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My First Studio • Rome Via Margutta • First Exhibits in America and others

In the sixties, approximately 45 years ago, after two very successful exhibits  in  New York  and  Palm Beach, Florida,  I  returned  to Rome and 

I was able to afford renting a studio in via Margutta, in the courtyard of Palazzo Patrizi .  Until  then, I  had worked in every corner of my home, which was on the third floor of the same Palazzo, overlooking Villa Borghese.

A very gentle man by the name of Ercolino (he had poliomyelitis as a young boy, damaging the left side of his body), used to carry my heavy sculptures and all the work, up the stairs on the third floor. We had no elevators.

One day, I had a call from someone who was interested in having heads made of his two children. We made an appointment at the Hotel Parco dei Principi in Rome, where he was staying. He had seen one of my posters hanging in the hotel. I remember that this gentleman was from somewhere in Mexico. A few days later, he came to my studio in Via Margutta and, after viewing some of my work, he gave me some photographs of his two children. He wanted me to make a polychrome terracotta, working from photographs.

At the hotel, while I was waiting for him, I noticed an almost room-size glass window, right next to the elevator. I thought it would be a great spot to show my then figurative work. People waiting for the elevator would certainly have the time to look at my sculptures and paintings.

I asked the concierge if I could rent it, and sure enough I could. I installed my work, and I would change it frequently. My small lost wax bronzes, paintings and head commissions sold very well.

That made my life less stressful, and I could pay for my son’s school and our life on a monthly basis without too much day-to-day agony. Mine, as I recognize today, was a very simple, primitive way of showing my work, an alternative to wasting time with the small, meaningless galleries of those days.

We had emerged from a world war that ended in 1945. The thriving institutions of the Contemporary Art World were nonexistent then; there was not the money battleground that there is today, with the galloping indifference to artistic standards.

People would just simply call my studio and come to visit.

While I kept bidding for every public commission that was being posted at the Academy of Fine Arts, I was too naïve to understand that commissions went to male artists; being a woman artist, I had no chance.

Mr. and Mrs. Emanuel Rosenblatt purchased my paintings “L’Attesa” (Waiting). It is of a woman with a very pretty hat; she is sitting in a field. She is viewed from the rear. I have loved hats, ever since I was a little girl. My father spoiled me, buying them, I had to promise I would not tell my mother, who could not care less where I was, or what I did, as long as my father did not spend any money on me. I was to wear her old clothes, made over by a lady who came to sew at the house. I spent my childhood dressed in blue and black thin silk dresses. They were so thin that they would tear at every move. In school, the girls would tease me by saying: “Did your cat die ?” (At the time in Italy, one would dress in black for a year or two when someone in the family had died).

Emanuel Rosenblatt and his wife after purchasing my painting, told me a bit about their life and factory in New York. They said they had an Austrian friend who was an Art dealer with a gallery in New York on Madison Avenue, between 72nd and 73rd Street, on the 2nd floor. (In those days several galleries were on the second floor). The Rosenblatts asked me if I would be interested in having an exhibition in New York. Indeed I was interested. They took some photographs of my work and showed them to Herbert Kende, who had an Art Gallery called The Kende Gallery as well as having been an auctioneer of the German Expressionists. He liked my figurative work and the exhibit was scheduled for sometime in October- November of 1967. At the time, no-one had any interest for my non-figurative sculptures.

We had no money at this time, not even to buy an Airline ticket to go to New York. I could only hope for a last moment lucky commission.

I printed my first catalogue with the paper that was generously given to me, by Bruno Sterzi, who owned a paper mill in Milan. I had met him at an exhibition of precious and semi-precious sculptures at the “Galleria degli Argenti” in Milan. His brother, a blind man, had purchased my first attempted carving in stone, Il Girotondo delle Vezzoseby touch !

My very first solo exhibit had been in Capri, sponsored by the local Ente del Turismo, attended by the President of Italy Giovanni Leone and his wife, they purchased one of my “Bathers”. During this exhibition I was approached by Mr. Carmine Siniscalco, he was the director of a very distinguished gallery in Rome: “il Carpine.” His brother was also a painter by the name of Sinisca, who had a studio, not too far from me in Via Margutta.

