They are one of my favorite Bronx families and I’ve written about them before (See “The Bronx in Bits and Pieces,” pp 230-231, latest edition) but now a new book has been released by the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute which gives me cause to return to the Piccirillis. The book is appropriately titled “Freeing the Angel from the Stone” with a sub-title “A Guide to Piccirilli Sculpture in New York City.” It was written by Jerry and Eleanor Koffler and should now be available at your favorite book store or online.
The Piccirilli family emigrated from Italy circa 1888 and moved to the Bronx with their seven children in 1890 where the air was cleaner. They set up their studio at 467 East 142nd Street between Brook and Willis Avenues and it was in that studio that so many world-famous monuments took shape.
My primary interest in the family concerns their work still visible in the Bronx but it would be impossible to ignore some of their other significant contributions to the world of art as pointed out in the book. Riverside Church, built by John D. Rockefeller, has over 500 carvings of wood and marble by the Piccirilli family making it a great place to study their work. It is located on Riverside Drive at West 122nd Street. The Maine Monument and the Firemen’s Memorial are a couple of others often cited. The former is at Columbus Circle and the latter at Riverside Park and 100th Street. Both are worth a visit as are the many other works of art located throughout the city and the country. Most of us have visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C., but how many realized that it was carved right here in the Bronx?
The Kofflers break down the Piccirilli monuments in the city by borough and all of the Bronx works cited, with the exception of the bust of Christopher Columbus at D’Auria-Murphy Square in our Little Italy, are in Woodlawn Cemetery. Some are absolutely spectacular. Note the bronze statue of the grieving mother with child that adorns the final resting place of much of the Piccirilli family. It is located near North Border Avenue and Elder Avenue and is just one example of this theme so often used by the Piccirilli family. The Outcast statue by Atillio Piccirilli is cited by the authors as a powerful example of his work. It marks the gravesite of his nephew, Ensign Nathan Piccirilli, who was killed in the Battle of Ormac Bay in the Philippine Islands in 1944. It can be found in the Myosotis section at Prospect and Walnut Avenues. It is not too easy to find and is located behind the Bulova Mausoleum. There are a variety of other fine examples of their work cited but read the book, which serves as a self-guided tour, and enjoy a few surprises.