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The Leonardo da Vinci Art School in New York Among the First Casualties of War.

Updated: May 2

NOTES FOR A DOCUMENTARY FILM | Thirty years after his arrival in the United States, Attilio’s reputation as a sculptor, principal carver with the Piccirilli Marble Carving Studio, distinguished him and his brothers as household names amongst the most celebrated sculptors and architectural firms in New York.

The Italian Factor by Eduardo Montes-Bradley
The Leonardo Annual Report with an image of The US Maine Memorial

McKim, Mead, and White first entrusted the Piccirilli in 1893 with the commission to carve the designs of Frederick MacMonnies, Hermon Atkins MacNeil, and Alexander Calder at Washington’s Arch in the bohemian Village in Lower Manhattan.

What followed over the next three decades was an uninterrupted collaboration based on mutual trust and admiration. The pediments for the New York Stock Exchange, the Supreme Court, and the House of Representatives at the US Capitol reinforced the ideal that in order to successfully complete the monumental works of public art needed to validate the United States' coming of age in the concert of nations, it required the commitment of the Piccirilli.

Montage: New York Public Library and all of the allegorical figures adorning the library’s facade, as well as those designed to complement the tympanum at the Brooklyn Museum and the tympanum as well. Four Continents, Dupont Fountain, Pulitzer Fountain, Central Park Bench, Brooklyn and Manhattan, Brooklyn Museum statues.

The Italian Factor by Eduardo Montes-Bradley
The Leonardo Seal

The Piccirilli brand, and particularly the name of Attilio as the unquestionable creative force behind the brothers, became almost inseparable from the ideals of the American Renaissance, Gilded Age, and City Beautiful Movement. The circle of trust included President Teddy Roosevelt, who entrusted the Piccirillis with the bas-reliefs adorning the East Wing of the White House. Enrico Caruso found in Attilio the inspiration he was looking for to build his character as a successful sculptor in New York at the turn of the century.

New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia relied on Attilio to launch his political career in 1914, and the Piccirilli workshop in the South Bronx became a hotspot in town for composers, painters, and sculptors collaborating with the Piccirillis to satisfy a growing number of government and private commissions destined for open spaces, private homes, and museums.

However, it was the seated Lincoln by Daniel Chester French at the Lincoln Memorial that brought the Piccirillis the greatest recognition and financial gain.


Attilio Piccirilli
The Leonardo's Music Room

In the years following Germany’s capitulation before the Allies in 1918, an emerging movement led by newly created art schools embraced a multidisciplinary curriculum catered to satisfy the requirements of emerging industries of mass production. Peter Cooper had already established a successful model in New York in the mid-1800s which might have also influenced the German school. Cooper’s proposition was free for the working classes, open to women as well as men, establishing no color bar for admissions in a time when the United States was facing the early consequences of the establishment of Jim Crow. Cooper’s experience, and the example of Bauhaus and similar academies throughout Germany, inspired Attilio to lend his prestige and financial support in the creation of The Leonardo DaVinci School of Art of New York.

The Leonardo, as it was affectionately known, opened its doors in 1924 under the direction of the renown sculptor Onorio Ruotolo and with Attilio as president. The academy had an inclusive approach, and tuition-free platform that allowed for a diverse student body seeking instruction in painting and sculpture but also music, cabinetmaking, inlay, textile design, men and women’s fashion design, and voice training. Distinguished alumni of The Leonardo included Esther Shemitz, Nicolas Carone, Elaine de Kooning, and Isamu Noguchi.

An organized consortium of donors known as the "Friends of Italian Arts Association” ensured the project’s continuity. However, the financial support dwindled with deteriorating diplomatic relationships between the United States and Italy at the onset of World War II. Public opinion had changed by the late 1930s; Italians were now regarded as “alien enemies.” Diminishing financial support for what had been one of the most ambitious art school projects in New York led to its closing after the US declared war on Italy.

Another Casualty of War: The Police Memorial

Another project that was abruptly interrupted by the war was the installation of The Police Memorial which was supposed installed by The Firemen’s Memorial on Riverside which is now located in the lobby at the headquarters of the New York City Police Department. Promoted by Mayor LaGuardia, the statue to represent those killed in the line of duty, and the Honor Legion’s mission to care for the children of those members, was commissioned in1939.

The vision for the memorial was a monumental bronze of a patrolman holding a young child in one hand and the American flag in the other. Mayor La Guardia’s son Eric posted as a model.

As a result of the war with Italy, the monument was placed in storage were it remain for nearly fifteen years, and it was later placed at the entrance of the New York City Police Recreation Center, also known as the Police Camp in the Catskills. When recreation camp was sold, the statue was brought to the New York City Police Headquarters, where it stands today.

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