The Stately Famiglia, 2020, inkjet on kozo, 30 x 40 inches
Russotti: La Famiglia
The family I photograph: I have been scanning collected mushrooms for the last couple years. Since I began doing this, they have consistently presented themselves to me even when there is no reason for them to be there. Looking for them is exhilarating, never disappointing. The shapes, sizes, colors, and textures are astonishing. Had they always been in my yard? Was I simply not in tune enough to notice? While exploring a variety of resources, I came across the phrase, World Wood Web. The interconnectedness of trees, fungi, lichen made perfect sense to me.
The family in which I grew up: Being Italian in the 1950’s required invisibility. We were still not fully accepted or respected. My siblings and I were not allowed to speak Italian, only English. Many of my friend’s parents had already changed their names to something “acceptable.” The women seemed to run so much yet were always forced to do it hidden away. Ethnic and cultural prejudice was widespread. I experienced it many times. Once I filed a car accident report and it disappeared. And I found that Italian judges did not like educated Italian women who had not yet had children.
These are some of the things I learned:
. Always have more than is needed. You never know when someone will stop by
. Never have idle hands. If you are sitting, you should be sewing, embroidering, tatting
. Make everything from scratch: food, clothes, gifts, and make it all exquisite
. Always have an antipasto, a primo piatto, and a secondo piatto plus dessert
. Keep a garden and love nature
. Always put your family first
. Protect your own and a select few
I also observed suspicion, anger, jealousy, sadness. And great love.
Red Russotti, my father’s first cousin, and Frank Valente ran the Mafia in Rochester. I remember regular mob trials growing up and the fallout from being a Russotti. During family gatherings, the men always talked in hushed little circles. They knew who was doing what. To this day, I am not sure who was involved in the mob, but I know that some were. I was completely fascinated watching them. How could they have so much to say to each other? Did they talk to the women about the same things? Why were the women always in the other room? Usually the kitchen, cooking and cleaning.
All of my aunts and girl cousins and my mother did handwork: knitting, tatting, needlepoint, smocking, sewing of some kind. My mother’s work was always exquisitely done. She would often take apart whatever I did so I would have to start over and do it better. I did not have store-bought clothes until my 20’s. She made everything, perfectly. And she cooked like she sewed.
To this day, I never feel like a piece is finished until I add some kind of handwork, stitching, waxing, something extra to the work.
Famiglia V2, 2020, inkjet on kozo, 30 x 40 inches
Negentropy, 2020; encaustic, monoprint, film transfer, 17 x 14 inches
Photo: Jeff Schewe