Thirty-One Days of Italians
Contributing to America - Art
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ART

Constantino Brumidi [or Costantino] (1805-1880) Known as the "Michelangelo of the Capitol," Brumidi spent 25 years painting the walls and ceilings of the United States Capitol. The rotunda of the Capitol, with the Apotheosis of Washington, and the frescoes and murals on the first floor of the Senate wing – the Brumidi Corridors – are among the most elaborately decorated public places in America.

In January 2007, U.S. Senate Bill S.254 was proposed to award posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal to Constantino Brumidi, in recognition of his contributions to America. On July 1, 2008, the bill was signed by the President and became a law. A medal will be designed and cast by the U.S. Mint.

Constantino Brumidi Congressional Gold Medal (PDF) 

Artist of the Capitol

U.S. Senate: Art and History

The Brumidi Corridors

Il Michelangelo del Capitol (In Italian)

The Apotheosis of Washington

 

John Buscema (1927-2002) His artwork is synonymous with Marvel Comics, and he has influenced future generations of comic book artists. With Stan Lee, he co-authored How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, known as the comic book bible. Influenced by the artwork of comic book legends Prince Valiant, Tarzan, and Flash Gordon, Buscema studied at Pratt Institute and studied the Masters – Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, and Rubens. At Marvel, he illustrated Conan, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, and Silver Surfer, along with many others. At DC Comics, he illustrated a Batman story. He also created the art for several Dell comics. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2002.

Interview (November 18, 1997)

The Artwork Of John Buscema

The John Buscema Sketchbook

 

Luigi Del Bianco (1892-1969) Chief stone carver on Mt. Rushmore, Luigi Del Bianco learned his skill at an early age by observing his father, a wood carver. Noticing the boy’s interest, the senior Del Bianco took his son – at the age of 11 – to Vienna to study stone carving. A native of Meduno (in the northeastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia), Del Biano left Italy when he was 16 to work in America as a stone carver after learning from cousins in Barre, Vermont that stone cutters were needed.

Del Bianco cut stone in Barre for a while; went back to Italy to fight in World War I; and in 1920, returned to America, first back to Barre, and then settling in Port Chester, NY. In 1922, Del Bianco married Nicoletta Cardarelli. Professionally trained and noted for his extraordinary stone carving skills, Del Bianco was introduced to Gutzon Borglum – the sculptor who designed Mt. Rushmore – and worked with Borglum on several monuments throughout America before he was hired by Borglum in 1933 as the chief stone carver of Mt. Rushmore.

 

Del Bianco worked on Mt. Rushmore from 1933 to 1941, and was highly regarded by Borglum as “Chief Carver  and granite expert,” and eventually became the highest paid worker on Mt. Rushmore. In addition to Del Bianco’s responsibilities for adding the final details to the faces on the monument, he repaired a crack in Jefferson’s lip, and carved the eyes of Lincoln. In 1941, the onset of World War II brought an end to the federal funding for Mt. Rushmore, and Del Bianco went back to carving on a smaller scale.

 

In the years after working on Mt. Rushmore, Del Bianco did not talk much about his work or the project. It was his son Caesar and his grandson Lou who started publicizing Del Bianco’s involvement, and Lou is currently putting the finishing touches on an educational program to acquaint schoolchildren with his grandfather’s work.

 

Official Website

 

Memories From His Children (YouTube)

 

The Secret of Mount Rushmore Revealed

 

Petition for U.S. Citizenship

 

Mt. Rushmore Presidents

 

 

Frank Frazetta (1928-2010) One of the most influential fantasy and science fiction artists in the world, Frazetta was just a child when he began taking art lessons. With a natural inclination toward art and with the encouragement of his grandmother, Frazetta started drawing his own comic books at age six. Early in his career, he developed artwork and stories for the comic book industry, and later worked as Al Capp’s assistant on Li’l Abner. Paperback book covers followed, and a caricature he painted of Ringo Starr attracted the attention of Hollywood, leading Frazetta to design movie posters, book jackets, magazine covers, album covers, calendars, art books, and many works on commission.

Unoffical Frank Frazetta Fantasy Art Gallery

Early Work and a Brief Biography

More Early Work

Frank Frazetta Passes (NY Times, May 10, 2010)

American Art Archives

Tribute to Frank Frazetta Slideshow (YouTube)

Love Letters: Frank Frazetta

Frazetta Tribute (Cool Comic Cover Gallery)

Frazetta Art Collection to Leave Poconos (Pocono Record, December 16, 2009)

 

Grucci Family (1800s-present) In the late 1800s, Angelo Lanzetta traveled from Bari, Puglia – in southern Italy – to America, settling on Long Island, NY, and continuing with his trade as a pyrotechnician. He passed his craft along to his son Anthony who trained his cousin, Felix Grucci Sr. Today, Fireworks by Grucci, is one of the oldest fireworks companies in America and one of the most respected in the world. The company provides fireworks for all types of private, public, and corporate events, and each year, Fireworks by Grucci offers a comprehension training program for certification as a Grucci pyrotechnician.

