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Bernardo Puzzuoli

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About the Artist/Site

Bernardo Puzzuoli was born near Monte Cassino, Italy, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Rome. It suffered horrifically during a four-month period of the Second World War, as Allied bombers tried to break the hold of the Axis powers. In total, close to 100,000 soldiers and civilians lost their lives, and the historic abbey was destroyed. To shelter themselves, the locals lived in caves; there were no beds and little food. Puzzuoli was one of those who hid in the caves during the bombing, and the memories of the privations of that time remained with him throughout his life. He was unreservedly enthusiastic about the United States, and felt it was like “living in heaven,” although he complained that the Americans didn’t seem to realize their good fortune.

After the war Puzzuoli became a shoemaker, and then, in 1954, emigrated from Italy to Canada. There, he married, taught Arthur Murray dance classes for 27 years, had seven children, and then divorced and moved to Detroit in the early 1980s. He married again and began working as a cement contractor and landlord. First living in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, he and his new wife Charlotte soon moved to Sterling Heights, and then, around 1983, he began landscaping the two-acre parcel. He began with a flower garden and then added a fountain and pond in order to please Charlotte, as she had become ill with cancer and couldn’t easily leave the house, so he decided to bring the world to her instead.

His landscaping took the form not only of fountains and fish ponds, but also the installation of lawn ornaments of all shapes and sizes. When the municipality widened the road in front of his house and left behind some telephone poles, Puzzuoli dragged them over and carved them into figures and totem poles; he hung painted pine cones on deciduous trees, and would sometimes borrow the molds from a friend with a lawn ornament business so that he could pour the concrete himself and create his own figurines. He added colorful pinwheels and planted thematic gardens, and called the site the International Villa because it features some works from around the globe.

Toward the end of 1988 he had already placed some 1500 ornaments – concrete, plastic, and wood ducks, lions, dolphins, deer, “Greek” gods, Blessed Virgins, and much, much more – but even by then his goal was to add a minimum of 1000 more, and to paint them all with a fluorescent white, so that they would glow at night and be visible to the tens of thousands of cars that pass Metropolitan Parkway each day.

Not all of his neighbors were pleased with his work, and some sought an injunction against him. However, when zoning officials investigated, they found that he was not in violation of any ordinance. Charlotte died in 1989 and by 2005 Puzzuoli had put the house up for sale; nevertheless, while some of the work has disappeared over time, the site can still be considered extant.

~Jo Farb Hernández



Map and site information

3701 Metro Parkway
Sterling Heights, Michigan, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 42.564888 / -83.072218

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