasy ambient), I received plenty of handshakes and back slaps on the way too and from the stage. Fabrizio Russo deservedly won best of show with a Joaquin Palacios sculpt and well, that was that, (well kinda) everyone picked up there models and went home, except for a few ragtag individuals, me and John couldn’t get a flight home till the next afternoon and the Painting Buddha and Massive Voodoo lads were in similar boats, so naturally, we went for something to eat!
John spent a lot of the night chatting to Kirill (Yellow One) and I spent a good hour or so chatting with Roman about improving the UK painting community and then I got to geek out a bit with Ben as we chatted about future projects, (I won’t spoil it, but Ben’s next big project is going to be proper boss!).
The night drew to a close and after some heartfelt goodbyes we went our separate ways. My journey home the next day (via Florence Cathedral) took about 9-10 hours, it’s one of the longest journeys I’ve made for a miniature event (Figostock takes that prize), but it was more than worth it, it really was! If you can make it to MSS next year go, you will not regret it!