From Chisel to Paint Brush: Ardsley’s Contribution to The Smithsonian
By: Riley Wentzler & Felicia Barber
There are plenty of artists in the world. Some of these artists have produced paintings that are so gorgeous that the artists have become household names like: Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and my (Riley’s) personal favorite, Diego Velázquez. Some American Artists, like Jasper F. Cropsey, have become so famous that their homes are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Others in contrast, although famous enough to show up on an internet search, remain, relatively, unsung. These artists deserve recognition too, not just for their paintings, but also for their community activism. We, Greenburgh’s Historians, now turn our attention toward one such artist, Ardsley’s own, Ralph Fasanella!!! Some of his work is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Ralph Fasanella was born in 1917 in the Bronx New York. Both his mother and father were Italian immigrants, part of the three million Italians who immigrated to America in the early twentieth-century(https://www.fasanella.org/bio/). As a young boy, he worked with his father on an ice delivery route (https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/fasanella). This experience would stay with him for the rest of his life and provide inspiration for a series of his paintings: Iceman Crucified # 1 (1948), Iceman Crucified # 2 (1949), Iceman Crucified # 3 (1956), (currently on display at the American Folk Art Museum and Iceman Crucified # 4 (1958) (currently on display at the Smithsonian Art Museum).
Iceman Crucified # 4 (1958) by Ralph Fasanella
Displayed at the Smithsonian Art Museum
His mother meanwhile, was involved politically with labor rights (https://folkartmuseum.org/resources/fasanellacollection/). Both his parents made sure to expose him to people whose lives were harder than their own which taught him empathy and respect for everyone (https://www.fasanella.org/bio/). His first job as an adult was in the garment industry. (https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/fasanella). This was hard work and caused much pain in his hands (https://folkartmuseum.org/resources/fasanellacollection/). He began to draw as a way to alleviate that pain and he also joined a union (https://folkartmuseum.org/resources/fasanellacollection/).
Union Activity and Early Paintings:
Young Ralph was a very social person. He was well liked by his coworkers and had many friends who worked in the electrical industry and the automotive industry. He became a union organizer most notably for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (https://folkartmuseum.org/resources/fasanellacollection/).
Although he took a few drawing classes, he lost interest because he saw drawing as pretentious (https://folkartmuseum.org/resources/fasanellacollection/). In contrast, he viewed painting as art for the common man so beginning in 1945, he took up painting instead. His paintings depicted themes of: struggle, endurance, social justice, family and community. Therefore, he saw his paintings as an extension of his union activity (https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/fasanella). Many prominent labor leaders agreed and so his work hung in many union halls(https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/fasanella ) in the 1940s.
Also, in 1946 and 1947 his work was featured in many of the exhibitions at the prominent ACA Galleries in New York (https://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/fasanella).
However, his very prominent labor union activity would hurt him in the 1950s and 1960s, he was one of many people blacklisted during McCarthyism. He, like many other: painters, writers, actors and musicians who were Democrats with sympathy for The Labor Movement, was falsely accused of being a Communist (https://folkartmuseum.org/resources/fasanellacollection/). Galleries suddenly refused to show his work which meant he had to work at a family-owned gas station to make a living(https://folkartmuseum.org/resources/fasanellacollection/). Even though galleries no longer wanted to show the work of a suspected communist, he continued to paint.
Ralph Fasanella (1915-1997)
Coming to Ardsley:
In 1964, Ralph Fasanella and his wife moved from the Bronx to Greenburgh’s Village of Ardsley. His son, Marc Fasanella, attended and graduated from Ardsley High School (Ardsley High School Class of 1982) (Rappaport 2021). Ralph Fasanella loved Ardsley! His time in Ardsley inspired many of his later works including: Across the River (1969), Family Supper (1972), and Zingarella (1973). Ardsley was also the inspiration for his painting, Harry's Luncheonette (1983), which depicts a local café in Ardsley which he frequented. Patrons at Harry’s loved talking with him (Rappaport 2021).