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Norma Gatto

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About the Artist/Site

Norma Gatto was, by all accounts, a joyful and positive person, immersed in her family, her religion, and her art. She married Dominick Gatto, an accountant, in 1943 – a happy marriage that lasted 75 years, until his death, which preceded hers by only three months – and together they enjoyed their six children, who, by the time of her death, had created a close-knit family of 14 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren, and 7 great-great-grandchildren.

While Gatto enjoyed singing, dancing, and acting, it was her passion for transforming the interior of the family home that had the most tangible expression, despite her lack of any formal training in the visual arts. The Gattos purchased this house in 1977, and raised their youngest here, as the first five children had grown up in their previous home in Villa Park.

On the exterior the single-level brick ranch-style home, located on a four-acre property, betrays little hint of the lyricism found within. There, over a period of decades, Gatto slowly transformed the walls, floors, ceilings, and furniture, using a range of media and technique carefully suited to each surface. Her work was manifested through a process of trial-and-error; if she didn´t like the result, she would erase or scratch off her efforts and try again until she was satisfied. She enhanced the living room carpet by painting floral designs directly onto its surface – a process that is more difficult than it sounds, as enough paint has to be applied to the textile surface that the fibers became saturated (they estimate 100 gallons were used, although she saved money on the project by only using returned or mistinted paint). Gatto joked that since they were a large Italian family, it was easier to clean the floor after their sumptuous dinners than it would have been with the original carpet.

Walls featured colorful glass, ceramic, or mirrored trencadís patterns, cut out with pliers instead of glass cutters so that the edges would more closely mirror natural forms; stained- and beveled-glass designs were inlaid into or around windows. But she considered the front foyer to be her masterpiece: its small and somewhat cavernous space was completely covered in colorful trencadís shards that formed a carpet of abstract floral designs on the walls and ceiling as well as the floor. A mirrored tabletop reflected the dense surfaces and magnified the horror vacui effect, producing an effect similar to being in the middle of a lush garden. Only two small bedrooms in the home were left unadorned, as Gatto acquiesced to her husband´s desire for more minimalist spaces.

Despite the flamboyant extravagance of her work, in general only close friends and family members were invited in. She wasn´t interested in the response of the art world mainstream; ¨she did this for herself,¨ her son, Vince, recalled. 

Since her death, the family is conflicted about the future of the site. While they would like to see Norma Gatto´s art preserved, they also understand that if the house were to be sold and the property subdivided, they would all see significant and welcome financial returns. As of this writing, the future of the site is uncertain.

~Jo Farb Hernández

Map and site information

3N770 South Wood Dale Road
Addison, Illinois, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 41.935004 / -87.978101

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