Italy's Art in The United States: Tracing the Immigrants' Influence in the Upstate New York Region

James C. Mancuso
1997 (Updated, August, 2002)

Giuseppe (Joseph) Stella (1878-1946) created the drawing at the left - Italian Steel Worker. The drawing is one of his series of Pittsburgh Portraits, which he drew during the years 1909-1914. His series aptly symbolizes the ideologies of Stella as immigrant to The USA - celebrating the industrial capacity of the country, while skillfully applying his art to recognize forcefully the vital contributions of the many immigrants from all of Europe who labored in Pittsburgh's industrial complex 


    At the beginning of the 19th Century, The United States of America enjoyed but 24 years of independence from Great Britain. Few of the inhabitants of the country had turned their attention to the graphic arts and architects. A new, vigorous country needed skilled artists to express a guiding spirit for the country, particularly as the leaders chose styles and decorations for monumental and government buildings. A small contingent of architects, artists, sculptors and painters had made their way from England to The USA, and they did construct a basic foundation for the building of an American approach to art. A federalist style of architecture reflected the kind of direct, no-nonsense approach which could characterize the leaders who wished to demonstrate that they had cast off the trappings of the effete nobility that circled the courts of Europe. Yet, that leadership wished to infuse artistic representations with a grandeur that would signify the potential of a nation so favorably endowed with space, location, and resources. The technology of the day allowed builders to signal that grandeur in architecture by reverting to the architectural styles of the glorious days of Roman antiquity - domes, columns, pilasters, and arches. The adoption of that style could be more easily accepted in that the influence of the innovative work of Andrea Palladio (1518-1580) had spread fom Italy's Veneto region to the English countryside just as the first European settlements were taking root on the eastern seaboard of the Atlantic Ocean. Thomas Jefferson's frank copy of Palladio's style, when he designed and built Monticello, indicates the widespread acceptability of following the neoclassic revival that Palladio had stimulated.

    Every feature of the Hudson Valley region guaranteed the inevitability of that part of the new country becoming the locus for the development of the first, original American school of painting.. The great natural beauty which was easily accessible from the major port cities of the northeast spurred the interest of naturalist painters who wanted to record those beauties. New York City, of course, proved to be the strongest magnet for the landscape painters. In 1801, Archibald and Alexander Robertson founded the first art school in The USA, the Columbian Academy of Painting. As American painters became more skillful, they could engage in the lively trade in reproductions for the European market, where such engravings of landscapes found enthusiastic buyers.

    From this basic foundation there emerged the group of painters who would become The Hudson River School of Painters, whose founding one can attribute to Thomas Cole and Asher Durand. Other American painters had done landscape painting before these two innovators began to infuse their landscape paintings with dark, moody, symbolic elements. Colonel John Trumbull (who is credited with "discovering" Thomas Cole), John Vanderlyn, Washington Allston, and Thomas Doughty each had made a contribution to the beginning of the noteworthiness of American landscape painters. And, as one would expect, each of these pioneers eventually had studied in Europe, as did most of the important painters of The Hudson River School - which came to include famed painters such as Jasper F. Cropsey, George Inness, Sanford Gifford, David Johnson, John F. Kensett, Albert Bierstedt, and Frederic E. Church. The influence of Italy's heritage of art is often seen directly in their paintings. Bierstedt's painting of the temples at Paestum remain a superb evocation of the mood of a glorious, but decayed, past. One can find amusement by trying to identify the locations of the Italian scenes which Cole sketched and then later included in his allegorical paintings.

    One can uncover, however, a more ineluctable way in which study in Italy had affected the works of this first American original school. It was in Italy that the techniques of modern arts and architecture were developed and formalized. The Fiorentine painters, for example, had conducted pioneering studies of the use of light and the means of representing perspective, which allowed artists such as Tommaso Guidi (Massacio, 1401-1428) and Piero della Francesca (c. 1420-92) to leave behind a legacy which graphic artists still can study in order to gain mastery of these aspects of painting. The techniques of drawing which allow a painter to represent human movement, emotional expression, and social interaction gradually developed, during the Rinascimento, to the point where painters could represent the most sublime and the most terrifying conduct of humans and beasts. The technology of carving, casting, laying stone, securing foundations, arching great spans, pouring concrete, mixing pigments, working brush strokes, and formulating the relationships between subjects in paintings had developed in Italy so that artists from all parts of the world could study and borrow the mastery of those techniques. Those were the techniques which the first home-grown American artists hoped to master by their sojourns through Italy.

    More directly, the painters of The Hudson River School readily acknowledged their debts to Salvatore Rosa (1615-1673), an Italian baroque painter and etcher who also earned fame as actor, musician, and satirical poet. Rosa presaged the romantic symbolism of The Hudson River painters by producing landscapes showing primeval and mysterious settings. His place in the art and political world was solidified by the composition of an opera which bears the name of Salvatore Rosa as its title. (The opera was composed by A. Carlos Gomes, with Antonio Ghizlanzoni as librettist. It was first performed in Genoa in 1874. Significantly, the opera celebrates the 1647 uprising, in Naples, in which the populace tried to throw off Southern Italy's repressive Spanish-sponsored regimes - which were finally forced out by Garibaldi's triumph in 1860. Ironically, the unseating of the monarchy and Southern Italy's unification to the new state of Italy brought about the conditions which opened the gates that allowed the initiation of the Italy-to-USA avventura, through which millions of Southern Italians became citizens of The USA.)

