Folk Art: Artists, Artisans, Collections

Folk Art: Artists, Artisans, Collections

See ART & ARCHITECTURE, Folk Art & Architecture, Watts Towers

Presepio ñ Christmas Nativity Scenes

Mr & Mrs. Boccanfuso, San Pedro (photo
by Consuelo Griggio & Michela Merlo)
Presepio maker: Mr. Boccanfuso. A widely practiced form of Italian folkart is the Christmas nativity scene or crËche (il presepio, or presepe), found all over the Italian peninsula but particularly well-developed in Naples. It maintains its popularity among Italian Americans. Mr. Boccanfuso, a skilled carpenter from the island of Ischia (just off the coast of Naples), who has lived in San Pedro for over 40 years, and continued his work as a carpenter (making doors, tables, cupboards with flair) until his retirement, then turned his full attention to building his presepio.

"About 7 years ago, childhood memories started haunting Mr Boccanfuso and the strong nostalgia for past traditions formed an idea in his mind: he would build a presepe [Ö] with various figurines of houses, shepherds and other Christmas symbols. He wanted his Italian village to come back to him. Little by little the village grew, new figurines collected here and there or donated by friends were added, until the village contained miniature villages within itself"(Griggio/Merlo). Local California desert landscapes combine with New-York style wintry scenes, and Italian landscapes in this permanent nativity village, now quite large. Such nativity scenes are typically eclectic, and in this case bring together scenes where wolves climb up the rocky walls (obviously looking for sheep), a Peruvian-style house, and even exquisite English porcelain dolls. Nostalgia for the village of one's past and recreations of that landscape have haunted and inspired many an immigrant (cf. Watts Towers).

From the IOHI Archive: Consuelo Griggio and Michela Merlo, "It's always Christmas at the Boccanfuso household: a grandiose Nativity Scene village is a well- kept secret in the heart of San Pedro." See INTRODUCTIONS, Historical Resources, Further Reading, Italians of Southern California, Del Giudice 2007, ì"Ischian Cultural Sites on the San Pedro, California Map"

Of related interest:

Joseph Sciorra, "Imagined Places, Fragile Landscapes: Italian American Presepi (Nativity CrËches) in New York City," in The Italian American Review (Special Issue on Italian American Folklore), Vol. 8, No. 2,Autumn/Winter, 2001: 141

Decorative Woodworking

Pasquale Bruno, demonstrating his art,
at the 2005 St. Josephs Table, Casa Italiana.
Master Woodcarver: Pasquale Bruno.
Mr Bruno, a skilled cabinet-maker from Campania (a Central-Southern region in Italy), has been in the U.S. for over 40 years. He has had a passion for woodworking since he was a little boy. Bruno spent the 1970s, along with other Italian cabinet-makers, in the Middle East working for a sultan and has many stories to tell of his adventures there. After achieving financial security by establishing his own family company in Glendale (proudly counting Denzel Washington among his clients), he turned his attention to memory and community. Religiosity has been an essential component of his creativity and he brings this personal belief to his work in the community. He joined the Italian community at Casa Italiana (See COMMUNITY SITES) and was very happy to be part of its refurbishing process. Bruno recreated the wood-framed stage, the adjacent bar, and the hall, embellishing these with elements of Mediterranean and Catholic traditions such as the grapevine motif. Both Mr. & Mrs. Bruno are devoted to Padre Pio. Brunoís wood-relief representation of this famous Italian candidate for sainthood, can be admired at Casa Italiana.

The sculpted and gilded wooden stage frame
(Casa Italiana, finished 2005), by master ebanista,
fine carpenter, and sculptor, Pasquale Bruno

From the IOHI Archives: Consuelo Griggio and Michela Merlo, "An Italian Cabinet-Maker in Los Angeles: The Public Aspect."

Braided Breads

Braided breads, essential for St. Josephís Tables, can be purchased at a few bakeries, as can cakes with special St. Joseph inscriptions. See: BAKERIES, Eagle Rock Bakery, Villa Rosa Bakery (See the decorative breads with zoomorphic and floral motifs made for St. Joseph's Tables pictured on the Web site homepage); See: CELEBRATION, Folk Festivals, St. Josephís Tables.