After visiting the gallery in Rome, I accepted to exhibit my work there.  The Incom Newsreal produced a documentary concerning my work and it was shown in every movie theater, just before the film. My father Mario was very happy about this exhibit and went around telling everybody: “this is my daughter, this is my daughter”. It was the first time he showed any enthusiasm about his daughter being a sculptor. He had too many problems in his youth, with artists in his family and absolutely did not want for his daughter to be one of them. The exhibit was attended by several artists, I was happy to meet them.

Roberto, whom I had met in 1959 after the divorce from my first husband, was at the time only my companion, we were not married. I had been introduced to him by an American girlfriend: Carol Stephens. I had asked the permission of my son Carlo to see Roberto without getting married.

After the disaster of my first marriage, I never wanted to get married again. Eventually I changed my mind and Roberto and I were married during the Christmas season of 1981 in Houston, Texas with my son Carlo as the best man.

Roberto had a little boat in Capri and he generously decided to sell it, so that I could go to America. He lived from the income of his vineyards, which had been in his family for over a hundred years.

He had had a terrible time with the vineyards in Puglia; hale had destroyed the entire crop. The vineyards had to be cut back and it would take 2-3 years before he could count on the next harvest. Roberto’s mother, who was very wealthy, could have helped him, but she was an indifferent, selfish woman, who only gave money to her church to build other churches or Altars. She did not love her son, she was like my mother.

I arrived in New York with the money from the sale of the little boat, from the blessed sale of a bas-relief “Singing and Playing”, which was purchased at the last minute by the “Pinacoteca di Stato” in Rome, and from the purchase of the small bronze “Bather” by Countess Bacelli when she visited my studio in Rome. I stayed at a little hotel not too far from the Plaza Hotel, (I do not remember the name).

Totally by  coincidence , on the street, I met an old Italian friend , Maria Laura Pintor. At the time she was the companion of H.E. the Ambassador Piero Vinci, the Italian Permanent Representative at the United Nations. My life changed, for she immediately invited me to stay with them, at their residence on 925 Fifth Avenue. She knew many people in the Art establishment and introduced me to, among others, Rauchenberg, Motherwell and Greenberg.

Ambassador Vinci and Maria Laura gave several receptions in my honor. Their presence, with their friends, at my exhibition made it a social event, just what the gallery was looking for. The llast floor of that residence was to become my first little studio in New York for the few winter months that I was there. They very generously allowed me to work on whatever commission I received for making heads. People could come there for their sittings. Also, from this place, I saw all the most wonderful parades on Fifth Avenue, and I was pampered by their great cook, Maria, whose brother was the chauffeur and always helped me by storing my sculpture’s crates in the basement.

Maria Laura Pintor later married Piero, thus becoming Mrs. Vinci.

They were my first blessing in New York. During the summer months, when she came to Italy, Maria Laura, in turn, was my guest at our home in Via Margutta.

Going back to Countess Bacelli, she was the mother of Fernando Veranez, a refugee from Cuba. She had fled Cuba with a fortune, for she was the widow of a very wealthy man: Mr. Abrau. When she arrived in Rome, she married Count Bacelli, a penniless man with a title. Her fortune was managed by David Finkle, a distinguished broker, who had installed himself in Palm Beach. Although he kept a beautiful Park Avenue apartment in New York, he preferred to work at his office, by the pool in Florida. Countess Bacelli had told me before my departure from Rome, that she would write to David Finkle and send him one of my catalogues.

I dropped a note to her, to give her my Fifth Avenue address in New York.

I still remember my first interviews with writers of various magazines, photographers came to the basement of the Fifth Avenue house to take pictures of me, with the sculptures and the crates arriving from Italy.

The children of Fernando Veranez went to school in Switzerland with my son Carlo; one day he invited them to our home in Rome.

As frankly as children can speak, they said that if it was not for their Bacelli grandmother they would starve. Their father Fernando was a painter but never sold anything. He was indeed a nice painter but a fabulous binder.

He was to bind the book that my dear father had written at the request of my son Carlo. One day Carlo, when he was 13 years old, had asked him: Grandpa, you are an antique, why don’t you write your life’s story for me and tell me about the antiques ?” The book was finished in 1965 when Carlo was about 16, it was dedicated to him, I recall my father saying that if he had to tell the truth about everything, so many of the people that he had met would be in jail. He had been the Head of the Cabinet of H.E. Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, the Finance Minister of Italy.  Somewhere, in the Part Two of this book, there is a story of                  Mario, Mio Papa, where his life and achievements are remembered and honored.