    Seeing The USA as a new source of markets and patronage, a flow of graphic artists and architects made their way from Italy to this new country. An overview of the extent of the Italy-to-the-USA migration of artistic talent is reflected in the Regina Soria's book, American Artists of Italian Heritage, 1776-1945, (Rutherford, NJ; Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1993). Soria provides a dictionary of over 350 artists who originated in Italy or in the families of immigrants from Italy.

    The contents of this page in our site will feature artists having connections to the Hudson/Mohawk/Berkshire region. By exercising this constraint we will need, for the time being, to ignore other superb artists who do not have immediate connections to this region. Note also that this page, by no means, will recognize all of the accomplished Italian-American artists of this region. The environs of upstate New York, which is heavily populated with second and third generations of Italian-Americans, is and has been the locus of artistic activity. Woodstock, NY, in the foothills of the Catskills, has long been a magnet to all variety of persons engaged in the arts. Columbia County provides a rural residence for many of the famed personages of the arts world, being especially attractive on account of the accessibility of the music, drama, and graphics art centers located in the Berkshire Mountain region - Williamstown Theatre Festival; Tanglewood Music Center; The Norman Rockwell Museum near Stockbridge, Massachusetts; The Berkshire Opera Company, etc. The recent opening of the North Pointe Arts Center, Kinderhook, NY; a project initiated by Robert and Marian Guerriero, illustrates the participation of Italian-Americans in Columbia County's artistic life. The presence of Italian-Americans in this art scene  has been heightened specially by the son of an Italian immigrant having been appointed to the directorship of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA.  Michael Conforti's  family left Livorno, Italy, and spent some years in Brazil before settling in  Haverhill, Massahusetts; where they eventually owned a shoe factory.  Michael's father was born in Brazil.  Michael completed a Doctor of Fine Arts degree at Harvard University, and held several important posts in museums before earning his post at The Clark Institute.

Some Notes on Artists of the Upstate New York Region of The USA
who Share an Italian-American Heritage

Link to the notes on one of the artists from an Italian-American background by
clicking on the cell, in the table below, containing the name of the artist.

Italian-American Artists

Constantino Brumidi Batiste Madelena
Giuseppe Stella Achille Forgione, Jr.
Leonard Tantillo Ugo Mochi
Henry Di Spirito John Recco
Joseph F. Trovato Robert Cimbalo

Ralph Fasanella

Carlo Abate

Terri Cosma (Mazzara) Boor

Robert De Niro, Sr.  

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Constantino Brumidi

    Constantino Brumidi, one can claim, occupies the status of the most noted Italy-to-The-USA immigrant artists. Brumidi's work is viewed each day by the thousands of persons who tour The Capitol Buildings of The USA in Washington D. C. Brumidi brought his outstanding talent as a fresco painter to The USA when he immigrated to New York City in 1852. He worked on The Capital Building frescoes during the years 1855-79.
     A lesser-known, but equally stupendous, set of frescos was completed by Brumidi during the recesses of The Congress of the USA. During those recesses, he returned to New York to adorn the Church of Our Lady of The Scapular and Saint Stephen with a a fresco cycle covering every wall of the church. As so regrettably will happen with so many great works of art, the frescos have gone into a state of disrepair. The Reverend Sean Harlow, a Carmelite Brother, has initiated a program of restoration of Brumidi's work. The restoration is being financed, largely, by a program through which donors of over 1,000 dollars will be recognized through the mounting of a plaque on which their names will be inscribed.
Though Brumidi painted the cycle at Our Lady of the Scapular during the years 1856 to 1879, before the great Italy-to-The-USA avventura, his work in that particular church, whose patron saint is the representation of the Mother of Jesus known as Our Lady of Mount Carmel, presaged the importance of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to the Italian-to-The-USA immigrants who began arriving by the millions after 1880. One will find a church dedicted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel in most of the communities in The USA where the Southern Italians and Sicilians had settled. The importance of that representation of Mary derives from the central place of the great Carmelite Church in Naples in which one finds the historic icon of Mary.
When the restoration of the Brumidi frescos is complete, the important New York church, located at 142 East 29th Street,  will deserve eternal preservation, not only as a center of art, but also as a site that is closely connected to the history of l'avventura.
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Joseph (Giuseppe) Stella

    Giuseppe (Joseph) Stella, an Italian emigrant of a different genre, can be taken as a representative of the great Italy-to-The-USA avventura. Stella was born in a town in Italy's mountainous south, Muro Lucano (Province of Potenza). He came to The USA, in 1896, when he was nineteen years old. He joined his brother Antonio, a physician, and began studies to fulfill his intention of becoming a physician. His desire to paint overcame those intentions. He studied art in New York City, for two years, and in 1909 (?) he went to study in Italy. In 1911 he studied in Paris, where he became acquainted with Matisse, Modigliani, and other avant-garde artists. After returning to The USA he began to attract national attention through many exhibits and publications of his work. During World War I Stella was commissioned to do a series of industrial drawings in connection with the war effort. Perhaps, as a result, he turned out a series of oil paintings for which he is best known; paintings which suggests The USA's veneration of industrialism - The Gas Tank, Brooklyn Bridge, Factories, and New York Interpreted. He built and then enjoyed a celebrated international reputation until his death in Astoria, NY in 1946.
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Frank Stella

