Aldobrando Piacenza (1888-1976) was born in the village of Sant’Annapelago, Italy. In 1903 he emigrated to the United States. 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.
Piacenza traveled back and forth between America and Italy during the 1920s to the 1950s, working in his own Italian restaurant and store in America to send money home to his family. ‘Italy took the money away from me, but America gave it back,’ he said. He and his wife 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.