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The Catalyst Converter: The Artwork of Salvatore Lamonica
By Colin Donelle
Salvatore Lamonica speaks highly of his metal sculptures and with good merit. Without formal education or training he has produced incredible works of art. Using only a hammer and an electric torch, he has created pieces that earn the respect and admiration of critics, art or otherwise.

Lamonica was born in 1930 in Piraino, Messina – a small agriculture community of 5,000 in Sicily. Unable to go to school because of the war, he looked for job opportunities. He refused to adapt to the norms of society, finding joy in blacksmithing rather than as a farm hand.

Salvatore Lamonica with the dinosaur sculpture that took nine months to create.

“I didn’t like to work on the farm,” Lamonica says bluntly.

By the age of seven Lamonica had begun working with a local blacksmith, learning how to use the basic tools (axe and pick) and gradually refining his techniques. At nineteen he decided to leave this lifestyle and took a job with the Police Force at Carabinieri. He spent five years with them before immigrating to Canada.

“The opportunities in Italy were limited; I saw a good future in Canada,” he explains.

He left Sicily in 1954 with his girlfriend and moved to a small apartment on Preston Street. With only a 30-day visa, he had to find full-time employment or get married.

“And so I got married,” he says with a smile.

Lamonica took a job at Auto Ironworks and worked there until 1973 when the shop closed. Then he found a job with Trudel and McAdam Ironworks. He stayed until 1997 when he was injured on the job (leaving him with little strength in his right hand). During this time he had two children with his wife Carolina: Antonio and Nancy.

Consistent throughout all of this were his creative aspirations. Ever since he was a child, Lamonica knew that he had this desire to create art within him, but it was repressed by those around him.

“My father would tell me if I go to the blacksmith I have to do blacksmith work and nothing else,” he says.

Lamonica can also remember his father kicking him when he first learned of his creative aspirations. Against his father’s wishes, Lamonica would build sculptures out of clay and then destroy them, so as not to get in trouble. Some of his most memorable creations were of a bicycle and various animals.

When he came to Ottawa he continued to fight against this oppression. At Auto Ironworks he was not allowed to use any steel for anything outside of approved projects. So, he would take the scrap metal and build his pieces secretly in his spare time. When he was done he would sneak them home inside old pizza boxes.

“I support my family and with no money to buy steel, what could I do?” Lamonica asks.

But he refused to sell any of his sculptures. Instead, he used them to decorate his own home or gave them to family and friends.

“If I sold them it would seem wrong, like stealing for money,” Lamonica says.

Finally, when he went to Trudel and McAdam Ironworks, he found the support he needed.

Salvatore Lamonica with his statue of William Marconi, the inventor of the radio. The statue now stands at Villa Marconi.

“They allowed me to use the scrap metal and work on them when I didn’t have anything else to do,” he says.

One of these creations, too hard to hide, was a 17-foot-long Tyrannosaurus. It took him nine months to finish and once done received public appraise. Lamonica gladly holds up a picture taken by the Ottawa Citizen and recounts of newscasts from CJOH. The dinosaur was also put on display at the Rideau Centre.

Some of Lamonica’s greatest sculptures include a pig, a mermaid, the Santa Maria (Columbus’ boat), a life-size Arab Jesus, a cactus, replica maps of Sicily and Italy, and household items such as a liquor cart, plants and candle holders. It’s easy to see the imagination and skill that he must possess when you see the artwork he has produced. It’s also easy to see how he uses his blacksmithing skills as a catalyst for a free-wheeling imagination.

Lamonica’s most notable sculpture is his interpretation of William Marconi. Marconi, an Italian with no educational training, invented the radio one day while playing during a storm with some wire. These two men are very similar – neither had any educational training yet both were able to invent and create simply using their natural talents.

“I’ve seen blacksmiths with no experience (in sculpturing metal) try to accomplish what I’ve done,” says Lamonica. “It’s very hard to do that. I’m very proud; I never had the opportunity to go to school to learn something so I do this to give back.”

I’ve heard it said that we are all products of our circumstances. I never knew exactly what this meant until I met Salvatore Lamonica. Talking to him I began to understand that these pieces are not simply a hobby, but an avenue for his creativity. The sculpture of his boss, William Marconi, the Arab Jesus, these are all simply abstractions of his own life experiences. They represent not only his own individuality, but also the collective identity of all Italians.

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 This article was originally published in the April 2002 issue of Il Postino.


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