David Finkle had received the catalogue that Countess Bacelli had sent to him, he called me at the Vinci’s, before the opening of my solo exhibit with the Herbert Kende Gallery, also called Selected Artists. The purpose of his call, was to ask me if my sculptures, were better in photographs or in the flesh. My answer was: “ they were indeed 100% better in the flesh ”.

Right there on the phone, he purchased three small bronzes. When he received them in Palm Beach, he liked them so much, he was so excited that he bought three more. He became one of my good friends and collectors; he introduced me to Madame Motte, who had a very prestigious galleries in Geneva and Paris, where I was to have solo exhibits of my figurative work, later on.

Madame Motte owned a three-story building in Geneva. On the ground floor she had the Art Library, on the second, the solo exhibits, on the third she held yearly auctions. I weaved a tapestry for the large window of the ground floor, on the occasion of the inauguration of my solo show.   

I still own that tapestry.

The Gallery of Herbert Kende was not well kept, I felt embarrassed to show there .  Before  installing  some  of my sculptures , a  Sicilian friend,  Carlo Amato had been asked by Maria Laura Vinci to help me, he came with some Albanian refugees (among them, the son of the King of Albania) who did a good cleaning and painting job.

These  Albanian  people  owed  Carlo  Amato a lot :  he  had given them as a place to stay in New York, an apartment that belonged to Amato’s wealthy wife.

Also, just before the opening of this exhibit, the people who had bought my painting in Rome, and had introduced me to Herbert Kende, purchased my dancers Four Shakes in silver and lapislazuli.

The exhibition in New York was a great success. It sold out before its opening. Due to a great thunder storm and unexpected snow, I thought that no-one except my friends would show up, the exhibit was scheduled to open at 6 pm. Herbert Kende had placed a minuscule ad in The New York Times. By 5 pm, the show had sold out.

Ruggero Orlando and Jas Gawronski came to film the exhibit and interview me, for a program concerning Art News from New York.

The first collector to come into the gallery was Jack Linsky, who purchased my stone carving: Maternity (a pregnant woman holding a child). Many years later, Linsky donated his collection to the MET.

Charles Zadoc had been named in charge of his estate. Herbert Kende wanted to have an exhibition of my work every year, which for me was not possible. One year later, he moved his gallery to the ground floor at Madison Avenue corner of 57th Street, where I had my last exhibit with him of my non-representational sculptures.

I immediately called Roberto in Rome and my son Carlo, who had won a scholarship to the Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburg.  After the success of this exhibit, they joined me in New York for Christmas, where we rented an apartment for two months.

It was getting too crowded for the three of us and my sculptures at the Vinci. I could not impose that much on them. The rental of this apartment was totally by luck.  

While walking down the street in New York, we met a woman whom Roberto had known in Capri. She was a real estate agent. It was very difficult in those days; we were foreigners and had not established credits in New York. With her help we were able to rent this wonderful apartment, completely furnished, for two months.

If I remember correctly, it was somewhere around the corner of 78th Street and Third  Avenue. The owners were wintering in Palm Beach.

Carlo went skating at the Rockefeller Center, where the gorgeous Christmas tree is installed every year. The name Rockefeller meant something to him, for he had been in school with Winnie (Winthrop), one of the Rockefellers. We also saw all the great shows and visited the museums.

We took long walks in the park. We had a wonderful time in New York.

Joshua and Adele Gollin, Jewish collectors of my work, introduced me to Franca  Pironti  Lally and her husband John Lally . They were to become my lifelong friends.  

We moved the sculptures that were stored at the Santini brothers into the apartment. I had brought over from Italy, too much to be able to show it at the gallery. We detached the crystal chandeliers, which filled the apartment and interfered with the sculptures. There was a piano that Carlo enjoyed playing.

I dropped a note to everyone I knew, with my temporary new address in New York. I would return to Maria Laura and Piero the following years, until  the  time  came  that I  could  afford  my  first  studio  in New York at 414 East 75th. This studio had been the studio of Ad Reinhard and also of Hellen Frankenthaler. Hellen had shared it with Bené Venuta, a friend of mine and Alva Gimbel (Sack’s Fifth Avenue fortune), in the days before Hellen  had acquired the fame, which came with her marriage to Robert Motherwell. It was Bené Venuta that told me about this space being available.