In 1929, the family relocated the business to Bellport on the south shore of Long Island. In 1940, Felix married Concetta DiDio, who, along with their three children, James, Donna, and Felix Jr. (and later, Donna’s husband Philip Butler), worked to build their fireworks company. Over the years, Felix Sr. developed a stringless shell – which prevented pieces of the fireworks from catching on fire – and pyrotechnic simulators and training devices for the U.S. military. The company started using electronic launching in 1977.

 

At the insistence of his son, James, Felix Sr. agreed to enter the Monte Carlo International Fireworks Competition in 1979. The rules require that all fireworks must be handmade by each competitor, who must also arrange and complete the firing sequences. The Gruccis, then known as the New York Pyrotechnical Products Company, were awarded the Gold Medal – the first entrant from the United States to win the competition.

 

The company, and family, suffered a severe setback in 1983 when an explosion destroyed the Bellport facility and James – and another family member – were killed. The family was on the verge of closing the business, but thousands of cards and letters, along with keeping the business going in memory of James, convinced them to continue. Two years later, the company, now Fireworks by Grucci, dedicated a new plant on 80 acres in Brookhaven, just a few miles from the Bellport location.

 

Since then the family has provided fireworks for some of the largest and most celebrated worldwide events, among them the Olympic Games including the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China; Presidential Inaugurations, Centennials, including the Brooklyn Bridge, Queensboro Bridge, and Statue of Liberty; and the opening of the Atlantis Palm in Dubai, billed as the largest fireworks show to date. Felix (Phil) Grucci, the grandson of Felix Sr., is the fifth generation to join the family business. He started working there in his teens and is currently the President/CEO.

 

Person of the Week: Felix Grucci, Jr.

 

The Explosive History of Fireworks’ “First Family” (National Geographic News, July 2003)

 

Felix James Grucci Sr. Obituary (New York Times, 1993)

 

Meet Phil Grucci and Family (YouTube)

 

The Greatest Show on Earth (John Sagaria, December 2008)

 

 

 

Costantino Nivola (1911-1988) Combining architecture with sculpture, Nivola is known for his bas relief and semi-abstract artistry, and for creating the technique for sand casting in cement. From the 1950s to the 80s, he created sculptures, wall murals, and panels for many public places in all five boroughs of New York City.  

Born in Orani, Sardinia, Nivola had an interest in art at an early age, and used the rugged landscape around him as his canvas. Influenced by the intricate patterns of the regional specialty breads his mother made, Nivola combined the designs with the patterns and shapes of the granite rocks to create a form of naturalized abstract art.

 

In Italy, Nivola studied painting, architecture, and graphic design, and became head of Olivetti’s graphic design department in 1937. A year later, he married Ruth Guggenheim, and they moved to Paris to escape the fascist regime developing in Italy. After spending a while in New York City with other European refugee artists, in 1940, Nivola and his wife moved to Greenwich Village.

 

Nivola became art director of an architectural magazine and exhibited his work with New Yorker cartoonist Saul Steinberg and other popular artists of the time. In 1948, the Nivolas moved to the Springs, East Hampton, where other artists, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Ibram Lassaw, and Hans Namuth lived. While playing in the sand with his children, Nivola took an interest in the deep impressions left in the sand, and began creating sand castings and bas relief sculptures.

 

In 1953, he created a bas relief wall for the Olivetti building in New York. Shortly after, he became a professor in Harvard University’s Design Workshop. Nivola continued to exhibit his art around the world and received numerous awards, including a Certificate of Excellence from the American Institute of Graphic Design, the Gold Medal for Fine Arts from American Institute of Architects in New York, and the Fine Arts Medal from the American Institute of Architects. In 1972, he was the first non-American to be nominated a member of the American Academy of Arts and Literature, and in 1975, he became an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Hague.

 

Nivola was instrumental in getting Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. approved. In 1987, the year before he died, Nivola sketched his idea for “Monumento alla bandiera Americana,” a monument symbolizing the America flag. The Nivola Foundation and the Nivola Museum in Sardinia are working towards having the artwork completed and installed.

 

 

Constantino Nivola

An Italian American Flag (by Alfonso Francia)

The Drawing Room Art Gallery (Nivola Exhibit)

Art: Sand Sculptor (Article, TIME 1955)

Constantine Nivola on Exhibit at Harvard

Costantino Nivola (New York Times Obituary)

A Garden Vestige of the Paint-Splattered Hamptons (Article, New York Times 2001)

Museum in Sardegna 

 

Sabato Rodia (1879-1965) [Also known as Sam Rodia and Simon Rodia.] Creator and builder of Watts Towers, a series of spires and sculptures made from steel rods, wire, and mortar, and embellished with pieces of glass, pottery, tiles, seashells, and other materials. The towers, two reaching almost 100 feet tall, and other artwork took 33 years to complete and is considered an engineering masterpiece and one of the best examples of folk art in America.

