Amazing Virgil Cantini
Feb. 28, 1919 - May 2,2009
see the pictures
(they are below the text but click if you can't wait)
a couple years ago i bought a small metal rectangle, about 6"x9", that had been enameled in an abstract pattern. the
process of enamel on metal requires ground glass placed on the field and then all heated up to about 1500 degrees in a kiln, where the ground glass changes and fuses with the metal in colors and designs unseen sometimes. the small piece i bought was dated 1963 and signed
Cantini. since the day i bought it, it has bothered me for some reason that i didn't know the artist. finally, yesterday i did a search on
info space and discovered a Virgil Cantini in the city and he had been an artist at
Carnegie tech ( now carnegie mellon)! the phone was listed so, last night around 8:30, i called.
stolen", Cantini said. I
looked up at him and could see the feeling in my head on his face.
I think I yelled. " Whaddyamean its stolen? How do you know its
stolen?", I said as I held onto the merry go round of thought and
do I know?", he stormed in his accent that suddenly sounded mad and hurt.
" How do I know when I created it, I poured the glass with my hands onto
the steel, I pushed the steel into the kiln, I stood five feet away from the
furnace and the maddening heat? What do you want of me? You are a hustler, a
dealer, and now you mock me to my face! What do you bother me with? My own
creations!!" He turned very fast and started up the short steps to the door
of his rowhouse. I had to be smart and quick. " Wait!", I yelled,
which caused people on the other side of the street to notice us. Suddenly, I
felt stupid. Why had I called this man?
wait. You don't have long, though", he said calmly.
don't get mad again, but how do you know its stolen?" I asked again , ready
for an onslaught. Instead, he spoke slowly and softly.
had worked with a steel maker on these panels, smaller panels , a little thicker
than I was used to. All the panels had four little holes in the corners, like
yours, and one larger hole at the top, like yours. I used the panels one whole
summer, I made maybe thrity or forty, not all abstract, some flowers and some
drawings and some just little landscapes. All on those panels like yours. And
when I was done, WQED ( a public television channel) sent some kids up here to
film the work. They wanted something on one of us artists, they said. So they
came up and I shmy owed them
around the house and then we went to my studio. I showed them all I had done,
the small panels and the rest, big panels and all the rest."
came down off the steps, back onto the sidewalk with me. He took the little
abstract from me and felt its surface with his hand. He handed it back.
I left them at the studio and came back here for lunch and then went right back
to the studio. They were finished and packed their stuff up, all kids barely as
old as my kids then. They left and I left. But I went right back as they pulled
off in their van. I wanted to check the kiln, I always check the kiln. And it
was fine. And then I saw the space where these little panels were, like a wound.
Half of them were gone, maybe more than half, maybe most of them." Cantini
started back up the steps to the rowhouse and turned slightly to me.
on", he said as he turned the handle and stepped through the door. " I
want to show you."
gulped a bag of air and cleared the four or five steps in a single bound like
Superman saving a cat in a tree. The whole big front room of the rowhouse was
emptied of any furniture and Cantini was surrounded, overpowered and dwarfed by
his work It was everywhere, big steel enameled panels, small bronze and steel
sculptures , colors and shapes and flowers and drawings everywhere. I wish I
could describe it as I saw it but I can't. For me, stepping inot that rowhouse
was like stepping into a painting, being a small figure in an impressionist
scene of form , color and vision. I could see an old carnival wagon with big
flowing letters saying "The Great Cantini" and me driving, pulling
Cantini's work from town to town.
post is long enough and theres much more I could say. I learned alot about
Cantini as we walked through the room and I listened to him. His work is
everywhere inthe city, from the lobbies of the biggest buildings to boardrooms
to homes and even huge 20 foot by 60 foot panels hung outdoors. He was the
scuplture of my favorite public set of statues, a fountain of water ringed by
ten twelve foot tall cubist people holding hands as the water splashes on
and around them. I had never known. And here he was.
was quiet as I left without my original Virgil Cantini steel enameled panel.
It was right to leave it with him. He said to call
again and we could talk and he'd show me more, maybe go to his small
studio where he keeps most of his work. He doesn't sell anything anymore, tired
of the artworlds demands and pettiness, he says.
don't have my Cantini anymore. I traded it for a dream.
Click on Images to see Larger Version
|Enamel on Steel
40ft x 12ft
|University of Pittsburgh Quadrangle Building||Fantastic depiction of outward moving waves of
color with a center focus of brilliance. Individual panels make up this
|Outdoor Steel Sculpture Fountain of Joy People||A highway island in East Liberty section of Pittsburgh||The water, turned off in this pic, rises from a
ring at the Joy Peoples feet , falling around and on them. In the
summertime, the rusted steel glistens like tanned bodies. 15ft tall.
|Tapestry 25'x8'||Duquesne University||In the late sixties and early seventies,
Mr.Cantini traveled to Ecuador to teach artwork as a means for people
there to support themselves. While there, Cantini taught the art of
tapestry and from his design and drawings, the people made this tapestry
and others like it.
|Enamel on Metal Panels 15'x20'||Oliver Plaza Lobby||Working with crushed glass, metal and the fires
of his kiln, Mr.Cantini produced this amazing work located in the lobby of
the Oliver Plaza. The art appears as approximately 50 3'x2' individual
panels are hung on the wall. The colors, texture and brilliance are a
shocking beauty against the Plaza's otherwise drab existence.
Full view of the wall sized work. A chair and table group allows relaxation.
Close-up of the large center circle.
|Enamel on Metal Panels 20'x35'||Science Building Univ of Pitt||Asked "When did science start?", Mr.Cantini answered with this monumental wall showing the first time man touched woman. Cantini used many individual panels to create the work, varying the size and shape of some. As with most of Cantini's large works, it was hard to get a good full picture due to space constraints.||
|Hillman Library First Floor||Woman and Lamb of walnut show calm beauty of the moment.|
|Wood Sculpture 7.5'tall||Hillman Library First Floor Stairwell landing||St Sebastian stood guard as an elite Roman Centurion
but secretly helped fellow Christians with brave acts of love and charity.
When discovered by his superiors, he was pierced with arrows and left for
dead. He lived and began to speak freely of his devotion. One day,
he stood in a stairwell as the emperor passed by and challenged his
oppression of Christians. The emperor had Sebastian killed.
|Metal / Glass Sculpture 10' tall||Outside Law Building Univ Of Pitt||Mr. Cantini dedicated this sculpture, titled Space, to Chancellor Litchfield, who served from 1956 to 1965. The work uses metal panels welded into a space rocket design topped with a glass rock held between a panel with prongs.|