House of Candles
Antonino Ajello & Bros (since 1886)
10315 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA
Tel: (310) 204-4724

Candlemakers, originally from Sorrento, Campania, emigrated to New York in 1885, continuing this family business in California since 1935.


One could not have a proper Italian wedding without bomboniere. Guests are given a bomboniera,or party favor, containing candied (Jordan) almonds known as confetti, and date card, as a souvenir of the event. Some are rather elaborate gift items, especially those made for maids of honor, best men, and godparents. Bomboniere are normally given at weddings, first holy communion celebrations, baptisms, and other special life cycle events.

Confetti Pelino & Bomboniera USA 6950 N. Owen Avenue
Chicago, IL 60631 USA
Tel. 877.324.1756
Fax 773.539.2666

This historic, award-winning brand of sugar-coated "confetti" is now available in U.S. The House of Pelino still makes its ìcandy by hand in a four-day process with a recipe over 300 years old and with much of the original equipment, continuing the tradition of the Pelino family.î ( ) This historic candymaker has recently opened a museum, at its headquarters in Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy, where sugar coated candies have achieved a status of high art.

Bomboniere da Rossana
Tel: (760) 375-5238 or (619) 851-5400

The Bomboniere Shop Tel.: (806) 785-2697

What is a bomboniera? What is its history?

Needle Crafts

Fisherman: See INTRODUCTION, San Pedro

Fishnet mending: In the past, San Pedro-based fisherman, such Ferdinando Di Bernardo (who recently passed away at 100+ yrs. of age) and Leonard Taormina practiced fishnet mending in the traditional manner. Matt Russo was a fancy rope worker, and Tom De Lise a sailmaker. With the demise of the fishing industry in San Pedro, such crafts are much rarer if not altogether a thing of the past.


Antonietta Maria Di Novo displaying
her grandmother's night shirt (from the
1880's) at the Long Beach Southern
California Italian Festival, summer of 2003.
Such intricately-embroidered linens
were often part of womenís dowries

Needlework. Although most needlework practiced by Italian American women now consists of contemporary crochet work (often learned from pattern books), traces of traditional needlework may still be found: the Women's Extension of the Garibaldina Society used to meet every Thursday morning for crafts and needlework to be sold annually at their Mercato (lst Sunday in November); the nuns and women residents of Villa Scalabrini Retirement Center and, of the Anderson Memorial Senior Center, San Pedro, may also be resources in this area.

Folk Art Collections

Folk art is frequently found in private homes where objects have a functional role, may be merely decorative, or simply be a mode of displaying oneís cultural heritage. It also serves to fill the gap nostalgia creates between the place of origin and an immigrantís environment (See Presepio). There have been however, a few public sources of Italian folk art, some (not surprisingly) connected to retirement homes. Here are some private sources of folk art:

Folk Costume: children's costumes representing regions of Italy, machine made, at the Anderson Memorial Recreation Center (See SENIORS)

[Further Reading: Elba Farabegoli Gurzau, Folk dances, costumes, and customs of Italy (can be ordered from IFAFA, Italian Folk Art Federation of America, See PERFORMING ARTS, Music, Traditional)]

Regional dolls in Italian costume, at Villa Scalabrini (See SENIORS)

Sicilian artifacts (dolls, puppets, wood cart, music), Virginia Buscemi Carlson, now deceased (c/o Sicilia Culturale, See CLUBS ASSOCIATIONS & SOCIETES, Town and Regional Clubs)

Piedmontese wood carving collection of Peter Pianta (c/o Piemontesi nel Mondo, See CLUBS ASSOCIATIONS & SOCIETES, Town and Regional Clubs)

Italian folk instrument collection, Roberto Catalano and Enzo Fina: See PERFORMING ARTS, Music, Traditional)]

Of related interest:

Craft and Folk Art Museum
5814 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Tel: (323) 937-4230
Fax (323) 937-5576

CAFAM has hosted several Italian folk art, ethnography, and design exhibitions over the decades. It is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in folk art and where to find it in the city. The Museum shop is also well-known for its textiles, jewelry, and publications, with special items relating to current exhibitions always available.