Alfonso Iannelli created sculptures with Frank Lloyd Wright, and for 50 years worked on Chicago area landmarks that still showcase his creativity. Today, Iannelli is best known by collectors and historians, who rank him as a valuable contributor to American art made in Chicago. On Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm, we take a look at the long forgotten artist’s work, on the Artbeat.
ArchiTech Gallery in Chicago maintains about 80 percent of Iannelli’s drawings and sketches. To see a slideshow of Iannelli’s work, check out the photo gallery below.
Alfonso Iannelli was born in Italy in 1888. He studied the techniques of traveling artists who stayed at his parents’ small inn. He moved to America in 1898 with his family, where he studied to be a sculptor under Gutzon Borglum, later famous for Mount Rushmore.
From 1910 to 1915, Iannelli designed posters for the vaudeville acts appearing at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles.
Iannelli came to Chicago in 1914 to sculpt Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Sprite” minarets at Midway Gardens. Working with Wright inspired Iannelli to create sculpture that was totally integrated into a cohesive, organic architectural artwork. Midway Gardens was Wright’s masterpiece of public architecture, a three-acre compound that integrated music, art and nightlife. He saw Iannelli as a talented interpreter of his design language.
However, Wright and Iannelli clashed over who deserved credit for the Midway Gardens project. In letters between the two men, Iannelli expressed disappointment that he was not acknowledged for his work as sculptor. Wright responded by explaining his view on the matter that the works were “designed” by him and “executed” by Iannelli. After the correspondence, the two never worked together again.
Iannelli later collaborated with noted Chicago area Prairie School design architects Purcell and Elmslie and with architect Barry Byrne for several church projects in the Midwest.
The Art Institute of Chicago included Iannelli’s applied and industrial art designs in several exhibitions and gave him a one-man show in 1925. Iannelli also worked on quite a few exhibitions for the 1933 Century of Progress Chicago World’s Fair.
He eventually opened Iannelli Studios in Park Ridge, which grew to become one of Chicago’s most famous art studios at the time. As an architect, sculptor, industrial designer and teacher, Iannelli’s influence on graphic and applied art gave a fresh, modernist look to old forms and provided employment to several generations of commercial artists.
Iannelli’s Park Ridge home and studio, 225 N. Northwest Hwy, was listed last month as one of Illinois’ most endangered historic places. The locally based Kalo Foundation has taken on an advocacy and fundraising campaign to save the property for what it hopes could be an Iannelli Studio Heritage Center.
Here is a list of the local work of Alfonso Iannelli:
The Grand Staircase of the Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave.
The Prudential Building
130 E. Randolph
5 S. Prospect Ave.
Park Ridge, IL
The Adler Planetarium
1300 S. Lake Shore Drive
The Kenna Apartment building
2214 E. 69th St.
St. Thomas the Apostle Church
5472 S. Kimbark Ave.
Site of Iannelli Home and Studio
225 N. Northwest Hwy.
Park Ridge, IL
The Catlow Theater
116 W. Main St.
*Town of Maine Cemetery
Southeast corner of Touhy Ave and Dee Road
Park Ridge, IL
*Iannelli’s gravesite is in the Guard Family Plot, about ¾ of the way into the cemetery, against the fence that borders Rose Road and the eastern edge of the property.