Updated: Oct 16
The Piccirilli: An Italian family of sculptors abroad, and the unanswered questions to their legacy. The Italian Factor is a documentary film in progress.
When I first delved into the story of the Piccirilli family of sculptors in New York, I was intrigued by their anonymity. Despite being a family of six brothers and one younger sister, with rare exceptions, I could locate only two or three descendants. My attempts to find relatives with memories or mementos for my research proved fruitless. This quintessential Italian family remained cohesive throughout their journey, emphasizing their collective achievements over individual accolades. They were often referred to as the six Piccirilli Brothers. Whenever possible, Attilio, who frequently features in interviews, would stress the unity of the brotherhood. While there was a founding patriarch, Giuseppe, and a consistent maternal presence, the business—The Piccirilli Brothers Carving Studio in the Bronx—revolved around the combined expertise of the brothers: Ferrucio, Attilio, Furio, Orazio, Massanielo, and Getulio. The youngest sibling, Iole, is seldom mentioned.
Recent findings revealed that Ferrucio and Furio relocated to Italy, where they married and had families. We believed that Orazio only had one son, who tragically perished in the South Pacific during World War II. However, we later discovered he also had a daughter who married in The Riverside Church in New York—a building adorned with numerous sculptures crafted by her father, uncles, and even her cousin, Bruno, Ferrucio’s son. The New York Times published an article about the wedding in which it suggested that Orazio had six children, all living in Italy at the time. Additionally, Massanielo had several children of his own. I am currently in touch with one of his granddaughters, a direct Piccirilli descendant. Details about Getulio remain scarce, and Iole seems to have pursued a distinct path after adopting her husband’s surname. Yet, Attilio is the most enigmatic of all. Despite being a prominent heir to Don Giuseppe, his personal life remains shrouded in mystery. An early biographer, Joseph Lombardo, portrayed Attilio’s wife as demanding. Their eventual divorce even garnered the attention of the press—a curious development given the family's otherwise reserved nature. Most puzzling are photos from the Conner-Rozenkranz Collection featuring Attilio Piccirilli, his wife “Jill” (sic), and a young girl. While the child’s identity remains uncertain, the noticeable absence of child support details in their divorce announcement raises eyebrows.
Who’s that girl?
Interestingly, articles suggest that the Piccirilli brothers collectively decided their legacy would end with their generation. Some posit that they deemed the profession's physical demands too strenuous for future generations. Yet, I find this argument unconvincing. Adding intrigue, three brothers—Attilio, Getulio, and Ferrucio—passed away within days of one another, and there are no records of their six-decade-long contributions to the Bronx’s public monuments. Some say they were burned on a fire at their studio, which has no description. Others talk about the demolition of the studio, which never occurred.
Despite our extensive research over the past eighteen months, aspects of the Piccirilli story remain enigmatic. What's clear, however, is their unparalleled synergy in the realm of American sculpture. They executed hundreds of projects for eminent American sculptors, often needing more credit. Notably absent from renowned national monuments—like The Lincoln Memorial, the NYPL lions, the Four Continents at the US Customs House, and the statues at the National Archives—the Piccirilli name remains underappreciated. Even their burial site offers no mention of their contributions—a testament to their shared, humble, and often enigmatic journey.