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Aldobrando Piacenza, Murals and birdhouses

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About the Artist/Site

This text is reprinted with permission provided by the author and Debra Kerr from the exhibition catalog Chicago Calling: Art Against the Flow, Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 2018.

Born in the village of Sant’Annapelago, Italy, in 1888, Aldobrando Piacenza emigrated to the United States in 1903. He describes the pain of this uprooting from his family and village, “which even if poor still conserved [my] most precious memories,” in his memoirs. The importance of family and his Italian roots shine through in Aldo Piacenza’s tireless work as an entrepreneur and self-taught artist. Though he spoke no English when he arrived in the United States, Piacenza found employment in a factory, as a street vendor, and, later, worked in a hotel, bakery and saloon. While working, he managed to attend school at night and send money home to his family. In 1918, he enlisted in the army and served in Missouri, Washington, Iowa and Illinois before being discharged. When his father passed away, Piacenza returned to Italy, at the age of 31, and used money he had saved to pay his father’s debts, fix up the family home and then rebuild it after an earthquake.

Piacenza traveled back and forth between America and Italy several times during the 1920s to the 1950s, working in America to send money home to his family. “Italy took the money away from me, but America gave it back,” he said. In 1925, he married the daughter of a neighbor in Sant’Annapelago, and two years later the couple had a son. In 1929, he opened a successful restaurant and store in Highwood, Illinois, selling Italian food, books, newspapers and magazines. The couple bought a house in 1944, and Piacenza installed a clay reproduction of his home, church and the campanile in Sant’Annapelago in their new front yard.

Piacenza retired from the store in 1952 and dedicated more time to writing poetry, painting, and constructing bird-house models of churches and cathedrals, using photographs from postcards, newspapers and National Geographic, as well as his own memories, as sources for his work. “I took up a natural hobby which from my boyhood I had always liked and that was painting and so for many months it was my favorite pastime,” he said. His work reflects his interest in literature, history, nature and architecture and his Catholic upbringing. Piacenza covered the inside and outside of his home in murals and installed the bird-house models outside his home in Highwood. In the early 1970s, art students and collectors began visiting Piacenza, leading to solo exhibitions at the Hyde Park Art Center and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

~Dana Boutin

Map and site information

Not Exact Address
Highwood, Illinois, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 42.201955 / -87.809882

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