Francesco Spicuzza

Francesco J. Spicuzza, born in Sicily on July 23, 1883, came to America at the age of 8. He supported himself as a fruit peddler until a newspaperman gave him $4 a week to go to school. He attended classes at the Milwaukee Art Students League, where he studied under Alexander Mueller. There he learned to paint in the then-fashionable "Munich School" technique, with detailed realism in heavy browns and grayed-out hues. Spicuzza completed eight grades in four years, and then in 1911, three businessmen advanced him enough money to allow him to study in New York under artist and teacher John Carlson.

It was during this time that Spicuzza changed his style of painting, developing an impressionistic use of color, form and atmospheric renditions. After a period of grinding poverty, one of Spicuzza's pictures won a major New York competition. It was the first of 60 wins, both in the U.S. and Paris. He became a fashionable painter, and many of the leading collections have his work. Spicuzza's typical works were beach scenes, still life, landscapes and portraits done in pastels, oils, ink, charcoal and watercolors. Much of his work traced the history of Milwaukee in the early 1900s. He was probably best known for his scenes of women and children splashing in the waves at Bradford and McKinley beaches.

Spicuzza married Amber E. Breckow in 1907. They had two daughters, Sylvia and Marguerite (Mrs. Sydney Hambling). Amber believed in Spicuzza's work and had been the one to urge him to set up a studio. He used to say that her encouragement was largely responsible for making him stick to his art. Described as "a gentle and tolerant man," Spicuzza accepted new schools of art but retained his own style. As modern art caught up with him and then passed him, he said with a wry smile, "I was considered crazy? far out? then. Now I'm thought old-fashioned, conservative." Later in his career, Spicuzza taught at the Milwaukee Art Institute and also gave private art lessons. He painted up until just weeks before he passed away; he died of pneumonia at age 78.

Recipient of the 2008 Wisconsin Visual Artist Lifetime Achievement Award

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