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Italian-American artist’s show an artistic mother-child reunion |
Art & Museums

Italian-American artist’s show an artistic mother-child reunion

Rex Rutkoski
Guglielmo Botter prepares his late mother’s self-portrait for their joint Penn State New Kensington exhibit.
Still life by the late Lyù Da Cortà Fumei of Avonmore.
The late Lyù Da Cortà Fumei of Avonmore, mother of artist Guglielmo Botter, on the newspaper cover of the Sunday Roto magazine in 1959.
Guglielmo Botter’s view of Pittsburgh from the top of the Benedum-Trees building.
Guglielmo Botter’s rendering of PNC Park.
Guglielmo Botter, assisted by his wife Paola, unpacks art for his exhibit at Penn State New Kensington.
Artist Guglielmo Botter inspects his late mother’s self-portrait, his favorite piece at their join exhibit at Penn State New Kensington.
Self-portrait of the late Lyù Da Cortà Fumei of Avonmore, mother of artist Guglielmo Botter.

It’s a mother and child artistic reunion at Penn State New Kensington this month in Guglielmo Botter’s “Fifty Years Away” exhibit, running through Aug. 30.

The architect and international Italian-American artist, who has won acclaim worldwide for his pen-and-ink sketches of cities, focuses in this showcase on his drawings of Pittsburgh in visits from 2012-18.

For the first time his work is presented alongside paintings by his late mother, Lyù Da Cortà Fumei, herself an accomplished artist in Pittsburgh in the 1950s and ’60s who was featured in multiple magazines and newspapers, before she returned to her native Italy in 1963.

“My mother usually worked in big-size oil on canvas but most of her works are lost, unfortunately,” says Botter, 52. “She was almost abstract with a good influence of Italian contemporary masters who were teaching at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice in the 50’s: Gino Rossi, Emilio Vedova, Bruno Saetti.”

He especially loves her self-portrait in the Penn State exhibit.

“The expression reminds me of her so much,” he says. She died in 2010 at 74.

Early years in Avonmore

After coming to America in 1946 when the first ships were available after World War II, Fumei grew up in Avonmore, Westmoreland County, where her parents operated a general store.

She graduated from then-Bell Avon High School in 1954. She later lived in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside.

One of her best friends was Avonmore’s Norma Jean Speranza, who sang with the Johnny Murphy Orchestra of Vandergrift, and was later known to the entertainment world as Jill Corey, who was featured on the cover of Life Magazine and sang with Frank Sinatra, among others.

“My mother has given me her tenacity, the desire to always succeed in everything, never giving up. She always showed me the right way; she supported my projects with passion and opened the way for America,” Botter says.

“Her youthful life was an example that today’s women should pursue,” he adds. “I wrote (in Italian) a biography of her life, 400 pages of stories and documents that portray her in her desire to experiment, to win, to conquer her place in a world that at the time was certainly not favorable to women.”

In addition to her painting, Fumei was also a model, British Airlines hostess and theater player. She also piloted and parachuted from small airplanes.

Retracing steps

“After 50 years, I am retracing the steps of my mother in Pittsburgh; and this show is a tribute to her, her art and her love of Pittsburgh and her family,” says Botter, who enjoys dual citizenship status.

“In Avonmore, there are still some people who remember my mother, and I had the good chance to meet them in the last years. I hope they can come to see my mother’s artwork.”

The show, which has a free meet-
the-artist reception from 5-7 p.m.
Aug. 23, also honors his family’s artistic heritage and abilities.

His late father, Memi Botter, a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice, told him, “The sign of the pencil or pen reveals the true abilities of the artist.”

Botter has won praise worldwide for that talent. At the age of 14, his sketch of his birthplace, Treviso, Italy, was made into a national postage stamp.

“As often happens, the children sooner or later discover that they inherited something beautiful from their parents, so I started drawing at just 5 years using an ink pen,” Botter recalls.

Room for more

In a world full of painters there is also room for those who draw, he believes.

“Getting excellent placings in international painting competitions, without using colors, gives me great satisfaction,” he says.

Every year, accompanied by his wife and two daughters, who help him hang his shows, he returns to the United States to sketch cities, exhibit and give artist talks.

A savvy businessman, he also markets his art year-round via calendars, postcards and prints sold in gift shops in the communities he visits, including Pittsburgh. He is creating a portfolio of many American and, recently, German cities.

“I can find old and new living together happily wherever I look,” he says.

Botter says he loves Pittsburgh.

Capturing landmarks

“It’s difficult to find anyone who captures the landmarks of the American landscape, in my view, as well as he does,” says artist and art teacher Lisa Wright, art curator at the Percolator in Norfolk, Va., where his drawings are on exhibit in another show.

Drawing is the essential foundation for all other art, says Wright, who is Botter’s art representative in Norfolk.

“His talent for capturing architecture with such detail and accuracy in drawing is quite remarkable. His drawing abilities are quite exceptional,” she says.

Once the drawings necessary for setting up an exhibit are finished, Botter says sometimes he knows the city better than its inhabitants. Many of his admirers, in fact, say that he helped them to better understand their city.

“Buildings that have been long-
celebrated, often photographed, painted or drawn take on a new liveliness and richness of texture through his eyes,” says Jan Banister of the Columbus Indiana Visitors Center, which has hosted him.

The city is well known internationally for its modernist architecture.

“He often incorporates people enjoying the spaces he draws, to further enhance the notion that great architecture has a direct impact on the people who inhabit and enjoy it,” she adds.

Exquisitely rendered

The drawings are exquisitely rendered, says Rachel O’Connor, curator of the Art Association of Harrisburg, where a Botter exhibit also is showing in its gallery through Oct. 22.

“They have a visceral energy about them, which compliments the city street scenes well,” she says.

The theme of place is what she personally finds the most intriguing about his art.

“It shows the perspective of a city seen through the eyes of someone who is not a native of that city or state,” O’Connor explains.

Botter believes his experiences could one day be a worthy documentary source on the physiognomy, or character, of many cities of the first decades of this century, seen with the eye of an Italian artist and architect.

He is expanding his interest in new cities every year.

“So I am working on them very hard to ensure that every one can have new sketches every year,” he says. “I am always making new drawings of Pittsburgh.”

“My father told me that if you draw a place, you understand and remember it forever,” Botter adds. “If you make a photograph, you put it away and forget.”

Sharing his mother’s work

Botter also says he hopes to keep his late mother’s artistry alive for future generations in the region.

“I am trying to find a safe place where I can store my mother’s surviving paintings from Pittsburgh,” says the artist. “I want them to be preserved now and in future. I think it would be an idea to offer them to public offices, museums, foundations or other organizations on a free loan in exchange for their custody and maintenance.”

Interested parties can contact him via email at [email protected]

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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