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Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development (Critical Studies in Italian America (Fup)) [Paperback]

Luisa Del Giudice

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Book Description

21 July 2014 Critical Studies in Italian America (Fup)
Looming silently over the streets of South Central Los Angeles, the magical sculptures called the Watts Towers are one of the treasures of American vernacular art. A collection of seventeen connected structures that center on several towers, one of which a 99-foot high, all made from concrete-encassed iron adorned in found glass, ceramic, and shells, the Towers were made by the hands of Sabato (Sam) Rodia an Italian immigrant who built his dream world over thirty three years. Rodia called them: Nuestro Pueblo (Our Town). Construction worker by day, artist by night, once Rodia finished his masterpiece in 1954, sold the property and never saw his creation again. But the wondrous visionary world he made became one of the most significant works of art and architecture of the last century, a national and international icon, and a powerful symbol of local identity. Yet over half a century later, the enigma of the Watts Towers continues to challenge us: What are they? What do they mean? What drove the artist to build them? This book offers a rich, multi-faceted understanding of the artist, his monument, and the communities his legacy has so deeply affected. Here, historians, folklorists, , literary and film scholars, conservation specialists and other scholars join artists, filmmakers, and community activists to explore the many ways in which Rodia's work has been - and can be - understood. The essays confront the monument's place in contemporary debates about art and migration, in contested urban social spaces, and the links between art and community development. They also expand our understanding of the Watts Towers within the culture and history of the Italian diaspora. And here, also for the first time, long-silent archival materials from the UCLA Special Collections tell the "Watts Towers Narrative" in Rodia's own words as he reflects on his life and work. Today, the Watts Towers serves as "common ground" for the civic reengagement of art and community. This book is an essential resource for anyone wishing to experience the extraordinary legacy of Sabato Rodia: as an inspiring symbol of transformative creativity, of sustained resolve in adversity, and human vision, articulated around the Italian immigrant artist who created them.

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"Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts: Art, Migrations, Development is one of the most exciting collections of essays I have read in a long time. It does so much more than explore the fascinating history of Rodia's unique creation; this volume truly captures the rich, variegated, diverse, and transcontinental human drama surrounding the Towers. This book approaches Rodia's Towers much like a visitor would, by taking them in from a distance and then close-up, seeking various angles and perspectives and exploring their setting. This approach makes reading Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts an experience and a journey of discovery where, in the end, the mysteries merge into a grand revelation of the nature of human creative aspiration."-Paul D'Ambrosio, President and CEO, Fenimore Art Museum & The Farmers' Museum "Sabato Rodia's Towers in Watts offer a rich array of perspectives on the creative work of the eccentric immigrant laborer who created one of the most mysterious landmarks of Los Angeles. Whether they are interested in untrained artists, folklore, immigration, cultural and class politics, historical preservation, Italian American life, or multi-cultural neighborhoods and their identities, readers will find unique and diverse provocations in this this lovingly and astutely assembled book."-Donna Gabaccia, Professor of History, University of Minnesota

About the Author

Luisa Del Giudice is an independent scholar, former university academic (University of California Los Angeles, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia), public sector educator (Founder- Director of the Italian Oral History Institute), and community activist. She has published and lectured widely on Italian and Italian American and Canadian folklife, ethnology, and oral history, and has produced many innovative public programs on Italian, Mediterranean, regional, and folk culture, and local history in Los Angeles. In 2008 she was amed an honorary fellow of the American Folklore Society and knighted by the Italian Republic. She is the coordinator of the Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative.

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