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Antonio Alberti, detail: The Light of Life, 1924-39, Carved wood

Antonio Alberti

(1898–1969)

Antonio Alberti was born in San Bartolomeo in Galdo, Italy, just outside of Rome. He had eight brothers and sisters. From the age of 6, he was taught the trades of stonemasonry and bricklaying, but never attended school. He immigrated to America in 1912 and lived in Newark, New Jersey. Three years later, he returned to his homeland to enlist in the Italian Army. On May 13, 1915, stationed at Mont Cucco on the Italian-Austrian front, the enemy began bombarding his company of First Engineers. "Giovanni Grano and I were hiding underneath a huge rock," Alberti recalled. "Bombs were bursting around us. My friend and I were frightened. He did not want to stay there anymore, so he ran out. I chased after him and called, but before I could reach the clearing where he was standing, a hand grenade exploded and wounded Giovanni. I picked him up and his voice waned and told me he could not see. A few seconds later, he died in my arms. This is when I became inspired to appeal against such slaughter, but had no definite idea how to do it."

Two days later, Alberti and another friend in the same regiment, Joseph Ricci, went into battle. Both men were wounded and taken to different hospitals. Ricci sent a letter to Alberti's father stating that his son was missing in action and feared dead. To the great relief of his relatives, however, Alberti returned home after being released from the hospital. After the war, Alberti spent 15 years working on a 6-foot tall wood carving dedicated to his friend, Giovanni Grano. Titled The Light of Life, it is comprised of three sections: "The Christian Appeal," "The Flight of Heroes." and "The Cage of Joyful Spring." Upon completion, the wood sculpture was exhibited by Ripley's "Believe It Or Not" at the 1939 World's Fair, where some of the more delicate wood attachments were stolen. Alberti moved to Miami, Florida, in 1947. When he passed away more than two decades later, he left a wife (Mary), three children (Reynold, Anita and Pasquale), eight grandchildren, and his magnificent woodcarving.

Antonio Alberti's children have donated this treasured memorial sculpture to the permanent collection of the American Visionary Art Museum.