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My House

For painter, house offers respite amid inspiration

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published September 28, 2006


HUDSON - Watercolorist John Angelini sees landscapes with his eyes closed: the oaks and pines of his back yard, the dip of the retention pond beyond, then wood-rail fence and a distant sweep of horse pasture.

He sees fog and clouds, forested scenes shrouded in the kind of misty days more suited to the north than Florida.

Sometimes his paintings look like the countryside and seascapes around his native New York and New Jersey, dunes and tall grasses and marshy backdrops that hearken something lost but still deeply imagined.

They are spiritual and deceivingly simple, reminiscent of Japanese artists as well as the Hudson River School and the English romantic painter Joseph Mallord William Turner.

Years ago, the publisher of a New Jersey art magazine told Angelini: "Not only are you an artist, but a poet."

Now, a lifetime retrospective of his artwork, 61 pieces in all, is on display through Oct. 9 at Pasco-Hernando Community College West Campus, 10230 Ridge Road in New Port Richey.

It is the inaugural show to launch the Alric C.T. Pottberg Library Gallery at the college.

And, Angelini says, "It is a thrill and an honor to have a college ask you to do a show."

The 84-year-old retired art director paints and draws every day at the three-bedroom, two-bath home he shares with his wife, Elisabeth, in northern Pasco County. Their 2,431-square-foot house sits in Autumn Oaks, an attractive development with homes built on half-acre lots not far from the Hernando County line.

"We love this house. We call it Camelot," says Elisabeth, who is 63.

French doors pull the eye outside and into the view of well-tended gardens and tall shade trees.

Both avid gardeners, they say the generous lots attracted them to the location 15 years ago. Master Gardeners known for cultivating bonsai plants, as well as for earning a Certified Florida Yard award, they've cultivated a "Camelot" garden just for sitting, as well as large pots of fresh herbs, an experimental garden (Elisabeth is working with a type of wasp-attracting plant) and lots of butterfly garden plants.

The yard is a painterly landscape itself with its pine and oak trees and distant views of pond and pasture.

Elisabeth, a former real estate agent who is a native of Switzerland, designed the house more than 15 years ago. Her goal was to create a space that was comfortable and allowed for the display of artwork. On the walls hang 151 of John's paintings and drawings, plus other artwork including an original, signed Ansel Adams photograph.

She also created a large studio for John, with plenty of windows and enough room for built-in bookshelves, art storage, a large desk (he is also a writer), a drawing table, and even a comfortable sitting area where they can have coffee and talk. The view from John's drawing table is all nature: trees and gardens and blooming flowers, a landscape he sees not in the literal sense but for its color and hue.

Though he is known for his watercolors, he is currently working on a series of elegant pencil drawings inspired by nature. On his desk, an air plant twined around a twig prompted a recent drawing, as have balls of moss, stones and leaves eaten away by weather and insects.

Elisabeth points to the beauty of his cluster of pencils, different lengths, sharpened by hand on a sand block and "sharp as daggers," she says jokingly.

John, who grew up in a large Italian Catholic family in the Bronx, is the son of a dress designer who worked for a New York fashion house during the Great Depression. As a young man during World War II, John served as an Army quartermaster, identifying the bodies of soldiers on battlefields.

He and Elisabeth, who have been married 35 years, met in a life-drawing class in New Jersey.

Though he worked as a commercial art director most of his adult life, John has painted passionately since childhood, a love that led him to art school and ultimately into a career as a painter.

"He always had a fine-art career in addition to his work as an art director," Elisabeth says. "He was always creating as much fine art as friends who didn't go off to a job."

Over the years, John has had 22 solo exhibitions, including shows at the New York Cultural Center and the Nabisco World Headquarters in New Jersey. Armed with enough awards for several lifetimes, his accolades include group exhibitions at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, as well as a group show at the Smithsonian Institution in 2003. His work can be found in private and public collections across the United States, Canada and Europe.

Their house remains a respite for their busy lives.

It's a place where Elisabeth - fine-boned and pretty, with finishing school manners - can cook and garden and entertain. She is an excellent cook who prepares everything from scratch, doesn't buy bagged lettuce and plucks her own fresh herbs for quiche and salad.

The large kitchen with its oval island, placed so that Elisabeth can gaze out at the view while working, also provides room for an eating area where the two share her homemade meals, often German, Italian or Swiss inspired.

"I read cookbooks like novels," she says.

Even after years of marriage, the pair are not only still in love but best friends, Elisabeth says.

Says John: "Love is one thing, but also really liking someone is another."

They travel extensively, and John's sketches and drawings from trips to Canada, Switzerland and the Caribbean hang on the walls alongside his serious watercolors, which also include miniature paintings, another passion he has pursued.

Clearly though, the surrounding Pasco landscape of his back yard and neighborhood has fueled his imagination in recent years.

Over a fireplace mantel painted a Wedgwood blue hangs a large, hauntingly beautiful painting of the couple's back yard on a morning when a thin mist softened the live oaks and the gentle view beyond.

Like his work, the title is simple:

Fog.

Though most of his paintings come from his mind, the rural landscape outside his studio windows has slowly worked its way into his paintings.

"The trees are incredible," he says. "The way they bend, they are like ballet dancers to me."

[Last modified September 28, 2006, 07:07:39]


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