Charyl Weissbach (nee Urbano)
Baroque-Balsam Poplar Series, ochre-teal, 2011
encaustic, mica, and gold leaf on Belgian linen on panel, 30 x 60 inches
Weissbach: Metalsmithing and the Neapolitan Baroque
I have many fond memories of large family gatherings at my paternal grandparents’ place in Connecticut. My grandfather, Stefano, built two homes on a cul-de-sac for his wife and seven children. Across the street was a small dam we called “the lake” where we fished and skated when we visited. During these gatherings there was bocce ball, horseshoes and poker played only by the men. Everyone, however, engaged in lively conversations and dancing to my grandfather’s accordion playing. The food was abundant as was the homemade wine, a tradition continued by my father.
Both sides of the family emigrated from Italy.
The Urbanos on My Father’s Side
My paternal great grandfather, Pasquale Urbano, was from Gioia Sannitica, a Provence of Caserta, and my great grandmother, Rosa Massucci, from Santa Maria del Ponte, Province of L'Aquila, Abruzzo. They moved to Ohio, where my grandfather, Stefano (Steven) Francis Urbano, was born. He attended elementary school until the Sixth grade but spoke little English. He may have gone to live in Italy in his youth; an immigration record from 1912 shows his father was living there and Stefano re-entering the United States enroute to Wallingford, Connecticut.
Stefano worked at International Silver and other silversmithing companies as a blacksmith, buffer, and metal caster. In later years he built a foundry in his basement. I was mesmerized watching him pour liquid metal into pewter molds. I still have a small jewelry box that he cast. My father also worked at International Silver as a buffer before taking a position with the Board of Education in Wallingford.
Stefano’s wife, Elvira DelGrego, was also from Gioia Sannitica, from a family of farmers. She attended elementary school until the Third Grade and spoke no English. She emigrated in 1920, eventually marrying my grandfather. She enjoyed walking, dancing, and tending to the garden. While my grandfather was quiet and uncommunicative, she was expressive and talkative.
Like his parents, my father, Nickolas, also received modest schooling, but was curious, hardworking, resourceful, and self-sufficient. The basement of our home contained woodworking tools and equipment. He built a fireplace in the living room, an addition off the bedroom, and a new roof. He was also an avid gardener. We had many flowers, fruit trees, and a large vegetable garden with, of course, tomatoes.
The specific memories that contributed to the artist that I am today come from many parts of my family tree. While naturally more introverted, I enjoy being among groups of people and attending art openings. This is due in part to the numerous family gatherings I attended as a youth and the sense of belonging they fostered.
I also enjoy working with my hands and the sense of creative building that art allows. I incorporate metal and metal leaf, sometimes feeling more like a craftswoman than a painter, and wonder if this is due to my grandfather’s influence. Music is also a passion of mine, first developed when I learned to play the accordion and the piano. Dance also remains a constant in my life. At one time I considered becoming a professional dancer, having studied ballet, jazz, and tap for 25 years. I still tend to “choreograph” my paintings, working large for better expression while striding across them.
The Tatas and Santigatos on My Mother’s Side
There is also a propensity toward baroque design and floral patterns that are tangible within my artwork, despite my doubts in employing them. I think this facet originated from my maternal grandmother, Giuseppina Tata (Santi), who had an eye for detail that was evident in her patterned and flowered afghans, which she taught my sister and me to crochet. Nonni also enjoyed dance and piano (she played by ear). She completed Eighth Grade here and then attended Stone Business College to study stenography. She was elegant and petite, soft spoken, Roman Catholic, and deeply religious.
Nonni’s parents, my great grandparents, Domenico Tata and Louise Barbera, were from Naples. Domenico worked as a blacksmith at Sargent & Co. in New Haven for 35 years. Nonni would marry Antonio Santi (name shortened from Santigato) in 1933 and together they would eventually move to Hamden, Connecticut, with their two children Anthony Jr. and Arlene, my mother. Antonio Sr. was also a blacksmith before taking a job at a gear company.
I would frequently stay with Nonni on the weekends, particularly after Antonio died. Nonni doted on me. She was a superb baker, creating delicious Italian pastries. These recipes were passed down from her family. My mother also had a passion for cooking. She also enjoyed decorating and making ceramics.
Despite living in Boston, apart from my extended family, it’s not surprising that I pursued an artistic path, given my creative heritage.
Baroque- Arabesque, cream, 2015
encaustic and gold leaf on panel, 15 x 15 inches
Baroque - Balsam Poplar Series, coral, 2014
encaustic and gold leaf on Belgian linen on panel, 12 x 18 inches
Lyre 24, 2021
encaustic and palladium leaf on panel, 16 x 16 inches
MetalScape 103, 2015
encaustic, aluminum, UV resin on panel, 60 x 60 inches
Installation view below
MetalScape 105, 2016
encaustic, metal, UV resin on panel, 60 x 48 inches