Rodia was born in Ribottoli (a locality in the city of Serino, province of Avellino, region of Campania); and was in his mid teens when he arrived in America. He stayed in Pennsylvania with his older brother, but after his brother died in a mining accident, Rodia – supporting himself with working in coalfields, rock quarries, and railroad construction – traveled west and settled in Seattle, Washington, where he eventually married and started a family.

 

In the early 1900s, Rodia and his family moved to Oakland, California, where he worked as a brick mason, making enough to bring his sister and her family from Pennsylvania to California. The death of his daughter at an early age may have contributed to Rodia’s drinking, causing his marriage to end in 1912. By 1917, Rodia was living in El Paso, Texas, but moved back to California with his second wife shortly after, settling in Long Beach; and using the skills he had learned working as a mason and tile setter, he started making small sculptures and planters.

 

Rodia married for the third time in 1921 and purchased a triangular piece of property, with a small house and a large side lot, in the Watts neighborhood of south Los Angeles. Located on a dead end street, the property was not too far from the railroad tracks and also visible from one of the main roads that ran through the neighborhood. Rodia began building his towers, and his third marriage ended.

 

Using steel rods, covered with wire, and reinforced with concrete set with pieces of glass, pottery, seashells, and other objects Rodia built the sculptures and spires that are called Watts Towers. He worked without design plans, using just hand tools, and when the spires became too tall, Rodia used a window washer’s belt to climb them. He collected his materials from along the railroad tracks, the broken pieces of tiles from his day job, and even paying the neighborhood children to bring him the objects he would place into the cement to create the mosaic designs.

 

Rodia wanted to create something as memorable as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which he erroneously attributed to Galileo. Rodia’s birthplace of Ribottoli is not too far from Nola, a town that has been celebrating Festa del Gigli, honoring the safe return of their bishop, over 2,000 years ago. The festival, a major event, is highlighted by decorative obelisks, over 80 feet high, and a boat that are paraded through the town. The obelisks are remarkably similar to Rodia’s spires and the inclusion of a boat leads many to believe that Rodia was influenced by this annual event.

 

What influenced and motivated Rodia to work every day, after his day job, and all weekend, for 33 years, is the topic of books, art reviews, and film. When Rodia was finished, he deeded the property to a neighbor and walked away. A few years later, the property was purchased by two filmmakers, who transferred the title to a committee to preserve the towers. The city was concerned about the structural stability of the towers, and they were tested and proved safe.

 

In 1961, Rodia’s work was featured in “The Art of Assemblage,” a program at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City. The same year, he appeared at the University of California, Berkeley, to talk about his work. Rodia died in 1965. Two years later, his picture appeared on the cover of The Beatles most popular album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (top row, next to Bob Dylan).

 

Watts Towers is 17 pieces of art – three tall spires, two close to 100 feet tall, six smaller spires, a boat, a gazebo, and other objects – interconnected with bands of concrete-reinforced and decorated steel. It’s been recognized as the largest piece of artwork created by one person, as the longest slender reinforced concrete column in the world, and as a unique work of vernacular architecture. It is a National Historic Landmark and a State of California Historic Park and Historic Cultural Monument. The Towers are also the site of the annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival, established in 1976; and in 1981, the Day of the Drum Festival was added to the annual event.

 

In the DVD “I Build the Tower,” the story of the towers and Rodia, R. Buckminster Fuller said “Sam will rank, not just in our century, but rank with sculptors in all history.”

 

 

Watts Towers by Sam Rodia

 

I Build the Tower (DVD)

 

The Towers (1957 Film)

 

Great Buildings

 

Rodia’s Watts Towers (Article and Photographs)

 

Photographs and Scale Model

 

Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative

 

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (PDF)

 

Watts Towers: California State Park

 

Sgt. Pepper Album Cover

 

 

Francesco Scavullo (1921-2004) One of the most prominent glamour, fashion, and celebrity photographers in the world. By the age of ten, Scavullo had developed an interest in photography, and within a few years he was taking portraits of his sisters posing as glamorous movie stars. By 19, he created his first cover for Seventeen magazine and was signed to contract. In 1965, he became the cover photographer of Cosmopolitan, hired to create a new image of the Cosmopolitan girl, and remained there for 30 years. In between, he photographed rock stars and movie stars for other magazine covers, record albums, and posters, and published six books of his works. His photographs are on permanent exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, and the Guggenheim, in New York City.

Scavullo Web Site

A Photographic Retrospective

Artworks

 
 

 
 
Copyright 2007-2014 Janice Therese Mancuso
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission except when published with this credit: Excerpt from Thirty-One Days of Italians, 2014 Janice Therese Mancuso.