In those days being a woman artist was very difficult. It seemed that only men were allowed to express their feelings, while I was surviving in Rome making heads of very distinguished people worldwide. It was important to have a studio in New York and spend few months of the winter there. Anything happening in the Art world was going through New York.

Two of the great very touching events that took place while showing at Herbert Kende, were the visits of the daughter of H.E. the Minister of Finance Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata and of Wally, the daughter of Toscanini. At Kende’s request, I was always in the Gallery in the afternoon, even if we did not have anything to sell.

People were curious to meet the artist and it was a kind gesture to do. Some time during the week, totally by chance, on different days, one at the time, these women walked in, and asked me if I was the daughter of Mario. Like everyone else who had come to the gallery, they had seen the little ad in The New York Times and the name Lavatelli had caught their attention. The daughter of Volpi remembered knowing my father while we were in Africa. The daughter of Toscanini, had known my father from the dinners at my grandmother’s home in  Viale Azari  • Pallanza, on the Lake Maggiore. Toscanini had a little island on the lake, known locally as L’Isolotto di Toscanini.

It was as though my dear father was watching over me, from his little cloud of peace, sending his friends to see me.

During this show in New York, a man named George Vigoroux walked into the Gallery to see the exhibit.

Together with Mrs. Sanford and Mrs. Payson (she owned the METS) they had a gallery in Palm Beach: The Palm Beach Gallery. There is nothing that impresses the dealers more than the “Red Dots”. There are few of them that only care about the artist’s work and not the money.

Vigoroux invited me to show at the Palm Beach Gallery. After the Kende adventure closed, I flew to Palm Beach for few days to see the space available and to discuss the details of my solo exhibit, which was to be for the following winter (at this time I have no memory concerning dates. I only remember what happened before or after). In those days, to have a show in Palm Beach, was considered a sin. Later on, however, all the major galleries and auction houses, rushed to Florida.

They had discovered that it was a great place to do business.  I just happened to have gone there first.

In Palm Beach, I met Victor Hammer again. He was a kind, little man with a huge white bow-tie; he owned a Gallery in New York. Although he offered me an exhibition on several occasions, I was a snob and thought that his gallery was very commercial and I never accepted.

That  prompted him to say :  “ You are the only artist who is not interested in showing in my Gallery ! ” “You can buy my work” , I replied. He did. Little did I know that his Gallery would become Knoedler.

Money buys everything. He had bought a lost wax bronze “ Maternity ” on  a carved stone base. I wonder who has that sculpture now.

Victor Hammer’s wife wrote wonderful children stories with music, and made records of them. She gave me some records as a gift.

While in Palm Beach, Victor Hammer invited me to his club and introduced me to his brother. They insisted that I should go for a swim in the pool, I guess that they wanted to see me in the bathing suit. I claimed I had a cold and couldn’t. His brother drove me back to the hotel where I was staying and made it very obvious that he wanted to see me again. I did not have the same interest. Later on, he opened the UCLA • A. Hammer Museum of Art in California. The Hammers had made considerable fortunes dealing in Russia. I remember that one or two of their sons lived there, becoming great entrepreneurs.

A person came to see my work at the Palm Beach Gallery. She wanted to meet me and invite me at her home the following afternoon, to see her sister’s paintings. She never allowed anyone in her home. There was a tragic story about this place, during its construction, six people, among the builder had died. Her sister was Georgia O’Keef. Vigoroux, the director of the gallery, tried every move to also come with me. She sent her car with a chauffer, Vigoroux followed me to her place, suggested that he could later pick me up.

Much to his disappointment, he was not invited to come in, she would send me back with her chauffer. I enjoyed the visit, she was most kind to me, she was impressed by the beauty and quality of my work. Something like that had never been shown before in Palm Beach. My sculptures on exhibit were the ones I made at the end of my figurative period. She had a museum of her sister’s paintings.

While looking all around me, I saw a picture of a woman that looked very much like me. It was her daughter, she had also died. She purchased two of my lost wax, bronze “Bathers”.

I wonder what has happened to all the paintings of her sister Georgia O’Keef and my two sculptures that she had in her collection.