Angelo di Benedetto

(1913 - 1992)
The son of Italian immigrants from the Salerno province in southern Italy, as a teenager Angelo di Benedetto worked as a truck driver in the mornings and a bartender in the afternoons to study at the Cooper Union Art School in New York City (1930-34) from which he graduated with a certificate in freehand drawing. He won a scholarship to the Boston Museum Art School where he studied for three years, beginning in 1934, with Russian émigré painter Alexandre Jacovleff, a member of Mir Isskustva (World of Art) in St. Petersburg before the Russian Revolution. In 1936 he painted a religious mural for St. Michael's Grove in Paterson, New Jersey. The following year he entered his first juried exhibition at the Montclair Museum in New Jersey, winning first prize and first honorable mention.
Before World War II, di Benedetto traveled extensively around the United States in his car and trailer doing regional paintings. In 1941 he did what is considered the first authentic version of George Washington Crossing the Delaware, a contrast to the well-known painting on the same subject (1851) by German-born painter, Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. During the war di Benedetto volunteered for a secret mission to Africa in 1941 before the Allied invasion, serving as director of camouflage, foreman of native laborers and an interpreter while based in Eritrea. The following year he received a direct commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps in the First Photo Mapping Squadron, leading groups as a guide and interpreter and doing ground control. During his free time in Africa, he sketched and painted the local population and his fellow servicemen.

Like many other servicemen stationed at the time in Colorado, di Benedetto chose to remain in Colorado impressed by the state's physical grandeur and healthful climate. After the war, he lived briefly for about a year in Rangely, a small town in northwest Colorado where he traveled and sketched. But finding it a little too remote, he settled in the old mining town of Central City in 1947, his home base for the rest of his life.

In the early 1950s he did woodcuts in a modernist style, including Remembrance, showing his two young daughters. Influenced by Abstract Expressionism at that time, he began considering the elimination of the image from his work. By the end of the decade, he had decided that "the circle pure and simple was one of the most familiar symbols of mankind and that it metaphored into everything." At the same time, he noted that "99% of the abstract painters shied away from using [the circle]. When they didn't, they slaughtered it, murdered it and buried it. So it became my motif."

For more than three decades he explored the circle in paint, sculpture and shaped canvas. Two examples of the last-named medium are his Red CQ and Black C-1, both from 1969. Because abstraction touched upon his deep feelings and spirituality, he felt he could make visible that part of life which "we feel but almost never see." His fascination with the circle also relates to his belief that to effect the dialogue existing between object and maker; the artist must "create archetypal shapes [that have universal appeal], not symbols to reflect simply the intrinsic beauty of the shape itself."

During the 1960s and 1970s, he received other major sculpture commissions: an 80-foot-long copper wall, Jewish Community Center, Denver (1962); sculpture garden, General Rose Hospital, Denver (1964); Fountain, First National Bank of Dallas (1966); Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, Pueblo, Colorado (1969); neighborhood park sculpture, Yonkers, New York (1971); High School Park, Northglenn, Colorado (1974); ice skating rink sculpture, Pueblo (1976). 

Fate was not as kind to his mural which the Colorado Supreme Court justices commissioned him to paint in 1976 for the Colorado Judicial Building from a field of twenty-two candidates. With his former student, Phyllis Montrose as his principal assistant along with three others, he spent a year and a half executing the mural. Entitled Justice Through the Ages (aka Lawgivers), it depicted sixty individuals from ancient Babylon’s King Hammurabi to former U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren.  Measuring 20 feet by 180 feet, it was called at its dedication “the largest figurative mural in America.” Although for more than a generation it sprawled across the ceiling of the open-aired first floor of the Colorado Judicial Building, it was not saved when the building was demolished in 2010 to make way for the block-long Ralph L. Carr Justice Complex.

Reflecting on his distinguished career in his twilight years, he described art “’as a type of sanity,’ an activity which allows an individual to experiment through different styles and media and to explore the intellectual and psychological aspects of his or her life.” Each time he entered his studio he was pushed to explore further, to “test his sanity.” This freedom proved crucial in the creation of his multi-faceted oeuvre.

Angelo di Benedetto was the subject of numerous solo exhibitions in New York, Chicago, Denver, and Santa Fe.

His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee; the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe; the Denver Art Museum; Western History Art Collection, Denver Public Library; and the Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, Denver, among others.

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