    The immigrant connection between Italy's art and art in The USA was expressed in a different way by another painter bearing the name of Stella. Frank Stella was born in 1936, in Malden, Massachusetts. His father, Frank, who had become a gynecologist, was the son of immigrants from Sicily. His mother, Constance, was the descendant of immigrants from Calabria. Although the younger Frank enjoyed an education at the most prestigious USA institutions - Phillips Academy and Princeton University - he enjoyed the opportunity to gain experience, as his father once did, as a summer house painter. This experience served him well as he launched his career as an artist painter. After graduating from Princeton in 1958, seeded with a 300.00 dollar gift from his father, he further financed his venture into New York City's artistic life by devoting three days a weeks to painting houses in Queens and Brooklyn. Enamored of abstract painting, Stella nevertheless disdained the "second generation" of abstract painters who followed the formulas laid down by Jackson Pollock and William de Kooning. Always a thinker of considerable depth, Stella began to develop an approach to painting which came to be called non-relational painting. He painted simple bands of black color (using commercial black enamel), separated by thin bands of bare canvas, arranging the stripes in various orientations on the two dimensional surface. The viewer was not expected to relate anything in the painting to anything else, neither inside nor outside the painting. Everything that the viewer was to grasp was to be grasped immediately by looking only at the painting. Though such painting achieved little fame outside of the high echelons of the art world, Stella continued to explore ways in which to infuse abstract painting with vitality, and he enjoyed a solid reputation among gallery habitues, gallery curators, and collectors. He is credited with laying the foundations of minimalist movement, one of the directions which the abstract movement took in the 1970's. During one of several visits to Italy during 1981 and 1982, Stella experienced a near epiphany as he studied a painting by the revolutionary painter Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio, 1573-1610), credited with founding the school of Neapolitan painters which flourished in Naples in the 1600s. Stella became aware of the way in which Caravaggio infused a presence in the figure of John the Baptist who was depicted as a lad stroking a sheep. What he perceived was the way in which Caravaggio had used his painting technique to represent the space around and behind the subject, so that the figure of The Baptist appeared to have volume. This realization turned Stella to a new approach to painting into which he tried to incorporate his new perspectives. That is, he began to do pieces in which the surface of the piece actually projected out of the flat plane of the background. Again, whatever the critical reaction to this work, Frank Stella had demonstrated his desire to push the limits of the concepts which he tries to incorporate in his work. Despite his fame, Stella tries to maintain a low personal profile. He devotes much of his time to high powered automobiles and to his horse farm in upstate New York.
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Leonard Tantillo

    Leonard Tantillo, a painter whose work might be regarded as a significant contrast to that of Frank Stella, lives in Nassau, in Columbia County. Tantillo was born in Poughskeepie, NY, in 1946. . His paternal grandparents had immigrated to The USA from Sicily, and his maternal grandparents had immigrated from an island in the Bay of Salerno.Tantillo's parents operated a general store in Ohioville, a small town located near New Paltz, New York. Tantillo attended Rhode Island School of Design, from where he graduated, in 1969, with a degree in architecture  He worked as an architect for many years, as an associate in leading firms in Albany, NY. In 1976 he turned to free-lance work, doing architectural  illustration, and began to give serious attention to the genre of painting for which he has become known. Since he began this venture, he has completed over 40 major commissions.  Critics would regard Tantillo's work as being starkly representational, and it is his high skill in producing large scale works which represent important events in the history of the Upper Hudson and Mohawk River region which has brought him to the attention of the art world. Tantillo's paintings superbly evoke a sense of ways in which people lived their lives during the periods he illustrates. His extremely careful attention to accurate detail is carefully recorded in his paintings, and a viewer is taken into the paintings to share a perspective that might have been experienced by someone who had actually come upon the scene depicted. It is this orientation which prompted him to celebrate his parents by doing a painting of their store, setting the illustration in 1938 -- the year in which they purchased the store.  Tantillo's connections to his Italian-American past also finds expression in his style of interaction.  He thoroughly enjoys a the opportunity to tell a good story -- a characteristic revealed in his paintings.  The prominent exhibition of  his commissioned paintings has brought widespread recognition for Tantillo's work, so that he now devotes his time exclusively to the research for and execution of the paintings he painstakingly creates.
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Henry DiSpirito

    A survey of the artistic activity in the Mohawk Valley spotlights the sculptor, Henry R. Di Spirito, who aptly illustrated the immigrants's story.  He was born in Casteforte (Latina), Italy, in 1898, and immigrated to the USA in 1921, to settle eventually in the Mohawk River City, Utica, NY.  That city was fortunate enough to be the locus of the noted Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Museum, which maintained a school
of Art.  Di Spirito studied sculpture at that institute during 1941-1943.

