Thursday, February 25, 2010

Remembering Vincenzo Ancona

This guest post by my good friend Joseph Sciorra, a noted folklorist and associate director of Academic and Cultural Programs at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, Queens College, City University of New York. Joe was instrumental in the Fenimore Art Museum’s acquisition of Vincenzo Ancona’s masterpiece, St. George and the Dragon, pictured at left. This post first appeared in Joe’s fascinating blog, Occhio Contro Occhio. Ancona's St. George and the Dragon will be on view in our folk art gallery beginning on April 1, 2010.

Today is the tenth anniversary of Vincenzo Ancona’s death and I miss him tremendously. He was a man I met in 1979 as the “subject” of my nascent research on Italian-American folklore and folklife, but who became more than just an “ethnographic informant.”

We collaborated in the documentation and presentation of his Sicilian-language poetry and his wire tableaux in a published article, a book, and several exhibitions. The links below lead to various representations of his work. (His self-professed masterpiece, “St. George and the Dragon” is now in the permanent collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York.) He helped my fledgling career more than I impacted his life.

That he shared parts of his life and his artistry with me is a gift I will always treasure. I visited him frequently in the basement kitchen of his Gravesend, Brooklyn home. I knew his late wife, Virginia, his children, his grandchildren, and even his great-grand children. My wife and I stayed with him in Castellammare del Golfo (Trapani province) during our 1985 trip and he showed us Scopello where he set off for the tonnara, or tuna fishing. I still have the olive branch basket he wove during our stay in Sicily.
On the tenth anniversary of his death, Arba Sicula is republishing Vincenzo’s bilingual collection, Malidittu la lingua/Damned Language (1990), that Anna L. Chairetakis (now Anna Lomax Wood) and I edited. The book will contain a CD of Vincenzo reciting his poetry. In addition, my article “Locating Memory: Longing, Place, and Autobiography in Vincenzo Ancona’s Sicilian Poetry” will appear this year in the book Italian Folk: Vernacular Culture in Italian-American Lives (Fordham University Press). Vincenzo Ancona lives on through the many gifts he left us.

Top to bottom:

Vincenzo Ancona, St. George and the Dragon, ca. 1975, salvaged telephone wire and wood, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, N. Y., Gift of Vincenzo Ancona.

Vincenzo Ancona, Castel del Golfo Social Club, Brooklyn, 1987. Photo by Martha Cooper

Joseph Sciorra, 1980

Joseph Sciorra, Anna Lomax Wood, Maria Portuese, Vincenzo Ancona, Zulma Ortiz-Fuentes,
Castel del Golfo Social Club, Brooklyn, 1987.

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