Italo Scanga ‘returns’ to life via his works now on exhibit in Oceanside
By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
Born in southern Italy, Italo Scanga spent most of his life in the U.S., transforming found objects from nature, flea markets, and thrift stores into art. As a boy, he worked with a furniture maker and a man who carved images of saints. He was 14 when his family moved to Detroit. By the time he was 29, he had an MFA in sculpture from Michigan State, and was well on his way to an illustrious career that included exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world.
He spent his last 23 years in La Jolla, a UCSD professor known for his mentoring, his cooking, and his charisma. Blessed with a sense of history and humor, he loved color, icons, and surprising combinations of materials, and he crammed an amazing amount of sculpture, painting, and ceramics into his 69 years. He died in his Pacific Beach studio in 2001, cooking sausages for family and friends.
Now, 10 years later, the Oceanside Museum of Art is presenting “Looking for a Miracle?” an exhibit that focuses on Scanga’s ability to turn mundane things (like potatoes, kitchenware and hand tools) into “miraculous” celebrations of life.
Two of his five children, co-presidents of the board of the Italo Scanga Foundation, were present at the April 2 preview of the exhibition, which features sculptural works owned by the Foundation. Joseph Scanga, a San Francisco architect, introduced the exhibit. Katherine Scanga, who worked with her father in La Jolla and now manages international programs at the Rhode Island School of Design where he once taught, said the artist created the Foundation before his death.
“He died suddenly, and left four buildings full of objects and collections. I don’t think he ever threw anything away in his life!” she said. “He wanted to preserve his work and assist aspiring young artists, so one of the things the Foundation has done is set up a scholarship fund for undergraduate art students at UCSD.”
Glass artist Dale Chihuly, Scanga’s friend and colleague for more than three decades, is chairman of the Foundation’s board. “My father loved people,” Katherine Scanga said. “Art was his whole world, but he surrounded himself with interesting people. And he really was a great artist.”
If you go
Exhibit: “Italo Scanga: Looking for a Miracle?”
Location: Oceanside Museum of Art, 704 Pier View Way
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 1-4 p.m. Sundays until Aug. 21
Admission: $8-$5; free to students, military
Phone: (760) 435-3720
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