   Lacking the resources of a budding sculptor, Di Spirito began to sculpt in fieldstone, using his front yard as a studio.  It was here that he produced "The Ant" (in Granite).  He went on to enjoy a distringuished career, winning major prizes and having his work placed in significant museums and private collections - including both the David and Nelson Rockefeller collections. In 1956, he won a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1982, at the age of 84, his sculpture "The Ant" received the Leila Gardner Sawyer prize at the National Academy of Design.

   Di Spirito became Artist-in-Residence at Utica College of Syracuse University in 1963, a position he held until his demise in 1995.  At the Utica College commencement ceremony in May, 1989, he was presented with the Syracuse University Doctor of Humane letters.

   On August 9, 2002, an exhibit of Di Spirito's work, scheduled to run until the end of 2002, opened to the public at the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown New York. The Museum's Chief Curator, Paul D'Ambrosio, wrote the following text to introduce viewers to Di Spirito's captivating sculptings.

    Henry DiSpirito was a quiet, gentle man with a deep love of nature and a profound respect for all living things. In the backyard of his home in Utica, New York, and at his studio at Utica College, DiSpirito carved stone images of people, animals, and insects, often while engaging visitors in lively conversations on a wide variety of topics.

   Born in 1898 in Castelforte, Italy, DiSpirito started working with his father as an apprentice stonemason at the age of eleven. He studied painting briefly, and served in the Italian Army in World War I from 1917-20. To escape poverty and the rising tide of fascism, DiSpirito emigrated to the United States in 1921. He settled in Utica, New York, where his extended family and a thriving community of Italian immigrants provided social and economic support. DiSpirito worked as a stonecutter and bricklayer for a number of construction firms. In the late 1930s, the Works Progress Administration hired DiSpirito to complete stonework for Proctor Park in Utica. In the early 1940s DiSpirito joined the WPA Art Project, creating small wax figures for historical dioramas at the Children's Museum in Utica.

   In 1941, DiSpirito enrolled in night classes under Richard Davis at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute's School of Art to gain experience in modeling in clay. Davis encouraged DiSpirito to work in stone and mentored him until 1943. After Davis' departure, DiSpirito set up a makeshift table in his backyard and began a pattern of working on construction jobs by day and carving stone at night and on weekends.

   DiSpirito's method of carving directly in stone was partly determined by his craft training, but also greatly influenced by modernist sculpture to which he was exposed under Davis. Highly accomplished sculptors such as William Zorach, Robert Laurent, and John Flannagan had espoused the merits of direct carving since the 1920s, asserting that it created an immediacy of expression and an elemental form that captured the spirit of the subject. Direct carving also required a mastery of craft that the modernist artists admired.

   DiSpirito received much recognition during his lifetime. He exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s. In 1961 he retired from construction jobs at the age of 63, and from 1963 until his death in 1995, DiSpirito was artist-in-residence at Utica College of Syracuse University. In his later years he also sculpted in wood.

   The subject matter in these sculptures reflects DiSpirito's love of nature, particularly in his depictions of living animals and insects. They recall the medieval tradition of animal carving on Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals. These carvings, done in his spare time, were perhaps a relief from his work as a stonemason. They take on symbolic and moral significance and reflect the artist's respect for all life, as well as his ability to reveal the life hidden in stone. " (P. D'Ambrosio, 2002)
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Joseph S. Trovato

A fellow member of Utica's Italian-American community, Joseph S. Trovato, also benefitted from study at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute School of Art. Trovato was born in Guardavalle (Catanzaro) in 1912. He arrived in Utica in 1920. During the Great Depression, Trovato taught classes and worked on The Murals Project with The Works Progress Administration. During the years 1939-1983 he served as assistant to the director of M-W-P. Despite a career devoted mainly to teaching and art administration, Trovato also produced a body of notable works which are in private and museum collections. Among other recognitions, Trovato was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree by Hamilton College, Clinton, NY.
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Robert De Niro, Sr.

    Moving a bit beyond the Mohawk Valley, to connect to the modern celebrity world, one can note that in 1922 the father of Robert De Niro was born in Syracuse, NY, where he attended the Syracuse Museum School during the years 1935-1939. Robert, Sr., taught at the New School for Social Research, New York City, from 1966 onward.
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Batiste Madalena

    And the artistically inclined inhabitants of Italian immigrant community of Rochester, NY, would not allow other upstate New York cities to surpass their contributions.

    In that Rochester was the site of major developments in film and cinema, it is not surprising that a man who had been brought to The USA when he was a one-year-old child should make a fascinating career in an art related to film. Batiste Madalena attended the institution that is now named The Rochester Institute of Technology. When he was finishing his work there he met the great philanthropist and industrial visionary, George Eastman. Eastman had built and had opened a movie theater in 1922. Eastman convinced Madalena to take a position creating advertising posters for the front of the theater, and Madalena held that job during the years 1924-1928. In that time he fashioned over 1400 posters. One rainy night, shortly after the Paramount chain had purchased the theater and Madalena no longer worked there, he was riding his bicycle through a short-cut through the alley behind the theater. To his shock and dismay, he found his paintings in the thrash heap. Madalena retrieved about 500 of the posters, saving many of them from the soaking rain. In 1975 the posters were displayed in a Rochester bank, whereupon they were purchased by Steven Katten, a producer of documentary films, who exhibited the works throughout The USA.
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Achille Forgione, Jr.

