The Man In The Shed

Added on by Linda LaBella.

Nick LaBella felt such a deep kinship with other Italian Americans that he celebrated their accomplishments in his historical fiction. The Man in the Shed is one of the stories he loved to tell. 

A little known Italian American sculptor, Leo Lentelli, born in Bologna, Italy, was awarded one of the rare opportunities from the U.S. Treasury Department in the Works Project Administration during the depression of the early 1930's. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose WPA government sponsored program saved many artist from starving to death, had the foresight to hire tremendously talented architects, painters and sculptors to design and ornament buildings, monuments and murals all over the US. Leo was sent on assignment to Oyster Bay, one of the fortunate townships that benefited many of the WPA projects on the east coast, which some speculate was due to the fact that it was the summer home of the president's second cousin TR. 

As the story goes, Leo created four sculptures for the Oyster Bay Post Office as well as the ornamental base of the flag pole. It was here, in the dead of winter, receiving about $4.50 per day, that Leo built a little shed  round the base of the granite flag pole so that he could have some protection from the sharp chill of a northeastern coastal hamlet. In one version of the story, Leo had a little stove in the shed to keep him warm and to "heat his soup of potatoes, garlic and a carrot."  

Nick writes, "Recently I made my weekly trek to the post office to deliver some mail, but this time I paused by the flag pole to examine the magnificent work of four large seahorses that protrude from each corner and are surrounded by shells and gaping fishes (sic) so splendidly and painstakingly completed over sixty years ago. With respectful hands I traced the letters, carved so proudly, U.S. Treasury Department Art Project, LEO LENTELLI, Artist, Citizen of America."

What brought this story to mind was my own visit to the exhibition, Discovering Columbus at Columbus Circle in NYC.  A  Japanese artist, Tatzu Nichi has built an apartment around the 13 foot statue of Columbus, also created by an Italian American, Gaetano Russo. The statue sits atop a 75 foot column that has ships with animal heads carved around it and other fantastic  ornamentation. To get to the apartment, an actual modern appointed living room, you must climb 6 stories of stairs through a matrix of chrome scaffolding. The statue seems oddly alive, and up close the ravaged surface of the granite is quite beautiful. After the exhibit closes, the apartment will remain to to make the statue more accessable for the workers doing the restoration, and act somewhat like the shed did for Leo: as protection from the oncoming New York City winter.

Leo went on to make a number of important works in NY and San Francisco and quite a name for himself. Leo Lentelli: A Sculptor of the City Beautiful - San Francisco Public ...

Here is the link to the art show.

And here is that flag pole.  



Added on by Linda LaBella.

Family portraits suck for at least one of the subjects, the rest have varying degrees of acceptance of an awkward moment.

dad scowl2.jpg
Linda scowl 2.jpg

  When drawing I tend have an intense look of concentration, but other times I just scowl.  Clearly both facial habits I picked up from my father. One time, I remember working on a self-portrait for our high school arts magazine. I portrayed myself as a serious and hopefully, mature-looking artist. I was proud of it and left it on the table for dad to look at in the morning before school.  Most times he would leave notes about what I could work on to improve and this time I smugly thought I would get just a thumbs up or a big gold star.  The next morning I grabbed the folder and didn't check it because I was late.  When I went to hand it over to Bert, my friend and editor of Aegape, I  noticed that my dad had drawn directly on my work and "fixed" it by putting smile marks around my mouth and eyes. I was mortified at my own confused feelings of ownership, the stranger in the portrait and at my dad's presumption.   I had to cut 4th period to re-draw the portrait so that it could be published.  Later of course, dad's charm prevailed when he said he thought I looked better smiling.   I stopped leaving artwork for him to critique but that didn't stop him from hunting for my art to work on. 

 I think my father's propensity to draw directly on my art was not in his control. He was compelled to do it, almost like an addiction. When I was teaching art I had the same strong urge, however I learned to control it because college kids will yell at you. 

One time dad tried to give me back a portrait of the Beetles that I had started but clearly had not painted the finished product.   He found it in my loser pile and I guess he thought I would think I had forgotten that I had finished it, like elves or something.  Another time he thought he would just "touch up" an antique 19th century English ship painting that he found at a thrift store and signed his name to.  He later had second thoughts and tried to erase his signature from the painting and remove the weird yellow highlights he had added. He finally just gave it to me and denied all accountability.

Dad was such a cagey character.  Here he is in the 1970's,  probably drawing on some kids art, ha!

dad studio shot.jpg

Happy Birthday Nick LaBella

Added on by Linda LaBella.

My dad's favorite bomber jacket.



The past does not want to be changed, reads Stephen King's time travel novel 11,22,63.  The story is about a man who tries to go back in time to stop the assassination of JFK and finds that the obdurate nature of the past will work to stay the course and not allow itself to be changed.  A lot of the action takes place in 1958, which coincidentally is also the year of many of the photos I recently found among my father's collections. I also found two letters dated 1963 and '64, from J. Edgar Hoover, addressed to my dad, and one of which contains the FBI director's strong rebuttal about a cover up regarding the JFK's murder.  There are blurry edges between what I am reading for entertainment and these items from my dad's past,  but more on that later.

By the late 1950's dad had already developed an enviable discipline of drawing all the time, creating a sizable body of work. These early drawings contain clues to what richness lies ahead.

 Below are some amazing sketches of my dad's favorite ballplayers. I am particularly interested in the figure - centric sensibility of the drawings.  There is no background, nor indications of a floor but the figures still have the simulation of movement, weight,strength and stillness.  They bring to mind Egyptian statues of deities who are immortalized in a living-undead state forever.



And here is a more recent self portrait he did with many more years of art making, self- knowledge, and sheer detail.