Home Again -July 2011

by: Hana Schuster

Barbara Capizzo’s newest body of work at The Sosebee Galleries reflects the warm and sunny tones of the Mediterranean, and is a gift to the island community, which gave her husband, legendary high-school football coach Vito Capizzo, a trip to his native Sicily, upon his retirement in 2009.

Barbara Capizzo is best known for her soft and romantic watercolors and oil paintings of Nantucket landscapes, but recently she has turned her attention to the landscapes of her husband’s native Italy. From small coastal towns to sprawling mountain vil- lages, Capizzo manages to capture the quaint beauty of the Italian countryside and leisurely pace of everyday life.

When Capizzo’s husband, legendary football coach Vito Capizzo, retired from coaching after 45 years and nearly 300 wins, the island community banded together to give him a party and a retire- ment gift of a 14-day trip to Italy, including a visit to his hometown of Salemi, Sicily. Until his retirement in September 2009, Capizzo had been the coach of the Nantucket Whalers high school football team, and not only did he rack up the third most wins in state history, but established formative bonds with countless students and members of the Nantucket community, pushing youngsters to work hard for their accomplishments. Many of those he inspired and befriended chipped in to send the couple to Vito’s childhood stomping grounds in Italy.

“I was even more excited (about the trip) than he was,” said Barbara, who, after marrying an Italian, hoped to travel there one day. Capizzo said her husband, however, had never expressed much interest in returning to his homeland.

“I tried to nudge him by giving him books about Italy for his birthday or holidays, thinking it might spark an interest in him,” she said, but after many failed attempts, Capizzo was resigned to the fact that she would likely never get to see the country where her husband was born.

Thrilled to finally have the opportunity she had been waiting for, Capizzo and her husband departed for Italy in May 2010, visiting Rome, Venice, Florence, Tuscany and Pompeii on their way to Sicily. Despite leaving his hometown at just 10 years old, memories of the area and the time he spent there came rushing back to Vito while they walked the streets of Salemi. 

“I really saw his childhood,” Barbara said. “It was wonderful to watch everything come back to him so easily.

The two were so moved by the Nantucket community’s gesture that the Capizzos felt compelled to share their experiences abroad with those who had made them possible.

“I immediately envisioned this show,” said Capizzo of her upcoming exhibit. “So many people contributed to make this possible for us, so I wanted to share the trip with them afterward somehow.”

Capizzo has succeeded in capturing the landscapes, towns and communities of Italy through the use of vibrant colors and a deft hand. Despite the dramatically different geography, fans of her Nantucket paintings will not be disappointed by Capizzo’s new series, as she used similar styles and techniques to those in her previous work: a mix of Impressionism and Realism with bold, expressive colors and balanced composition. While abroad, Capizzo took photos of what she intended to paint, gravitating toward buildings, waterfront scenes and images of everyday life.

“I don’t like painting what everyone else paints,” Capizzo said, justi- fying her decision to depict a small huddle of whispering police officers and a chestnut vendor in the streets of Florence rather than famous build- ings such as the Romanesque Palazzo Vecchio, or the many statues by Michelangelo and Donatello that lined the same city square.

Yet, anyone who is familiar with her Nantucket pieces knows that through the depiction of everyday subjects, Capizzo is able to visually represent the culture and community of a place.

Despite adhering to her usual styles and subjects, Capizzo found her- self challenged by the unfamiliar surroundings.

“Dealing with a new location, the problems I encountered were very different,” said Capizzo. Because she had grown so familiar with the shapes of the boats in Nantucket Harbor, the gondolas of Venice posed a new challenge and forced her out of her comfort zone.

“They curve so differently. I wasn’t used to seeing boats like that,” she said. “Even the skies are different, and the colors and the architecture. Everything is so different from anything I’ve seen in the U.S.,” Capizzo said. “It was difficult sometimes but very refreshing.”

While Capizzo used the photographs she had taken as reference points for her paintings, she often altered the images in order to create more enlightening compositions that would translate more easily for viewers of her art, yet still be representational of what she saw. For the artist, turn- ing her photos into paintings was akin to visiting Italy all over again.

“I’d paint and be right back there,” she said.

Debbie Sosebee, co-owner of the Sosebee Galleries on Old South Wharf, agreed to exhibit Capizzo’s new series without having seen a single painting.

“I always have confidence in Barbara’s work. She really knows how to capture the atmosphere of places,” Sosebee said. “She was my daughter’s sixth-grade art teacher. I know her well and know what she’s capable of. I knew she would do an incredible job.”

Capizzo’s paintings will be the first to be displayed at the Sosebee Gallery that are not of Nantucket. This didn’t seem to worry the gallery owner in the least, however.

“I thought painting Italy was a great idea,” Sosebee said. “It was an expe- rience that was meaningful to her, which really shows through in the paint- ings. As an artist, sometimes you need a fresh start once in a while. You need new inspiration. I think it was an important thing for her to do.”

With under 20 paintings being displayed, the exhibit is very manage- able for newcomers to Capizzo’s work, yet still enchanting for the most seasoned connoisseurs.

An opening reception for Capizzo’s exhibit will be held Friday, July 8 from 6-8 p.m. There should be ample opportunity to chat with Barbara and Vito, who will be dutifully tending the bar, as he has done at each of his wife’s previous openings.

Hana Schuster, a longtime summer resident of Nantucket, is a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and is now a reporter for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.

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