    Achille Forgione, Jr, also attended the Rochester Institute of Technology. He was born into the family of Achille Forgione, Sr., a native of Avellino (Naples) who had immigrated to Rochester in 1922, when he was 23 years old. Shortly before his emigration, Achille, Sr., had completed studies at the Academia di Belle Arti in Naples. In Rochester, he met and married Rose Morell, whose family had emigrated from Faeto (Puglia). Achille, Jr. was born in 1928. Achille, Sr., provided the family's sustenance by owning and operating a photographic, portrait, and, sculpture studio; which Achille, Jr. continued to operate after Achille, Sr's. death in 1985. Achille, Sr. expressed himself, mainly, in his photographic and painting creations. Achille, Jr., on the other hand, has lived out his creative tendencies through sculpting. His works occupy spaces in many of the major firms and institutions in Rochester. Achille, Jr., said of his father, "He never left Naples, Naples entertained us forever. It is extremely important to preserve what is fine and old" (Soria, 1993, p. 87).
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Ralph Fasanella

    Though we regret needing to overlook many other important creative artists who sprang from the Italy-to-The-USA avventura, we must return to our center in the Albany region and move back into the lower end of The Hudson River Valley, to take special note of the painter who would compete for the title of Quintessential Italian-American Artist.Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997), who lived with his wife/manager, Eva, in Ardsley, New York, was born in New York City's Greenwich Village, on Labor Day, 1914. His parents, Joseph and Ginevre, natives of Bari (Puglia) had met and married in NYC. Like many immigrant families of that time, the Fasanellas managed to rear and support six children - Joseph as an iceman, Ginevra as a buttonhole maker in a coat factory. Fasanella has lived intensely a life through which he could celebrate the kinds of earthy, profound values of people like his parents. His sympathies with the Republican movement, during the Spanish civil war of the 1930's, prompted him to work with the famed Lincoln Brigade as a truck driver. Fasanella was over thirty years old before he thought of doing art. For two decades he worked as a gas station attendant, to return home to turn to his creative work. By trial and by study of the great masters he taught himself to paint. His mastery of relationships of space, form and color, embedded in a beguiling naivete, could lead one to believe that he deliberately maintains his "primitive" color, just as an immigrant would maintain a charming bit of his native tongue's accent. To capture the themes he wished to express, Fasanella turned to large, colorful canvases. He painted notable series, such as that illustrating the infamous 1912 Bread and Roses Strike of the cotton mill workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Fasanella's paintings are a dedicated, passionate, exuberant expression of his esteem for the positive solid values of the immigrant families who contributed to the vitality of the cities of The USA. Perhaps the painting that best reflects his commitments is Family Supper, which now hangs in the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration. This highly evocative painting is frankly autobiographical. The painting depicts a family gathered around the dining table, in an orderly, clean, but clearly spare kitchen. Every detail of the work can connect to a significant facet of the life of families who took part in the avventura. Though the symbolism reminds one of the struggles of those families, Fasanella infuses the work with a pleasing serenity. When viewing one of Fasanella's paintings, one immediately experiences his/her being drawn into the scene. Anyone, particularly one who has shared the experiences shown in Family Supper, will feel that he/she has been invited to pull up a chair and have a plate of pasta.

    Fasanella's recent death stimulated innumerable tributes to both his art and to his humanity. One can aver that very few artists who have achieved the level of acclaim as has Fasanella have managed to represent the ambience of the people whom we meet in ou daily excursions in a great city. Our society is fortunate that Ralph Fasanella has left behind a rich legacy of art that is infused with a record of his Italian-American heritage.

   A superb showing of over 40 of Fasanella's paintings had been exhibited at the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY, from Spring, 2001, up until the end of that year.  The exhibit then moved to The New-York Historical Society on Central Park West (until July 14). Dr. Paul D'Ambrosio curated the exhibition.  D'Ambrosio authored a book to accompany the exhibit (D'Ambrosio, P. S. [2001].  Ralph Fasanella's America. Cooperstown, NY: Fenimore Art Museum). D'Ambrosio's book contains a thorough biography of Fasanella, extensive analyses of his work, and very high quality reproductions of Fasanella's paintings.
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Ugo Mochi

    Fasanella's involvement in the world of Italian immigrants provides a striking contrast to another Italian-American, who also did art in the lower Hudson River Valley. Ugo Mochi (1989-1977) still has an intense presence in the center of the Upper Hudson/Mohawk Valley region. His daughters, Jeanne Mochi Tartaglia and Joanne Mochi Gray live in the Albany area, extravagantly devoting time and attention to sharing with the public the body of works left behind by their father. The name Mochi had regularly appeared in the art world of Firenze. The work of the sculptor, Francesco Mochi (1580-1654), is often considered to be the first truly Baroque sculptor of the 1600s. His major statues appear in many of the major cities of Italy, for he was regularly given commissions by popes and the leading families of the Italian peninsula. A contemporary of Francesco, Orazio Mochi (1571-1625) also sculpted works which contributed to the development of the Baroque style. Ugo Mochi, unlike Fasanella, had extensive training in design, sculpting and illustrating. He was born and had his earliest training in the very heart of the region in which the Rinascimento took place. Mochi was born in Firenze (Tuscany) in 1889. Encouraged throughout his early life by his devoted and affluent parents, he was enrolled in Firenze's Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 10 years. The tragic death of both his parents, when Mochi was 15 years of age, occasioned his transfer to the city of Bergamo, where he continued his studies. Working through a career as a designer and sculptor in Italy and Germany, Mochi began to concentrate on representing animals. Through this kind of work he began to show a high level of finesse in expressing movement, perspective, and form in what one would be tempted to call minimalism. He developed a technique known as shadows in outline. To begin, he would lay a sheet of white paper over a black sheet laid on a glass surface. Holding a pencil shaped knife, Mochi would then begin to cut away the white paper, following outlines that he had roughly sketched on the white paper. Making thousands of intricate cuts, he would pare away fine sections of the white sheet to reveal a two-dimensional black figure. Anyone who views these pieces must be amazed by the instantaneous impression of mass and movement, when these effects are to be achieved. On the other hand, Mochi e succeeds equally in conveying the impression of intricacy and delicacy, when such impressions etter represent the object depicted. Masaccio would be envious of the ways in which his fellow Fiorentine's two dimensional forms embody representations of the third dimension. Tiziano (Tizianio Velcellio) would be astounded by the ways in which Mochi's figures project impressions of volume, form, mass, and movement. In 1922, Mochi gave a one-man show of works in this technique, in London. His works received high critical acclaim and were purchased by highly sophisticated collectors. Mochi immigrated to The USA in 1928, and eventually settled in New Rochelle, New York. He married Edna Skelton, an Iowa native, and they reared their two daughters in New Rochelle. He died in 1977, at age 88. He remained active up until his death, and left behind a prodigious amount of works - books of illustrations of flora, of hoofed animals, of African wildlife, etc.; series of illustrations of horses, of ships, of historical and religious themes, of various means of transportation, etc. Shows of his works continue to attract crowds, and books containing his illustrations are available in libraries throughout the country.
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Robert Cimbalo

    Robert Cimbalo covers the middle ground between Ralph Fasanella, the self trained artistic chronicler of Italian-American life, and Ugo Mochi, the highly trained Italian-Anerican direct heir to the premier art of Italy. Cimbalo took his refined technology to recording the intimate, day-to-day life of the Italian-American world.
    Cimbalo was born in Utica, New York. He and his three siblings were the children of Santo and Rose (Gagliardi) Cimbalo.  Santo, who origniated in Cellara, a town near Cosenza, in Calabria, worked in iron.  Rose also originated in Calabria -- Tiriolo, near Catanzaro.  The immigrant couple reared their children in East Utica -- the thriving Italian-American section of the region.
    After completing high school, Cimbalo followed his father in iron-working.  Following military service during the Korean conflict, Robert studied to complete a Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn.  He then went to Rome, where he spent two years studying at the art centers in Rome,  associating with noted Italian artists.  Returning to Syracuse University, he completed work to achieve a Master's in Fine Arts Degree

    Returning to Utica in 1968, he took a position at the Williams-Proctor School of Art -- an art center which had had a significant influence on others who originated in the Italian-American sector of Utica. At Munson-Proctor, Cimbalo created a graphics department while pursuing his own creative interests. The Italian influence on his endeavors clearly appeared during this period.  He completed a frequently exhibited series of thirty-four drawing that illustrated scenes from Dante's Inferno.

    In 1980, Cimbalo took a teaching position at Utica College of Syracuse University.  At that point, he turned to experimenting with oil painting -- a medium with which he had previously done little.  He mined his Italian-American consciousness for subjects of his work.  The result???  A collection of dozens of paintings that record, with deeply felt nostalgia, dozens of images which represent the day to day living of the Italian-American communities of the Northeast USA -- Winter Fig Tree, Pizza Fritta Makers, Wine making, Drying Sausage, Coffee on Terrace, The Corner Store, Morra, St. Joseph's Day Planting, Sunday Embrace, Farmer's Market, and so on.

    These paintings of Italian-American life are profoundly evocative.  Cimbalo uses styles which show the effects of extensive training and practice, yet his paintings reflect a subduing of the sophisticated aspects of technical finesse. One who has grown up in an Italian-American community could easily believe that Cimbalo, in his paintings, shows an adherence to one of the primary ideologies of Italian-American communities -- "Don't show off!! Particularly, don't try to play the role of the hot shot intellectual." Yet, the paintings do show off a mastery of a technique that allows him to dig deeply into the consciousness of a viewer.  Papa sits outside the sweet shop, his arm wrapped firmly around his son, who presses himself into his dad's embrace.  Granpop looks on, arms folded imperiously, as Papa closely observes his adolescent son turning the screw of the wine press.  Mom brings to the attic an apron full of sausage which will be hung to dry. Two youngsters study closely the position of the bocce balls, being tossed by their fathers.  Such touches would be significant to anyone who has grown up in an Italian-American community, but the universality of the satisfactions of these kinds of relations would appeal to any viewer. The effects of Cimbalo's paintings could not be better verbalized than it was by Eugene P. Nassar: "But through the magic of Cimbalo's sucessful evocations, the great grandchildren of the original East Utica Italian immigrants now have a idea of how it was to live in that great time and place. And so do all of us" (Nassar, E. P. [1997] Return to the heart's core: Italian icons from East Utica. Ambassador, No. 33, pp. 2-5).
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John Recco

    An acquaintance with the history, life, and work of John F. Recco reveals that a strong Italian-American orientation will emerge in the work of a painter who is deeply  committed to expressing that background in abstract paintings.  Recco was born in 1958, in Lowell, Massachusetts.  His great grandfather, Alberto, played his role in l'avventura by migrating to Lawrence, MA, in the early part of the 20th Century.  He had left behind his wife and a son, Michael.  Alberto died, and was buried in a pauper's grave, and his wife, Fiorinda, had no idea of what had happened.  With help from relatives and friends, she made her way to Lawrence, taking with her their three-year-old son.  She found that Alberto had died, and located his grave.  Shortly thereafter, she met and married Francesco Antifonario.  Antifonario was able to read and write in both English and Italian, and as such, he assumed leadership in an organization that worked  to better the lives of the factory workers in Lawrence.  In that capacity, he was an activist in the notorious Bread and Roses Strike that Ralph Fasanella commemorated in his paintings.  After the strike, Alberto determined that Lawrence no longer was a hospitable location for his family.  The young Michael grew up in Lowell, MA; and married Paulina, an immigrant from Torre Annunziato (on the southern shore of the Bay of Naples).  John Recco's father was a son of Michael and Paulina. John is one of seven siblings.  Thus, John has a huge store of memories of the history of his laboring family.  Recco's interest in art led him to enroll in MassachusettsCollege of Art, and after graduation from that institution he completed a Master of Fine Arts degree at Columbia University.  John's wife, Maria, came to The USA with her family, which immigrated from a rural community in Greece.  John and Marie made a decision to establish their family in the rural outskirts of Hoosick Falls, NY -- near the borders of Vermont and Masssachusetts.  There, applying the many skills that they had developed in their laboring families, they have established a self sustaining life style; and have turned their old farmstead into an inviting bed and breakfast establishment -- complete with a commodious studio.  Recco also has held teaching positions at several of the colleges in the area.  In the meantime, he has created numerous, very appealing, abstract paintings; which, like Fasanella's representational paintings,  have been inspired by his family and its history (Click here to See example).  One of his large scale works, for example, bears the title Sunday MorningAnyone who studies and meditates on the painting  will be able to experience the evocation of many of the significant aspects of a Sunday morning in that ambience. These paintings have been exhibited  throughout New England and New York State. Beginning in April, 2001, John Recco's work will be exhibited  in the  Katharina Rich Perlow Gallery, The Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, 13th Floor, New York City.  Recco's experiences, life style, determination to make his way in the world of art, and his dedication to his Italian-American heritage provide clear indication that the vitality of the participants in l'avventura persists; and that some of that vitality continues to be channeled into developing an understanding and appreciation of the Italian-American heritage.
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Carlo Abate

    Among the varied personalities of the many artists who emerged from the Italian immigration, the personality of Carlo Abate stands out as a superb exemplar of the spirit which accompanied the transportation of the great art of Italy to The USA. Abate was born in Milan in 1860. By 1887 he already had established his career as a sculptor, and had been awarded an honorary degree by the Milan School of Fine Arts. After his wife, Enrichetta Corbello, and three of their five children died during an epidemic, in 1896, Abate emigrated to The USA with his infant son and his toddler daughter. In 1899 he settled on Blackwell Street, in the Italian section of Barre, Vermont. There he was able to use the granite and marble quarried in the district to continue his sculpting of monuments and important figures, including busts of Thomas Edison and Shirley Temple. Above all, his enormous effect on the art scene of The USA followed from his founding of a drawing school, subsidized by the city of Barre and The Granite Manufacturers and Quarriers Association. Parents of children in the community, aware of the fate of so many Italian immigrants and their sons who contracted anthrocosilicosis while working in the quarries, eagerly enrolled their children in Abate's school. Soria (1993, p. 19) cites J. Mulvaney (Carlo Abate: A life in stone, a catalogue which accompanied the exhibit arranged to inaugurate the monument to Abate; Barre Museum iof the Aldrich Public Library, Barre, VT, 1986): "Many of the [marble] industry's finest designers and draftsmen came from the school [along with] some of the carvers and sculptors who studied there under the watchful eyes of Abate and his fellow teachers, Charles Pamperi, Donato Coletti, Cossette Laffargo." Thus, Abate has left behind not only a legacy in stone, but also a legacy of minds trained to create art. Those minds can bring a special appreciation of the ways in which the art of The USA has been enriched by the patrimony of those who transported the culture of Italy to our country.
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Terri Cosma (Mazzara) Boor 

   Terisina Cosma (Mazzara) Boor recounts the story of her youth in an Italian immigrant family, residing in Utica, New York, she displays an enthusiasm that has marked her entire eight decades of life.

   "My father worked wonders as a builder. He would sit at his drawing table, drawing plans, and looking at blue-prints, all the while humming and singing Italian folk tunes and opera arias. I associated the blue paper covered by the white drawings with the blue sky and the clouds. My mother was 'a little demon.' She had all of us totally involved in life. I simply thought I was born into a wonderful world."

   Terri shared her early life with six siblings. One can easily observe the results of being surrounded by that "wonderful world." Each of the seven Mazzara children lived out exemplary careers. One brother, Frank, became a famed newspaper person who worked for several of the country's most prestigious newspapers and won many awards in recognition of his outstanding work. Another brother, Anthony, became a high school teacher. A third brother, Salvatore, followed their father's footsteps and built a career as a construction engineer. Sister Maria became an actress in New York City, and then returned to Utica to lead and to stimulate the theater groups in that city. Another sister, Emmy, was well into a singing career when she married. Sister Leonida completed advanced degrees in English literature.

   "I couldn't avoid interest in art. My father constantly involved us in his passion for Italian sculpting and painting."

   Terri, of course, needed to assure her livelihood. She attended a business college, finishing just as The United States entered World War II. Her ambition and talents allowed her to advance rapidly in a position with the military, where she worked in a unit that distributed supplies, by air, to fighting units all over the world. She first worked out of an office in Newark, New Jersey. Eventually, she ended in Honolulu, Hawaii, after a stint of service in Oakland, California.

   In Hawaii, she studied sculpting at Punahou School, a school that currently retains its pride in its art instruction and in the fact that its student body reflects the cultural diversity of its students. Terri recalls, especially, her association with Chinese culture.

   After the end of WW II, Terri returned to Utica, where she worked for a unit of Bendix corporation. At that time the unit worked on experimentation and development of combustion starters for airplanes.
In 1950,
   Terri enrolled in a sculpting class at Utica's Munson Williams Proctor Institute. She was assigned to a class taught by Henry Di Spirito. "He gave me a wad of clay, and we went on from there. Later, he and I exhibited together."

   In 1953 Terri and Edward Boor were married. Edward held a master's degree in Public Administration, and, shortly after their marriage, he joined the staff of Governor Averill Harriman. The couple then located their home in Albany, New York.

   In Albany, Terri continued to study sculpting, taking every opportunity to learn from a series of instructors. From 1973 to 1977, Terri studied art at Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York. She holds one of her instructors, Anthony Padovano, in special esteem. "He's my mentor." She began to work with Padovano in 1975, and has continued a close association with him up to the present.

   Edward died in 1978. Two years later, Terri enrolled for formal degree study in the University at Albany's Art Department. "Without Edward, I needed to widen my outside associations."

   Thus, Terri's already well-developed sculpting skills could not escape the attention of the Art Department faculty. Ms. Boor had developed a solid circle of fellow sculptors.  She has served as Vice President of the Lewis Paul Jonas Studios of Hudson, New York. That association with the Jonas Studios was built on the fit of Terri's work with the specialization of the Jonas Studios.  The Studios had been established by Lewis Paul Jonas, a leading authority on the creation of dinosaur models. Terri's special emphasis on animal sculptings made her a valued associate to the Jonas Studios.

   In 1983, in merited recognition of the valuable contributions that she could make to the Department, Terri was appointed Artist-in-Residence in University at Albany's Department of Art.

   Terri has had her work exhibited in nearly a score of exhibitions. As one might expect, most of those exhibitions were mounted after she began her association with the University at Albany's Department of Art.

   Terri Cosma (Mazzara) Boor's work is now located in many public places, and she has been dedicating much energy to distributing the pieces that she has completed and intends to complete. A bronze piece, named The Sea Lion has been placed in the Earth Science Building of University at Albany, dedicated to the memory of Naharian Gohkale. (Gohkale was a founding member of the Atmospheric Science Center at University at Albany). The sculpting Medicine Man Iroquois stands in the atrium of The University's School of Public Health, located across the Hudson River from Albany, in Rensselaer, New York. A major piece, Denial, has been given a central position in The University at Albany's Performing Arts Center. The piece has been dedicted to the famed author, Robert Penn Warren. who had been appointed The Untited States' first Poet Laureate, in 1985. Another sculpting, Jocasta (the mother of Sophocles' Oedipus), has been placed in the library at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY. Terri is seeking a suitable location for her nearly completed sculpting of the sword of Giuseppe Garibaldi. Ms. Boor has completed a wood carving representing a rocket, which she perceives as a tribute to Enrico Fermi. She hopes, in the near future to announce the permanent location of that piece.

   In special recognition of her contributions to The University at Albany, The University will name a sculptor's studio in her honor -- The Boor Sculptor Studio.

   The themes of many of Terri Boor's work obviously reflect her dedication to her Italian-American heritage. Those who know the history of Henry Di Spirito and of Terri's connection to and fond recollection of her association with Di Spirito will immeditely recognize the chain of her Italian-American heritage. One cannot mistake Di Spirito's influence on her style.

   Above all, however, Terri Cosma (Mazzara) Boor's vivacious accounts of her family's outstanding accomplishments clearly reflect her realization of the ways in which her immigrant parents prompted her and her siblings to take pleasure in pursuing excellence.
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This essay was developed as a part of the effort of The Albany (NY) Area Lodge of The Sons of Italy to make available material that will develop an appreciation and understanding of The Italy-to-USA Avventura. Nevertheless, the writers of this essay and other text found on this world wide web site claim sole responsibility for the content of their productions.


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. The author, Jim Mancuso died on June 10th, 2005. We maintain this site in memory of all the things that he did for us.

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